The Project Gutenberg EBook of Flag and Fleet, by William Wood This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: Flag and Fleet How the British Navy Won the Freedom of the Seas Author: William Wood Release Date: November 17, 2006 [EBook #19849] Last updated: March 3, 2009 Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK FLAG AND FLEET *** Produced by Al Haines
Thy way is in the sea, and
Thy path in the great waters,
and Thy footsteps are not known.
—Psalm LXXVII. v. 19.
The Sea is His: He made it,
Black gulf and sunlit shoal
From barriered bight to where the long
Leagues of Atlantic roll:
Small strait and ceaseless ocean
He bade each one to be:
The Sea is His: He made it—
And England keeps it free.
By pain and stress and striving
Beyond the nations' ken,
By vigils stern when others slept,
By lives of many men;
Through nights of storm, through dawnings
Blacker than midnights be—
This sea that God created,
England has kept it free.
Count me the splendid captains
Who sailed with courage high
To chart the perilous ways unknown—
Tell me where these men lie!
To light a path for ships to come
They moored at Dead Man's quay;
The Sea is God's—He made it,
And these men made it free.
Oh little land of England,
Oh mother of hearts too brave,
Men say this trust shall pass from thee
Who guardest Nelson's grave.
Aye, but these braggarts yet shall learn
Who'd hold the world in fee,
The Sea is God's—and England,
England shall keep it free.
—R. E. VERNèDE.
Admiral-of-the-Fleet Sir David Beatty,
G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O., etc.
In acceding to the request to write a Preface for this volume I am moved by the paramount need that all the budding citizens of our great Empire should be thoroughly acquainted with the part the Navy has played in building up the greatest empire the world has ever seen.
Colonel Wood has endeavored to make plain, in a stirring and attractive manner, the value of Britain's Sea-Power. To read his Flag and Fleet will ensure that the lessons of centuries of war will be learnt, and that the most important lesson of them all is this—that, as an empire, we came into being by the Sea, and that we cannot exist without the Sea.
2nd of June, 1919.
Who wants to be a raw recruit for life, all thumbs and muddle-mindedness? Well, that is what a boy or girl is bound to be when he or she grows up without knowing what the Royal Navy of our Motherland has done to give the British Empire birth, life, and growth, and all the freedom of the sea.
The Navy is not the whole of British sea-power; for the Merchant Service is the other half. Nor is the Navy the only fighting force on which our liberty depends; for we depend upon the United Service of sea and land and air. Moreover, all our fighting forces, put together, could not have done their proper share toward building up the Empire, nor could they defend it now, unless they always had been, and are still, backed by the People as a whole, by every patriot man and woman, boy and girl.
But while it takes all sorts to make the world, and very many different sorts to make and keep our British Empire of the Free, it is quite as true to say that all our other sorts together could not have made, and cannot keep, our Empire, unless the Royal Navy had kept, and keeps today, true watch and ward over all the British highways of the sea. None of the different parts of the world-wide British Empire are joined together by the land. All are joined together by the sea. Keep the seaways open and we live. Close them and we die.
This looks, and really is, so very simple, that you may well wonder why we have to speak about it here. But man is a land animal. Landsmen are many, while seamen are few; and though the sea is three times bigger than the land it is three hundred times less known. History is full of sea-power, but histories are not; for most historians know little of sea-power, though British history without British sea-power is like a watch without a mainspring or a wheel without a hub. No wonder we cannot understand the living story of our wars, when, as a rule, we are only told parts of what happened, and neither how they happened nor why they happened. The how and why are the flesh and blood, the head and heart of history; so if you cut them off you kill the living body and leave nothing but dry bones. Now, in our long war story no single how or why has any real meaning apart from British sea-power, which itself has no meaning apart from the Royal Navy. So the choice lies plain before us: either to learn what the Navy really means, and know the story as a veteran should; or else leave out, or perhaps mislearn, the Navy's part, and be a raw recruit for life, all thumbs and muddle-mindedness.
THE VERY BEGINNING OF SEA-POWER
(10,000 years and more B.C.)
|II||THE FIRST FAR WEST (The last 5,000 years B.C.)|
|III||EAST AGAINST WEST (480 B. C.-146 B.C.)|
|IV||CELTIC BRITAIN UNDER ROME (55 B.C.-410 A.D.)|
|V||THE HARDY NORSEMAN (449-1066)|
|VI||THE IMPERIAL NORMAN (1066-1451)|
|VII||KING OF THE ENGLISH ERA (1545)|
|VIII||OLD SPAIN AND NEW (1492-1571)|
|IX||THE ENGLISH SEA-DOGS (1545-1580)|
|X||THE SPANISH ARMADA (1588)|
|XI||THE FIRST DUTCH WAR (1623-1653)|
|XII||THE SECOND AND THIRD DUTCH WARS (1665-1673)|
|XIII||THE FIRST WAR AGAINST LOUIS XIV (1689-1697)|
|XIV||THE SECOND WAR AGAINST LOUIS XIV (1702-1713)|
|XV||WAR AGAINST FRANCE AND SPAIN (1739-1748)|
|XVI||PITT'S IMPERIAL WAR (1756-1763)|
|XVII||THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (1775-1783)|
|XX||A CENTURY OF BRITISH-FRENCH-AMERICAN PEACE (1815-1914)|
|XXI||A CENTURY OF MINOR BRITISH WARS (1815-1914)|
|XXII||THE HANDY MAN|
|XXIII||FIFTY YEARS OF WARNING (1864-1914)|
|POSTSCRIPT THE FREEDOM OF THE SEAS|
[Transcriber's note: The following two errata items have been applied to this e-book.]
Page XIII. For "Henry VII's" read "Henry VIII's."
Page 254. L. 20 for "facing the Germans" read "away from Scheer,"
Thousands and thousands of years ago a naked savage in southern Asia found that he could climb about quite safely on a floating log. One day another savage found that floating down stream on a log was very much easier than working his way through the woods. This taught him the first advantage of sea-power, which is, that you can often go better by water than land. Then a third savage with a turn for trying new things found out what every lumberjack and punter knows, that you need a pole if you want to shove your log along or steer it to the proper place.
By and by some still more clever savage tied two logs together and made the first raft. This soon taught him the second advantage of sea-power, which is, that, as a rule, you can carry goods very much better by water than land. Even now, if you want to move many big and heavy things a thousand miles you can nearly always do it ten times better in a ship than in a train, and ten times better in a train than by carts and horses on the very best of roads. Of course a raft is a poor, slow, clumsy sort of ship; no ship at all, in fact. But when rafts were the only "ships" in the world there certainly were no trains and nothing like one of our good roads. The water has always had the same advantage over the land; for as horses, trails, carts, roads, and trains began to be used on land, so canoes, boats, sailing ships, and steamers began to be used on water. Anybody can prove the truth of the rule for himself by seeing how much easier it is to paddle a hundred pounds ten miles in a canoe than to carry the same weight one mile over a portage.
Presently the smarter men wanted something better than a little log raft nosing its slow way along through dead shallow water when shoved by a pole; so they put a third and longer log between the other two, with its front end sticking out and turning up a little. Then, wanting to cross waters too deep for a pole, they invented the first paddles; and so made the same sort of catamaran that you can still see on the Coromandel Coast in southern India. But savages who knew enough to take catamarans through the pounding surf also knew enough to see that a log with a hollow in the upper side of it could carry a great deal more than a log that was solid; and, seeing this, they presently began making hollows and shaping logs, till at last they had made a regular dug-out canoe. When Christopher Columbus asked the West Indian savages what they called their dug-outs they said canoas; so a boat dug out of a solid log had the first right to the word we now use for a canoe built up out of several different parts.
Dug-outs were sometimes very big. They were the Dreadnought battleships of their own time and place and people. When their ends were sharpened into a sort of ram they could stave in an enemy's canoe if they caught its side full tilt with their own end. Dug-out canoes were common wherever the trees were big and strong enough, as in Southern Asia, Central Africa, and on the Pacific Coast of America. But men have always been trying to invent something better than what their enemies have; and so they soon began putting different pieces together to make either better canoes or lighter ones, or to make any kind that would do as well as or better than the dug-out. Thus the ancient Britons had coracles, which were simply very open basket-work covered with skins. Their Celtic descendants still use canvas coracles in parts of Wales and Ireland, just as the Eskimos still use skin-covered kayaks and oomiaks. The oomiak is for a family with all their baggage. The kayak—sharp as a needle and light as a feather—is for a well-armed man. The oomiak is a cargo carrier. The kayak is a man-of-war.
When once men had found out how to make and use canoes they had also found out the third and final principle of sea-power, which is, that if you live beside the water and do not learn how to fight on it you will certainly be driven off it by some enemy who has learnt how to fight there. For sea-power in time of war simply means the power to use the sea yourself while stopping the enemy from using it. So the first duty of any navy is to keep the seaways open for friends and closed to enemies. And this is even more the duty of the British Navy than of any other navy. For the sea lies between all the different parts of the British Empire; and so the life-or-death question we have to answer in every great war is this: does the sea unite us by being under British control, or does it divide us by being under enemy control? United we stand: divided we fall.
At first sight you would never believe that sea-power could be lost or won as well by birchbarks as by battleships. But if both sides have the same sort of craft, or one side has none at all, then it does not matter what the sort is. When the Iroquois paddled their birch-bark canoes past Quebec in 1660, and defied the French Governor to stop them, they "commanded" the St. Lawrence just as well as the British Grand Fleet commanded the North Sea in the Great War; and for the same reason, because their enemy was not strong enough to stop them. Whichever army can drive its enemy off the roads must win the war, because it can get what it wants from its base, (that is, from the places where its supplies of men and arms and food and every other need are kept); while its enemy will have to go without, being unable to get anything like enough, by bad and roundabout ways, to keep up the fight against men who can use the good straight roads. So it is with navies. The navy that can beat its enemy from all the shortest ways across the sea must win the war, because the merchant ships of its own country, like its men-of-war, can use the best routes from the bases to the front and back again; while the merchant ships of its enemy must either lose time by roundabout voyages or, what is sure to happen as the war goes on, be driven off the high seas altogether.
The savages of long ago often took to the water when they found the land too hot for them. If they were shepherds, a tyrant might seize their flocks. If they were farmers, he might take their land away from them. But it was not so easy to bully fishermen and hunters who could paddle off and leave no trace behind them, or who could build forts on islands that could only be taken after fights in which men who lived mostly on the water would have a much better chance than men who lived mostly on the land. In this way the water has often been more the home of freedom than the land: liberty and sea-power have often gone together; and a free people like ourselves have nearly always won and kept freedom, both for themselves and others, by keeping up a navy of their own or by forming part of such an Empire as the British, where the Mother Country keeps up by far the greatest navy the world has ever seen.
The canoe navies, like other navies, did very well so long as no enemy came with something better. But when boats began to gain ground, canoes began to lose it. We do not know who made the first boat any more than we know who made the first raft or canoe. But the man who laid the first keel was a genius, and no mistake about it; for the keel is still the principal part of every rowboat, sailing ship, and steamer in the world. There is the same sort of difference between any craft that has a keel and one that has not as there is between animals which have backbones and those which have not. By the time boats were first made someone began to find out that by putting a paddle into a notch in the side of the boat and pulling away he could get a stronger stroke than he could with the paddle alone. Then some other genius, thousands of years after the first open boat had been made, thought of making a deck. Once this had been done, the ship, as we know her, had begun her glorious career.
But meanwhile sails had been in use for very many thousands of years. Who made the first sail? Nobody knows. But very likely some Asiatic savage hoisted a wild beast's skin on a stick over some very simple sort of raft tens of thousands of years ago. Rafts had, and still have, sails in many countries. Canoes had them too. Boats and ships also had sails in very early times, and of very various kinds: some made of skins, some of woven cloth, some even of wooden slats. But no ancient sail was more than what sailors call a wind-bag now; and they were of no use at all unless the wind was pretty well aft, that is, more or less from behind. We shall presently find out that tacking, (which is sailing against the wind), is a very modern invention; and that, within three centuries of its invention, steamers began to oust sailing craft, as these, in their turn, had ousted rowboats and canoes.
This chapter begins with a big surprise. But it ends with a bigger one still. When you look first at the title and then at the date, you wonder how on earth the two can go together. But when you remember what you have read in Chapter I you will see that the countries at the Asiatic end of the Mediterranean, though now called the Near East, were then the Far West, because emigrants from the older lands of Asia had gone no farther than this twelve thousand years ago. Then, as you read the present chapter, you will see emigrants and colonies moving farther and farther west along the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic shores of Europe, until, at last, two thousand years before Columbus, the new Far West consisted of those very shores of Spain and Portugal, France and the British Isles, from which the whole New Western World of North and South America was to be settled later on. The Atlantic shores of Europe, and not the Mediterranean shores of Asia and of Egypt, are called here "The First Far West" because the first really Western people grew up in Europe and became quite different from all the Eastern peoples. The Second Far West, two thousand years later, was America itself.
Westward Ho! is the very good name of a book about adventures in America when this Second Far West was just beginning. "Go West!" was the advice given to adventurous people in America during the nineteenth century. "The Last West and Best West" is what Canadians now call their own North-West. And it certainly is the very last West of all; for over there, across the Pacific, are the lands of southern Asia from which the first emigrants began moving West so many thousand years ago. Thus the circuit of the World and its migrations is now complete; and we can at last look round and learn the whole story, from Farthest East to Farthest West.
Most of it is an old, old story from the common points of view; and it has been told over and over again by many different people and in many different ways. But from one point of view, and that a most important point, it is newer now than ever. Look at it from the seaman's point of view, and the whole meaning changes in the twinkling of an eye, becoming new, true, and complete. Nearly all books deal with the things of the land, and of the land alone, their writers forgetting or not knowing that the things of the land could never have been what they are had it not been for the things of the sea. Without the vastly important things of the sea, without the war fleets and merchant fleets of empires old and new, it is perfectly certain that the world could not have been half so good a place to live in; for freedom and the sea tend to go together. True of all people, this is truer still of us; for the sea has been the very breath of British life and liberty ever since the first hardy Norseman sprang ashore on English soil.
Nobody knows how the Egyptians first learnt ship-building from the people farther East. But we do know that they were building ships in Egypt seven thousand years ago, that their ninth king was called Betou, which means "the prow of a ship", and that his artists carved pictures of boats five hundred years older than the Great Pyramid. These pictures, carved on the tombs of the kings, are still to be seen, together with some pottery, which, coming from the Balkans, shows that Betou had boats trading across the eastern end of the Mediterranean. A picture carved more than six thousand years ago shows an Egyptian boat being paddled by fourteen men and steered with paddles by three more on the right-hand side of the stern as you look toward the bow. Thus the "steer-board" (or steering side) was no new thing when its present name of "starboard" was used by our Norse ancestors a good many hundred years ago. The Egyptians, steering on the right-hand side, probably took in cargo on the left side or "larboard", that is, the "load" or "lading" side, now called the "port" side, as "larboard" and "starboard" sounded too much alike when shouted in a gale.
Up in the bow of this old Egyptian boat stood a man with a pole to help in steering down the Nile. Amidships stood a man with a cat-o'-nine-tails, ready to slash any one of the wretched slave paddlers who was not working hard. All through the Rowing Age, for thousands and thousands of years, the paddlers and rowers were the same as the well-known galley-slaves kept by the Mediterranean countries to row their galleys in peace and war. These galleys, or rowing men-of-war, lasted down to modern times, as we shall soon see. They did use sails; but only when the wind was behind them, and never when it blew really hard. The mast was made of two long wooden spars set one on each side of the galley, meeting at the head, and strengthened in between by braces from one spar to another. As time went on better boats and larger ones were built in Egypt. We can guess how strong they must have been when they carried down the Nile the gigantic blocks of stone used in building the famous Pyramids. Some of these blocks weigh up to sixty tons; so that both the men who built the barges to bring them down the Nile and those who built these huge blocks into the wonderful Pyramids must have known their business pretty well a thousand years before Noah built his Ark.
The Ark was built in Mesopotamia, less than five thousand years ago, to save Noah from the flooded Euphrates. The shipwrights seem to have built it like a barge or house-boat. If so, it must have been about fifteen thousand tons, taking the length of the cubit in the Bible story at eighteen inches. It was certainly not a ship, only some sort of construction that simply floated about with the wind and current till it ran aground. But Mesopotamia and the shores of the Persian Gulf were great places for shipbuilding. They were once the home of adventurers who had come West from southern Asia, and of the famous Phoenicians, who went farther West to find a new seaboard home along the shores of Asia Minor, just north of Palestine, where they were in the shipping business three thousand years ago, about the time of the early Kings of Israel.
These wonderful Phoenicians touch our interest to the very quick; for they were not only the seamen hired by "Solomon in all his glory" but they were also the founders of Carthage and the first oversea traders with the Atlantic coasts of France and the British Isles. Their story thus goes home to all who love the sea, the Bible, and Canada's two Mother Lands. They had shipping on the Red Sea as well as on the Mediterranean; and it was their Red Sea merchant vessels that coasted Arabia and East Africa in the time of Solomon (1016-976 B.C.). They also went round to Persia and probably to India. About 600 B.C. they are said to have coasted round the whole of Africa, starting from the Red Sea and coming back by Gibraltar. This took them more than two years, as they used to sow wheat and wait on shore till the crop was ripe. Long before this they had passed Gibraltar and settled the colony of Tarshish, where they found silver in such abundance that "it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon." We do not know whether it was "the ships of Tarshish and of the Isles" that first felt the way north to France and England. But we do know that many Phoenicians did trade with the French and British Celts, who probably learnt in this way how to build ships of their own.
For two thousand years Eastern fleets and armies tried to conquer Europe. Sometimes hundreds of years would pass without an attack. But the result was always the same—the triumph of West over East; and the cause of each triumph was always the same—the sea-power of the West. Without those Western navies the Europe and America we know today could never have existed. There could have been no Greek civilization, no Roman government, no British Empire, and no United States. First, the Persians fought the Greeks at Salamis in 480 B.C. Then Carthage fought Rome more than two hundred years later. Finally, the conquering Turks were beaten by the Spaniards at Lepanto more than two thousand years after Salamis, but not far from the same spot, Salamis being ten miles from Athens and Lepanto a hundred.
Long before Salamis the Greeks had been founding colonies along the Mediterranean, among them some on the Asiatic side of the Aegean Sea, where the French and British fleets had so much to do during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 against the Turks and Germans. Meanwhile the Persians had been fighting their way north-westwards till they had reached the Aegean and conquered most of the Greeks and Phoenicians there. Then the Greeks at Athens sent a fleet which landed an army that burnt the city of Sardis, an outpost of Persian power. Thereupon King Darius, friend of the Prophet Daniel, vowed vengeance on Athens, and caused a trusty servant to whisper in his ear each day, "Master, remember Athens!"
Now, the Persians were landsmen, with what was then the greatest army in the world, but with a navy and a merchant fleet mostly manned by conquered Phoenicians and Greek colonists, none of whom wanted to see Greece itself destroyed. So when Darius met the Greeks at Marathon his fleet and army did not form the same sort of United Service that the British fleet and army form. He was beaten back to his ships and retired to Asia Minor. But "Remember Athens!" was always in his mind. So for ten years he and his son Xerxes prepared a vast armada against which they thought no other force on earth could stand. But, like the Spanish Armada against England two thousand years later, this Persian host was very much stronger ashore than afloat. Its army was so vast that it covered the country like a swarm of locusts. At the world-famous pass of Thermopylae the Spartan king, Leonidas, waited for the Persians. Xerxes sent a summons asking the Greeks to surrender their arms. "Come and take them," said Leonidas. Then wave after wave of Persians rushed to the attack, only to break against the dauntless Greeks. At last a vile traitor told Xerxes of another pass (which the Greeks had not men enough to hold, though it was on their flank). He thus got the chance of forcing them either to retreat or be cut off. Once through this pass the Persians overran the country; and all the Spartans at Thermopylae died fighting to the last.
Only the Grecian fleet remained. It was vastly out-numbered by the Persian fleet. But it was manned by patriots trained to fight on the water; while the Persians themselves were nearly all landsmen, and so had to depend on the Phoenicians and colonial Greek seamen, who were none too eager for the fray. Seeing the Persians too densely massed together on a narrow front the Greek commander, Themistocles, attacked with equal skill and fury, rolled up the Persian front in confusion on the mass behind, and won the battle that saved the Western World. The Persians lost two hundred vessels against only forty Greek. But it was not the mere loss of vessels, or even of this battle of Salamis itself, that forced Xerxes to give up all hopes of conquest. The real reason was his having lost the command of the sea. He knew that the victorious Greeks could now beat the fighting ships escorting his supply vessels coming overseas from Asia Minor, and that, without the constant supplies of men, arms, food, and everything else an army needs, his army itself must wither away.
Two hundred and twenty years later the sea-power of the Roman West beat both the land- and sea-power of the Carthaginian East; and for the very same reason. Carthage was an independent colony of Phoenicians which had won an empire in the western Mediterranean by its sea-power. It held a great part of Spain, the whole of Sardinia, most of Sicily, and many other islands. The Romans saw that they would never be safe as long as Carthage had the stronger navy; so they began to build one of their own. They copied a Carthaginian war galley that had been wrecked; and meanwhile taught their men to row on benches set up ashore. This made the Carthaginians laugh and led them to expect an easy victory. But the Romans were thorough in everything they did, and they had the best trained soldiers in the world. They knew the Carthaginians could handle war galleys better than they could themselves; so they tried to give their soldiers the best possible chance when once the galleys closed. They made a sort of drawbridge that could be let down with a bang on the enemy boats and there held fast by sharp iron spikes biting into the enemy decks. Then their soldiers charged across and cleared everything before them.
The Carthaginians never recovered from this first fatal defeat at Mylae in 260 B.C., though Carthage itself was not destroyed for more than a century afterwards, and though Hannibal, one of the greatest soldiers who ever lived, often beat the Romans in the meantime. All sorts of reasons, many of them true enough in their way, are given for Hannibal's final defeat. But sea-power, the first and greatest of all, is commonly left out. His march round the shores of the western Mediterranean and his invasion of Italy from across the Alps will remain one of the wonders of war till the end of history. But the mere fact that he had to go all the way round by land, instead of straight across by water, was the real prime cause of his defeat. His forces simply wore themselves out. Why? Look at the map and you will see that he and his supplies had to go much farther by land than the Romans and their supplies had to go by water because the Roman victory over the Carthaginian fleet had made the shortest seaways safe for Romans and very unsafe for Carthaginians. Then remember that carrying men and supplies by sea is many times easier than carrying them by land; and you get the perfect answer.
When Caesar was conquering the Celts of Western France he found that one of their strongest tribes, the Veneti, had been joined by two hundred and twenty vessels manned by their fellow-Celts from southern Britain. The united fleets of the Celts were bigger than any Roman force that Caesar could get afloat. Moreover, Caesar had nothing but rowboats, which he was obliged to build on the spot; while the Celts had real ships, which towered above his rowboats by a good ten feet. But, after cutting the Celtic rigging with scythes lashed to poles, the well-trained Roman soldiers made short work of the Celts. The Battle of the Loire seems to have been the only big sea fight the Celts of Britain ever fought. After this they left the sea to their invaders, who thus had a great advantage over them ashore.
The fact is that the Celts of the southern seaports were the only ones who understood shipbuilding, which they had learnt from the Phoenicians, and the only ones who were civilized enough to unite among themselves and with their fellow-Celts in what now is France but then was Gaul. The rest were mere tribesmen under chiefs who were often squabbling with one another, and who never formed anything like an all-Celtic army. For most of them a navy was out of the question, as they only used the light, open-work, basket-like coracles covered with skins—about as useful for fighting the Romans at sea as bark canoes would be against real men-of-war. The Roman conquest of Britain was therefore made by the army, each conqueror, from Caesar on, winning battles farther and farther north, until a fortified Roman wall was built across the narrow neck of land between the Forth and Clyde. Along these thirty-six miles the Romans kept guard against the Picts and other Highland tribes.
The Roman fleet was of course used at all times to guard the seaways between Britain and the rest of the Roman Empire, as well as to carry supplies along the coast when the army was fighting near by. This gave the Romans the usual immense advantage of sea-transport over land-transport, never less than ten to one and often very much more. The Romans could thus keep their army supplied with everything it needed. The Celts could not. Eighteen hundred years after Caesar's first landing in Britain, Wolfe, the victor of Quebec, noticed the same immense advantage enjoyed by King George's army over Prince Charlie's, owing to the same sort of difference in transport, King George's army having a fleet to keep it well supplied, while Prince Charlie's had nothing but slow and scanty land transport, sometimes more dead than alive.
The only real fighting the Romans had to do afloat was against the Norsemen, who sailed out of every harbour from Norway round to Flanders and swooped down on every vessel or coast settlement they thought they had a chance of taking. To keep these pirates in check Carausius was made "Count of the Saxon Shore". It was a case of setting a thief to catch a thief; for Carausius was a Fleming and a bit of a pirate himself. He soon became so strong at sea that he not only kept the other Norsemen off but began to set up as a king on his own account. He seized Boulogne, harried the Roman shipping on the coasts of France, and joined forces with those Franks whom the Romans had sent into the Black Sea to check the Scythians and other wild tribes from the East. The Franks were themselves Norsemen, who afterwards settled in Gaul and became the forefathers of the modern French. So Rome was now threatened by a naval league of hardy Norsemen, from the Black Sea, through the Mediterranean, and all the way round to that "Saxon Shore" of eastern Britain which was itself in danger from Norsemen living on the other side of the North Sea. Once more, however, the Romans won the day. The Emperor Constantius caught the Franks before they could join Carausius and smashed their fleet near Gibraltar. He then went to Gaul and made ready a fleet at the mouth of the Seine, near Le Havre, which was a British base during the Great War against the Germans. Meanwhile Carausius was killed by his second-in-command, Allectus, who sailed from the Isle of Wight to attack Constantius, who himself sailed for Britain at the very same time. A dense fog came on. The two fleets never met. Constantius landed. Allectus then followed him ashore and was beaten and killed in a purely land battle.
This was a little before the year 300; by which time the Roman Empire was beginning to rot away, because the Romans were becoming softer and fewer, and because they were hiring more and more strangers to fight for them, instead of keeping up their own old breed of first-class fighting men. By 410 Rome itself was in such danger that they took their last ships and soldiers away from Celtic Britain, which at once became the prey of the first good fighting men who came that way; because the Celts, never united enough to make a proper army or navy of their own, were now weaker than ever, after having had their country defended by other people for the last four hundred years.
The British Empire leads the whole world both in size and population. It ended the Great War with the greatest of all the armies, the greatest of all the navies, and the greatest of all the mercantile marines. Better still, it not only did most towards keeping its own—which is by far the oldest—freedom in the world, but it also did most towards helping all its Allies to be free. There are many reasons why we now enjoy these blessings. But there are three without which we never could have had a single one. The first, of course, is sea-power. But this itself depends on the second reason, which, in its turn, depends upon the third. For we never could have won the greatest sea-power unless we had bred the greatest race of seamen. And we never could have bred the greatest race of seamen unless we ourselves had been mostly bred from those hardy Norsemen who were both the terror and the glory of the sea.
Many thousands of years ago, when the brown and yellow peoples of the Far South-East were still groping their way about their steamy Asian rivers and hot shores, a race of great, strong, fair-haired seamen was growing in the North. This Nordic race is the one from which most English-speaking people come, the one whose blood runs in the veins of most first-class seamen to the present day, and the one whose descendants have built up more oversea dominions, past and present, than have been built by all the other races, put together, since the world began.
To the sturdy Nordic stock belonged all who became famous as Vikings, Berserkers, and Hardy Norsemen, as well as all the Anglo-Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Normans, from whom came most of the people that made the British Empire and the United States. "Nordic" and "Norse" are, therefore, much better, because much truer, words than "Anglo-Saxon", which only names two of the five chief tribes from which most English-speaking people come, and which is not nearly so true as "Anglo-Norman" to describe the people, who, once formed in England, spread over southern Scotland and parts of Ireland, and who have also gone into every British, American, or foreign country that has ever been connected with the sea.
When the early Nordics outgrew their first home beside the Baltic they began sailing off to seek their fortune overseas. In course of time they not only spread over the greater part of northern Europe but went as far south as Italy and Spain, where the good effects of their bracing blood have never been lost. They even left descendants among the Berbers of North Africa; and, as we have learnt already, some of them went as far east as the Black Sea. The Belgians, Dutch, and Germans of Caesar's day were all Nordic. So were the Franks, from whom France takes its name. The Nordic blood, of course, became more or less mingled with that of the different peoples the Nordic tribes subdued; and new blood coming in from outside made further changes still. But the Nordic strain prevailed, as that of the conquerors, even where the Nordic folk did not outnumber all the rest, as they certainly did in Great Britain. The Franks, whose name meant "free men", at last settled down with the Gauls, who outnumbered them; so that the modern French are a blend of both. But the Gauls were the best warriors of all the Celts: it took Caesar eight years to conquer them. So we know that Frenchmen got their soldier blood from both sides. We also know that they learnt a good deal of their civilization from the Romans and passed it on to the empire-building Normans, who brought more Nordic blood into France. The Normans in their turn passed it on to the Anglo-Saxons, who, with the Jutes and Danes, form the bulk, as the Normans form the backbone, of most English-speaking folk within the British Empire. The Normans are thus the great bond of union between the British Empire and the French. They are the Franco-British kinsfolk of the sea.
We must not let the fact that Prussia borders on the North Sea and the Baltic mislead us into mistaking the Prussians for the purest offspring of the Nordic race. They are nothing of the kind. Some of the finest Nordics did stay near their Baltic home. But these became Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes; while nearly all the rest of the cream of this mighty race went far afield. Its Franks went into France by land. Its Normans went by sea. Others settled in Holland and Belgium and became the Dutch and Flemings of today. But the mightiest host of hardy Norsemen crossed the North Sea to settle in the British Isles; and from this chosen home of merchant fleets and navies the Nordic British have themselves gone forth as conquering settlers across the Seven Seas.
The Prussians are the least Nordic of all the Germans, and most Germans are rather the milk than the cream of the Nordic race; for the cream generally sought the sea, while the milk stayed on shore. The Prussians have no really Nordic forefathers except the Teutonic Knights, who killed off the Borussi or Old-Prussian savages, about seven hundred years ago, and then settled the empty land with their soldiers of fortune, camp-followers, hirelings, and serfs. These gangs had been brought together, by force or the hope of booty, from anywhere at all. The new Prussians were thus a pretty badly mixed lot; so the Teutonic Knights hammered them into shape as the newer Prussians whom Frederick the Great in the eighteenth century and Bismarck in the nineteenth turned into a conquering horde. The Kaiser's newest Prussians need no description here. We all know him and them; and what became of both; and how it served them right.
The first of the hardy Norsemen to arrive in England with a regular fleet and army were the two brothers, Hengist and Horsa, whom the Celts employed to defend them against the wild Picts that were swarming down from the north. The Picts once beaten, the Celts soon got into the same troubles that beset every people who will not or can not fight for themselves. More and more Norsemen kept coming to the Isle of Thanet, the easternmost point of Kent, and disputes kept on growing between them and the Celts over pay and food as well as over the division of the spoils. The Norsemen claimed most of the spoil, because their sword had won it. The Celts thought this unfair, because the country was their own. It certainly was theirs at that time. But they had driven out the people who had been there before them; so when they were themselves driven out they suffered no more than what they once had made these others suffer.
Presently the Norsemen turned their swords on the Celts and began a conquest that went on from father to son till there were hardly any Celts left in the British Isles outside of Wales, the Highlands of Scotland, and the greater part of Ireland. Every place easily reached from the sea fell into the hands of the Norsemen whenever they chose to take it; for the Celts never even tried to have a navy. This, of course, was the chief reason why they lost the war on land; because the Norsemen, though fewer by far at first, could move men, arms, and supplies ten times better than the Celts whenever the battlefields were anywhere near the sea.
Islands, harbours, and navigable rivers were often held by the Norsemen, even when the near-by country was filled with Celts. The extreme north of Scotland, like the whole of the south, became Norse, as did the northern islands of Orkney and Shetland. Scapa Flow, that magnificent harbour in the Orkneys, was a stronghold of Norsemen many centuries before their descendants manned the British Grand Fleet there during the recent war. The Isle of Man was taken by Norsemen. Dublin, Waterford, and other Irish cities were founded by them. They attacked Wales from Anglessey; and, wherever they conquered, their armies were based on the sea.
If you want to understand how the British Isles changed from a Celtic to a Nordic land, how they became the centre of the British Empire, and why they were the Mother Country from which the United States were born, you must always view the question from the sea. Take the sea as a whole, together with all that belongs to it—its islands, harbours, shores, and navigable rivers. Then take the roving Norsemen as the greatest seamen of the great seafaring Nordic race. Never mind the confusing lists of tribes and kings on either side—the Jutes and Anglo-Saxons, the Danes and Normans, on one side, and the Celts of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, on the other; nor yet the different dates and places; but simply take a single bird's-eye view of all the Seven Seas as one sea, of all the British Norsemen as one Anglo-Norman folk, and of all the centuries from the fifth to the twentieth as a single age; and then you can quite easily understand how the empire of the sea has been won and held by the same strong "Hardy-Norseman" hands these fifteen hundred years.
There is nothing to offend the Celts in this. They simply tried to do what never can be done: that is, they tried to hold a sea-girt country with nothing but an army, while their enemy had an army and a fleet. They fought well enough in the past on many a stricken field to save any race's honour; and none who know the glorious deeds of the really Celtic Highland, Welsh, or Irish regiments can fail to admire them now. But this book is about seamen and the sea, and how they have changed the fate of landsmen and the land. So we must tell the plain truth about the Anglo-Norman seamen without whom there could be no British Empire and no United States. The English-speaking peoples owe a great deal to the Celts; and there is Celtic blood in a good many who are of mostly Nordic stock. But the British Empire and the American Republic were founded and are led more by Anglo-Normans than even Anglo-Normans know. For the Anglo-Normans include not only the English and their descendants overseas but many who are called Scotch and Irish, because, though of Anglo-Norman blood, they or their forefathers were born in Scotland or Ireland. Soldiers and sailors like Wellington, Kitchener, and Beatty are as Anglo-Norman by descent as Marlborough, Nelson, and Drake, though all three were born in Ireland. They are no more Irish Celts than the English-speaking people in the Province of Quebec are French-Canadians. They might have been as good or better if born Irish Celts or French-Canadians. But that is not the point. The point is simply a fact without which we cannot understand our history; and it is this: that, for all we owe to other folk and other things than fleets, our sea-girt British Empire was chiefly won, and still is chiefly kept, by warriors of the sea-borne "Hardy-Norseman" breed.
Desire in my heart ever urges my spirit to wander,
To seek out the home of the stranger in lands afar off.
There is no one that dwells on earth so exalted in mind,
So large in his bounty, nor yet of such vigorous youth,
Nor so daring in deeds, nor to whom his liege lord is so kind,
But that he has always a longing, a sea-faring passion
For what the Lord God shall bestow, be it honour or death.
No heart for the harp has he, nor for acceptance of treasure,
No pleasure has he in a wife, no delight in the world,
Nor in aught save the roll of the billows; but always a longing,
A yearning uneasiness hastens him on to the sea.
Translated from the Anglo-Saxon.
The Celts had been little more than a jumble of many different tribes before the Romans came. The Romans had ruled England and the south of Scotland as a single country. But when they left it the Celts had let it fall to pieces again. The Norsemen tried, time after time, to make one United Kingdom; but they never quite succeeded for more than a few years. They had to wait for the empire-building Normans to teach them how to make, first, a kingdom and then an empire that would last.
Yet Offa, Edgar, and Canute went far towards making the first step by trying to raise a Royal Navy strong enough to command at least the English sea. Offa, king of Mercia or Middle England (757-796) had no sooner fought his way outwards to a sure foothold on the coast than he began building a fleet so strong that even the great Emperor Charlemagne, though ruling the half of Europe, treated him on equal terms. Here is Offa's good advice to all future kings of England: "He who would be safe on land must be supreme at sea." Alfred the Great (871-901) was more likely to have been thinking of the navy than of anything else when, as a young man hiding from the Danes, he forgot to turn the cakes which the housewife had left him to watch. Anyhow he tried the true way to stop the Danes, by attacking them before they landed, and he caused ships of a new and better kind to be built for the fleet. Edgar (959-975) used to go round Great Britain every year inspecting the three different fleets into which his navy was divided; one off the east of England, another off the north of Scotland, and the third in the Irish Sea. It is said that he was once rowed at Chester on the River Dee by no less than eight kings, which showed that he was following Offa's advice by making his navy supreme over all the neighbouring coasts of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
After Edgar's death the Danes held command of the sea. They formed the last fierce wave of hardy Norsemen to break in fury on the English shore and leave descendants who are seamen to the present day. Nelson, greatest of all naval commanders, came from Norfolk, where Danish blood is strongest. Most of the fishermen on the east coast of Great Britain are of partly Danish descent; and no one served more faithfully through the Great War than these men did against the submarines and mines. King George V, whose mother is a Dane, and who is himself a first-rate seaman, must have felt a thrill of ancestral pride in pinning V.C.'s over their undaunted hearts. Fifty years before the Norman conquest Canute the Dane became sole king of England. He had been chosen King of Denmark by the Danish Fleet. But he was true to England as well; and in 1028, when he conquered Norway, he had fifty English vessels with him.
Meanwhile another great Norseman, Leif Ericsson, seems to have discovered America at the end of the tenth century: that is, he was as long before Columbus as Columbus was before our own day. In any case Norsemen settled in Iceland and discovered Greenland; so it may even be that the "White Eskimos" found by the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913 were the descendants of Vikings lost a thousand years ago. The Saga of Eric the Red tells how Leif Ericsson found three new countries in the Western World—Helluland, Markland, and Vinland. As two of these must have been Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, which Cabot discovered with his English crew in 1497, it is certain that Canada was seen first either by Norsemen or by their descendants.
The Norse discovery of America cannot be certainly proved like the discoveries made by Cabot and Columbus. But one proved fact telling in favour of the Norsemen is that they were the only people who built vessels "fit to go foreign" a thousand years ago. All other people hugged the shore for centuries to come. The Norsemen feared not any sea.
Some years ago a Viking (or Warrior's) ship, as old as those used by Ericsson, was found in the "King's Mound" in Gokstad, Southern Norway. Seated in her was the skeleton of the Viking Chief who, as the custom used to be, was buried in his floating home. He must have stood well over six foot three and been immensely strong, judging by his deep chest, broad shoulders, and long arms fit to cleave a foeman at a single stroke. This Viking vessel is so well shaped to stand the biggest waves, and yet slip through the water with the greatest ease, that she could be used as a model now. She has thirty-two oars and a big square sail on a mast, which, like the one in the old Egyptian boat we were talking of in Chapter II, could be quickly raised or lowered. If she had only had proper sails and rigging she could have tacked against the wind. But, as we shall soon see, the art of tacking was not invented till five centuries later; though then it was done by an English descendant of the Vikings.
Eighty foot long and sixteen in the beam, this Viking vessel must have looked the real thing as she scudded before a following wind or dashed ahead when her thirty-two oars were swept through the water by sixty-four pairs of the strongest arms on earth. Her figure-head has gone; but she probably had a fierce dragon over the bows, just ready to strike. Her sides were hung with glittering shields; and when mere landsmen saw a Viking fleet draw near, the oars go in, the swords come out, and Vikings leap ashore—no wonder they shivered in their shoes!
It was in this way that the Normans first arrived in Normandy and made a home there in spite of Franks and Gauls, just as the Danes made English homes in spite of Celts and Anglo-Saxons. There was no navy to oppose them. Neither was there any fleet to oppose William the Conqueror in 1066, when he crossed the Channel to seize the English Crown. Harold of England had no great fleet in any case; and what he had was off the Yorkshire coast, where his brother had come to claim the Crown, backed by the King of Norway. The Battle of Hastings, which made William king of England, was therefore a land battle only. But the fact that William had a fleet in the Channel, while Harold had not, gave William the usual advantage in the campaign. From that day to this England has never been invaded; and for the best of all reasons—because no enemy could ever safely pass her fleet.
The Normans at last gave England what none of her other Norsemen gave her, the power of becoming the head and heart of the future British Empire. The Celts, Danes, Jutes, and Anglo-Saxons had been fusing together the iron of their natures to make one strong, united British race. The Normans changed this iron into steel: well tempered, stronger than iron could be, and splendidly fit for all the great work of imperial statesmen as well as for that of warriors by land and sea.
The Normans were not so great in numbers. But they were very great in leadership. They were a race of rulers. Picked men of Nordic stock to start with, they had learnt the best that France could teach them: Roman law and order and the art of founding empires, Frankish love of freedom, a touch of Celtic wit, and the new French civilization. They went all over seaboard Europe, conquerors and leaders wherever they went. But nowhere did they set their mark so firmly and so lastingly as in the British Isles. They not only conquered and became leaders among their fellow-Norsemen but they went through most of Celtic Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, founding many a family whose descendants have helped to make the Empire what it is.
William the Conqueror built a fleet as soon as he could; for only a few of the vessels he brought over from Normandy were of any use as men-of-war. But there were no great battles on the water till the one off the South Foreland more than a century after his death. He and the kings after him always had to keep their weather eye open for Danes and other rovers of the sea as well as for the navy of the kings of France. But, except when Henry II went to Ireland in 1171, there was no great expedition requiring a large fleet. Strongbow and other ambitious nobles had then begun conquering parts of Ireland on their own account. So Henry recalled his Englishmen, lest they should go too far without him, and held a court at which they promised to give him, as their liege overlord, all the conquests they either had made or might make. Henry, who understood the value of sea-power, at once granted them whatever they could conquer, except the seaports, which he would keep for the Crown.
When Henry died Richard the Lion-Hearted and Philip Augustus of France agreed to join in a great Crusade. Zeal for the Christian religion and love of adventure together drew vast numbers of Crusaders to the Holy Land. But sea-power also had a great deal to do with the Crusades. The Saracens, already strong at sea in the East, were growing so much stronger that Western statesmen thought it high time to check them, lest their fleets should command the whole Mediterranean and perhaps the seas beyond.
In 1190 Richard joined his fleet at Messina, in Sicily, where roving Normans were of course to be found as leaders in peace and war. Vinesauf the historian, who was what we should now call a war correspondent, wrote a glowing account of the scene. "As soon as the people heard of his arrival they rushed in crowds to the shore to behold the glorious King of England, and saw the sea covered with innumerable galleys. And the sound of trumpets from afar, with the sharper blasts of clarions, resounded in their ears. And they saw the galleys rowing near the land, adorned and furnished with all kinds of arms, with countless pennons floating in the breeze, ensigns at the tops of lances, the beaks of the galleys beautified by painting, and glittering shields hanging from the prows. The sea looked as if it was boiling from the vast number of oar blades in it. The trumpets grew almost deafening. And each arrival was greeted with bursts of cheering. Then our splendid King stood up on a prow higher than all the rest, with a gorgeously dressed staff of warriors about him, and surveyed the scene with pleasure. After this he landed, beautifully dressed, and showed himself graciously to all who approached him."
The whole English fleet numbered about two hundred and thirty vessels, with stores for a year and money enough for longer still. A southerly gale made nearly everybody sea-sick; for the Italian rowers in the galleys were little better as seamen than the soldiers were, being used to calm waters. Some vessels were wrecked on the rocks of Cyprus, when their crews were robbed by the king there. This roused the Lion-Hearted, who headed a landing party which soon brought King Comnenus to his senses. Vinesauf wrote to say that when Comnenus sued for peace Richard was mounted on a splendid Spanish war-horse and dressed in a red silk tunic embroidered with gold. Red seems to have been a favourite English war colour from very early times. The red St. George's Cross on a white field was flown from the masthead by the commander-in-chief of the fleet, just as it is today. On another flag always used aboard ship three British lions were displayed.
After putting Comnenus into silver chains and shutting him up in a castle Richard set two governors over Cyprus, which thus became the first Eastern possession of the British Crown. Seven centuries later it again came into British hands, this time to stay. Richard then sailed for the siege of Acre in Palestine. But on the way he met a Turkish ship of such enormous size that she simply took Vinesauf's breath away. No one thought that any ship so big had ever been built before, "unless it might be Noah's Ark", Richard had a hundred galleys. The Turkish ship was quite alone; but she was a tough nut to crack, for all that. She was said to have had fifteen hundred men aboard, which might be true, as soldiers being rushed over for the defence of Acre were probably packed like herrings in a barrel. As this was the first English sea fight in the Crusades, and the first in which a King of all England fought, the date should be set down: the 7th of June, 1191.
The Turk was a very stoutly built vessel, high out of the water and with three tall masts, each provided with a fighting top from which stones and jars of Greek fire could be hurled down on the galleys. She also had "two hundred most deadly serpents, prepared for killing Christians." Altogether, she seems to have been about as devilish a craft as even Germans could invent. As she showed no colours Richard hailed her, when she said she was a French ship bound for Acre. But as no one on board could speak French he sent a galley to test her. As soon as the Englishmen went near enough the Turks threw Greek fire on them. Then Richard called out: "Follow me and take her! If she escapes you lose my love for ever. If you take her, all that is in her will be yours." But when the galleys swarmed round her she beat them off with deadly showers of arrows and Greek fire. There was a pause, and the galleys seemed less anxious to close again. Then Richard roared out: "If this ship escapes every one of you men will be hanged!" After this some men jumped overboard with tackle which they made fast to the Turkish rudder. They and others then climbed up her sides, having made ropes fast with grapnels. A furious slashing and stabbing followed on deck. The Turks below swarmed up and drove the English overboard. Nothing daunted, Richard prepared to ram her. Forming up his best galleys in line-abreast he urged the rowers to their utmost speed. With a terrific rending crash the deadly galley beaks bit home. The Turk was stove in so badly that she listed over and sank like a stone. It is a pity that we do not know her name. For she fought overwhelming numbers with a dauntless courage that nothing could surpass. As she was the kind of ship then called a "dromon" she might be best remembered as "the dauntless dromon."
King John, who followed Richard on the throne of England, should be known as John the Unjust. He was hated in Normandy, which Philip Augustus of France took from him in 1204. He was hated in England, where the English lords forced him to sign Magna Charta in 1215. False to his word, he had no sooner signed it than he began plotting to get back the power he had so shamefully misused; and the working out of this plot brought on the first great sea fight with the French.
Looking out for a better king the lords chose Prince Louis of France, who landed in England next year and met them in London. But John suddenly died. His son, Henry III, was only nine. So England was ruled by William Marshal, the great Earl of Pembroke, one of the ablest patriots who ever lived. Once John was out of the way the English lords who had wrung from him the great charter of English liberties became very suspicious of Louis and the French. A French army was besieging Lincoln in 1217, helped by the English followers of Louis, when the Earl Marshal, as Pembroke is called, caught this Anglo-French force between his own army and the garrison, who joined the attack, and utterly defeated it in a battle the people called the Fair of Lincoln. Louis, who had been besieging Dover, at once sent to France for another army. But this brought on the battle of the South Foreland, which was the ruin of his hopes.
The French commander was Eustace the Monk, a Flemish hireling who had fought first for John and then for Louis. He was good at changing sides, having changed from monk to pirate because it paid him better, and having since been always up for sale to whichever side would pay him best. But he was bold and skilful; he had a strong fleet; and both he and his followers were very keen to help Louis, who had promised them the spoils of England if they won. Luckily for England this danger brought forth her first great sea commander, Hubert de Burgh: let his name be long remembered. Hubert had stood out against Louis as firmly as he had against John, and as firmly as he was again to face another bad king, when Henry III tried to follow John's example. Hubert had refused to let Louis into Dover Castle. He had kept him out during the siege that followed. And he was now holding this key to the English Channel with the same skill and courage as was shown by the famous Dover Patrol throughout the war against the Germans.
Hubert saw at once that the best way to defend England from invasion was to defeat the enemy at sea by sailing out to meet him. This is as true today as ever. The best possible way of defending yourself always is to destroy the enemy's means of destroying you; and, with us of the British Empire, the only sure way to begin is to smash the enemy's fleet or, if it hides in port, blockade it. Hubert, of course, had trouble to persuade even the patriotic nobles that his own way was the right one; for, just as at the present day, most people knew nothing of the sea. But the men of the Cinque Ports, the five great seaports on the south-east coast of England, did know whereof they spoke when they answered Hubert's call: "If this tyrant Eustace lands he will lay the country waste. Let us therefore meet him while he is at sea."
Hubert's English fleet of forty ships sailed from Dover on the 24th of August, 1217, and steered towards Calais; for the wind was south-south-east and Hubert wished to keep the weather gage. For six hundred years to come, (that is, till, after Trafalgar, sails gave way to steam), the sea commanders who fought to win by bold attack always tried to keep the weather gage. This means that they kept on the windward side of the enemy, which gave them a great advantage, as they could then choose their own time for attacking and the best weak spot to attack, while the enemy, having the wind ahead, could not move half so fast, except when running away. Hubert de Burgh was the first commander who understood all about the weather gage and how to get it. Even the clever Eustace was taken in, for he said, "I know these clever villains want to plunder Calais. But the people there are ready for them." So he held his course to the Forelands, meaning to round into the mouth of Thames and make for London.
Then Hubert bore down. His fleet was the smaller; but as he had the weather gage he succeeded in smashing up the French rear before the rest could help it. As each English vessel ranged alongside it threw grappling irons into the enemy, who were thus held fast. The English archers hailed a storm of well aimed arrows on the French decks, which were densely crowded by the soldiers Eustace was taking over to conquer England. Then the English boarded, blinding the nearest French with lime, cutting their rigging to make their vessels helpless, and defeating the crews with great slaughter. Eustace, having lost the weather gage, with which he had started out that morning, could only bring his fleet into action bit by bit. Hubert's whole fleet fought together and won a perfect victory.
More than a century later the unhappy Hundred Years War (1336-1431) broke out. All the countries of Western Europe took a hand in it at one time or another. Scotland, which was a sort of sub-kingdom under the King of England, sided with France because she wished to be independent of England, while the smaller countries on the eastern frontier of France sided with England because they were afraid of France. But the two great opponents were always France and England. The Kings of England had come from Normandy and other parts of what is now France and what then were fiefs of the Crown of France, as Scotland was a fief of the Crown of England. They therefore took as much interest in what they held in France as in their own out-and-out Kingdom of England. Moreover, they not only wanted to keep what they had in France but to make it as independent of the French King as the Scotch King wanted to make Scotland independent of them.
In the end the best thing happened; for it was best to have both kingdoms completed in the way laid out by Nature: France, a great land-power, with a race of soldiers, having all that is France now; and England, the great sea-power, with a race of sailors, becoming one of the countries that now make up the United Kingdom of the British Isles. But it took a hundred years to get the English out of France, and much longer still to bring all parts of the British Isles under a single king.
In the fourteenth century the population of France, including all the French possessions of the English Crown, was four times the population of England. One would suppose that the French could easily have driven the English out of every part of France and have carried the war into England, as the Romans carried their war into Carthage. But English sea-power made all the difference. Sea-power not only kept Frenchmen out of England but it helped Englishmen to stay in France and win many a battle there as well. Most of the time the English fleet held the command of the sea along the French as well as along the English coast. So the English armies enjoyed the immense advantage of sea-transport over land-transport, whenever men, arms, horses, stores, food, and whatever else their armies needed could be moved by water, while the French were moving their own supplies by land with more than ten times as much trouble and delay.
Another and most important point about the Hundred Years War is this: that it does not stand alone in history, but is only the first of the two very different kinds of Hundred Years War which France and England have fought out. The first Hundred Years War was fought to decide the absolute possession of all the lands where Frenchmen lived; and France, most happily, came out victorious. The second Hundred Years War (1689-1815) was fought to decide the command of the sea; and England won. When we reach this second Hundred Years War, and more especially when we reach that part of it which was directed by the mighty Pitt, we shall understand it as the war which made the British Empire of today.
The first big battle of the first Hundred Years War was fought in 1340 between the French and English fleets at Sluys, a little seaport up a river in the western corner of what is Holland now. King Philip of France had brought together all the ships he could, not only French ones but Flemish, with hired war galleys and their soldiers and slave oarsmen from Genoa and elsewhere. But, instead of using this fleet to attack the English, and so clear the way for an invasion of England, he let it lie alongside the mudbanks of Sluys. Edward III, the future victor of Cressy, Poitiers, and Winchelsea, did not take long to seize so good a chance. The French fleet was placed as if on purpose to ensure its own defeat; for it lay at anchor in three divisions, each division with all the vessels lashed together, and the whole three in one line with a flank to the sea. The English officers who had landed to look at it saw at once that if this flank was properly attacked it could be smashed in on the next bit of the line, and that on the next, and so on, before the remaining bits could come to the rescue. On the turn of the tide Edward swooped down with his best ships, knocked this flank to pieces, and then went on till two divisions had been rolled up in complete confusion. Then the ebb-tide set out to sea; and the Genoese of the third division mostly got away.
Ten years later (1350) the English for the first time fought a Spanish fleet and won a battle sometimes called Winchelsea and sometimes Espagnols-sur-mer or Spaniards-on-the-sea. Edward III had sworn vengeance against the Basque traders from the coast of Spain who had plundered the English vessels coming in from France. So he made ready to attack the Spanish Basques sailing home from Antwerp, where they had hired Flemings and others to join the fray. This time each fleet was eager to attack the other; and a battle royal followed. On the fine afternoon of the 28th of August King Edward sat on the deck of his flagship listening to Sir John Chandos, who was singing while the minstrels played. Beside him stood his eldest son, the famous Black Prince, then twenty years of age, and his youngest son, John of Gaunt, then only ten. Suddenly the lookout called down from the tops: "Sire, I see one, two, three, four—I see so many, so help me God, I cannot count them." Then the King called for his helmet and for wine, with which he and his knights drank to each others' health and to their joint success in the coming battle. Queen Philippa and her ladies meanwhile went into Winchelsea Abbey to pray for victory, now and then stealing out to see how their fleet was getting on.
The Spaniards made a brave show. Their fighting tops (like little bowl-shaped forts high up the masts) glinted with armed men. Their soldiers stood in gleaming armour on the decks. Long narrow flags gay with coloured crests fluttered in the breeze. The English, too, made a brave show of flags and armoured men. They had a few more vessels than the Spaniards, but of a rather smaller kind, so the two fleets were nearly even. The King steered for the Spaniards; though not so as to meet them end-for-end but at an angle. The two flagships met with a terrific crash; and the crowded main-top of the Spaniard, snapping from off the mast, went splash into the sea, carrying its little garrison down with all their warlike gear. The charging ships rebounded for a moment, and then ground against each others' sides, wrecked each others' rigging, and began the fight with showers of arrows, battering stones from aloft, and wildfire flying to and fro. The Spanish flagship was the bigger of the two, more stoutly built, and with more way on when they met; so she forged ahead a good deal damaged, while the King's ship wallowed after, leaking like a sieve. The tremendous shock of the collision had opened every seam in her hull and she began to sink. The King still wanted to follow the Spanish flagship; but his sailors, knowing this was now impossible, said: "No, Sire, your Majesty can not catch her; but we can catch another." With that they laid aboard the next one, which the king took just in time, for his own ship sank a moment after.
The Black Prince had the same good luck, just clearing the enemy's deck before his own ship sank. Strange to say, the same thing happened to Robert of Namur, a Flemish friend of Edward's, whose vessel, grappled by a bigger enemy, was sinking under him as the two were drifting side by side, when Hanekin, an officer of Robert's, climbed into the Spanish vessel by some entangled rigging and cut the ropes which held the Spanish sails. Down came the sails with a run, flopping about the Spaniards' heads; and before the confusion could be put right Robert was over the side with his men-at-arms, cutting down every Spaniard who struggled out of the mess. The Basques and Spaniards fought most bravely. But the chief reason why they were beaten hand-to-hand was because the English archers, trained to shooting from their boyhood up, had killed and wounded so many of them before the vessels closed.
The English won a great victory. But it was by no means complete, partly because the Spanish fleet was too strong to be finished off, and partly because the English and their Flemish friends wanted to get home with their booty. Time out of mind, and for at least three centuries to come, fleets were mostly made up of vessels only brought together for each battle or campaign; and even the King's vessels were expected to make what they could out of loot.
With the sea roads open to the English and mostly closed to the French and Scots the English armies did as well on land as the navy did at sea. Four years before this first great battle with the Spaniards the English armies had won from the French at Cressy and from the Scots at Neville's Cross. Six years after the Spanish fight they won from the French again at Poitiers. But in 1374 Edward III, worn out by trying to hold his lands in France, had been forced to neglect his navy; while Jean de Vienne, founder of the regular French Navy, was building first-class men-of-war at Rouen, where, five hundred years later, a British base was formed to supply the British army during the Great War.
With Shakespeare's kingly hero, Henry V, the fortunes of the English armies in France revived. In 1415 he won a great battle at Agincourt, a place, like Cressy, within a day's march of his ships in the Channel. Harfleur, at the mouth of the Seine, had been Henry's base for the Agincourt campaign. So the French were very keen to get it back, while the English were equally keen to keep it. Henry sent over a great fleet under the Duke of Bedford. The French, though their fleet was the smaller of the two, attacked with the utmost gallantry, but were beaten back with great loss. Their Genoese hirelings fought well at the beginning, but made off towards the end. In 1417 Henry himself was back in France with his army. But he knew what sea-power meant, and how foolish it was to land without making sure that the seaways were quite safe behind him. So he first sent a fleet to make sure, and then he crossed his army, which now had a safe "line of communication," through its base in France, with its great home base in England.
Henry V was not, of course, the only man in England who then understood sea-power. For in 1416, exactly five hundred years before Jellicoe's victory of Jutland, Henry's Parliament passed a resolution in which you still can read these words: "that the Navy is the chief support of the wealth, the business, and the whole prosperity of England." Some years later Hungerford, one of Henry's admirals, wrote a Book of English Policy, "exhorting all England to keep the sea" and explaining what Edward III had meant by stamping a ship on the gold coins called nobles: "Four things our noble showeth unto me: King, ship, and sword, and power of the sea." These are themselves but repetitions of Offa's good advice, given more than six centuries earlier: "He who would be safe on land must be supreme at sea." And all show the same kind of first-rate sea-sense that is shown by the "Articles of War" which are still read out to every crew in the Navy. The Preamble or preface to these Articles really comes to this: "It is upon the Navy that, under the providence of God, the wealth, prosperity, and peace of the British Empire chiefly depend."
Between the death of Henry V in 1422 and the accession of Henry VII in 1485 there was a dreary time on land and sea. The King of England lost the last of his possessions in the land of France. Only the Channel Islands remained British, as they do still. At home the Normans had settled down with the descendants of the other Norsemen to form one people, the Anglo-Norman people of today, the leading race within the British Empire and, to a less extent, within the United States. But England was torn in two by the Wars of the Roses, in which the great lords and their followers fought about the succession to the throne, each party wanting to have a king of its own choice. For the most part, however, the towns and seaports kept out of these selfish party wars and attended to their growing business instead. And when Henry VII united both the warring parties, and these with the rest of England, he helped to lay the sure foundations of the future British Empire.
England needed good pilots to take the ship of state safely through the troubled waters of the wonderful sixteenth century, and she found them in the three great Royal Tudors: Henry VII (1485-1509), Henry VIII (1509-1547), and Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603). All three fostered English sea-power, both for trade and war, and helped to start the modern Royal Navy on a career of world-wide victory such as no other fighting service has ever equalled, not even the Roman Army in the palmy days of Rome. It was a happy thought that gave the name of Queen Elizabeth to the flagship on board of which the British Commander-in-chief received the surrender of the German Fleet. Ten generations had passed away between this surrender in 1918 and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. But the British Royal Navy was still the same: in sea-sense, spirit, training, and surpassing skill.
Henry VII was himself an oversea trader, and a very good one too. He built ships and let them out to traders at a handsome profit for himself besides trading with them on his own account. But he was never so foolish as to think that peaceful trade could go on without a fighting navy to protect it. So he built men-of-war; though he used these for trade as well. Men-of-war built specially for fighting were of course much better in a battle than any mere merchantman could be. But in those days, and for some time after, merchantmen went about well armed and often joined the king's ships of the Royal Navy during war, as many of them did against the Germans in our own day.
English oversea trade was carried on with the whole of Europe, with Asia Minor, and with the North of Africa. Canyng, a merchant prince of Bristol, employed a hundred shipwrights and eight hundred seamen. He sent his ships to Iceland, the Baltic, and all through the Mediterranean. But the London merchants were more important still; and the king was the most important man of all. He had his watchful eye on the fishing fleet of Iceland, which was then as important as the fleet of Newfoundland became later on. He watched the Baltic trade in timber and the Flanders trade in wool. He watched the Hansa Towns of northern Germany, then second only to Venice itself as the greatest trading centre of the world. And he had his English consuls in Italy as early as 1485, the first year of his reign.
One day Columbus sent his brother to see if the king would help him to find the New World. But Henry VII was a man who looked long and cautiously before he leaped; and even then he only leaped when he saw where he would land. So Columbus went to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, who sent him out to discover America in 1492, the same year that they conquered the last Eastern possession in Western Europe, the Moorish Kingdom of Grenada, which thenceforth became a province of Spain. Five years later Henry sent John Cabot out from Bristol in the little Matthew with only eighteen men "to sayle to all Partes, Countreys, and Seas, of the East, of the West, and of the North; to seeke out, discover, and finde, whatsoever Iles, Countreyes, Regions, or Provinces, of the Heathennes and Infidelles" and "to set up Our banners and Ensigns in every village, towne, castel, yle, or maine lande, of them newly found." Cabot discovered Canada by reaching Cape Breton in 1497, three years before Columbus himself saw any part of the mainland. But as he found nobody there, not even "Heathenries and Infidelles," much less "villages, castels, and townes," as he lost money by his venture and could not pay the king the promised "royalty" of twenty per cent., we need not laugh too loudly over what the king gave him: "To Hym that founde the new Isle—10 pounds," which was worth more than a thousand dollars would be now. Cabot went again and his son Sebastian after him; but there was no money to be made in this venture. True, Sebastian said the fish off Newfoundland were so thick that he could hardly force his vessels through the water. But fish stories and travellers' tales were as hard to believe then as now; and the English thought America was worth very little after all. Indeed, the general opinion in Europe was that America was more of a nuisance than anything else, because it seemed to block the way to the Golden East. Once people were persuaded that the world was round they wanted to find a short cut to Cathay, the land of fabled wealth in silks and spices, gold and jewels; and they expected to find it by sailing due West till they reached the Far East. So, finding instead that America had no such riches on its own shores and that these shores spoilt the short cut to Cathay, and knowing that fish were plentiful in Europe, most people never bothered their heads about America for another fifty years.
We shall soon see what wonderful changes took place when the Old World at last discovered the riches of the New, and all the European sea-powers began fighting for the best places they could find there.
When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509 his first thought was for the "Broade Ditch," as he called the English Channel. In 1546, only a little before he died, he appointed a Navy Board, which answered its purpose so well that it looked after the pay, food, stores, docks, and ships of the Royal Navy for nearly three hundred years; and then became part of the Admiralty, which now does everything for the Navy that can be done from the land. In one word, this Board took care of everything except the fighting part of the Navy's work. That part was under the Lord High Admiral or a body of men appointed to act for him. This body still exists; and the old Board of Henry VIII works with it under different names. One branch of the Admiralty, as the whole management is now called, supplies the other with the means to fight. This other orders everything connected with the fighting fleets. The fighting fleets themselves are then left to do the best they can.
Henry never forgot for a moment that England could not live a day if she was not a mighty sea-power. He improved the dockyards founded by his father at Deptford and Portsmouth. He founded Trinity House, which still examines pilots and looks after the lights and buoys all round the British Isles. He put down pirates with a strong hand. And he brought the best ship-builders he could get from Italy, where the scientific part of shipbuilding and navigation was then the best in the world, because the trade routes of Asia, Africa, and Europe mostly met at Venice. But he always kept his eyes open for good men at home; and in one of his own shipbuilders, Fletcher of Rye, he found a man who did more than anybody else to make the vastly important change from the ancient age of rowing fleets to the modern age of sailing ones.
From the time when the first bit of a wild beast's skin was hoisted by some pre-historic savage, thousands and thousands of years ago, nobody had learnt how to tack, that is, to sail against the wind. The only way any ship could go at all well was with the wind, that is, with the wind blowing from behind. So long as men had nothing but a single "wind-bag" of skin or cloth the best wind was a "lubber's wind," that is, a wind from straight behind. When more and better sails were used a lubber's wind was not the best because one sail would stop the wind from reaching another one in front of it. The best wind then, as ever since, was a "quartering wind," that is, a wind blowing on a vessel's quarter, half way between her stern and the middle of her side. Ships with better keels, sails, and shape of hull might have sailed with a "soldier's wind," that is, a wind blowing straight against the ship's side, at right angles to her course. But they must have "made leeway" by going sideways too. This wind on the beam was called a soldier's wind because it made equally plain sailing out and back again, and so did not bother landsmen with a lot of words and things they could not understand when ships tacked against head winds.
Who first "tacked ship" is more than we can say. But many generations of seamen must have wished they knew how to sail towards a place from which the wind was blowing. Tacking probably came bit by bit, like other new inventions. But Fletcher of Rye, whom Henry always encouraged, seems to have been the first man who really learnt how to sail against the wind. He did this by tacking (that is, zigzagging) against it with sails trimmed fore and aft. In this way the sails, as it were, slide against the wind at an angle and move the ship ahead, first to one side of the straight line towards the place she wants to reach, and then, after turning her head, to the other. It was in 1539 that Fletcher made his trial trip, to the great amazement of the shipping in the Channel. Thus by 1545, that year of naval changes, the new sailing age had certainly begun to live and the old rowing age had certainly begun to die. The invention of tacking made almost as great a change as steam made three hundred years later; for it shortened voyages from months to weeks, as steam afterwards shortened them from weeks to days. Why did Jacques Cartier take months to make voyages from Europe and up the St. Lawrence when Champlain made them in weeks? Because Champlain could tack and Jacques Cartier could not. Columbus, Cabot, and Cartier could no more zigzag towards a place from which the wind was blowing dead against them than could the ships of Hiram, King of Tyre, who brought so many goods by sea for Solomon. But Champlain, who lived a century later, did know how to tack the Don de Dieu against the prevailing south-west winds of the St. Lawrence; and this was one reason why he made a voyage from the Seine to the Saguenay in only eighteen days, a voyage that remained the Canadian record for ninety years to come.
The year 1545 is coupled with the title "King of the English Sea" because the fleet which Henry VIII then had at Portsmouth was the first fleet in the world that showed any promise of being "fit to go foreign" and fight a battle out at sea with broadside guns and under sail.
True, it had some rowing galleys, like those of other old-fashioned fleets; and its sailing men-of-war were nothing much to boast of in the way of handiness or even safety. The Mary Rose, which Henry's admiral, Sir Edward Howard, had described thirty years before as "the flower of all the ships that ever sailed," was built with lower portholes only sixteen inches above the water line. So when her crew forgot to close these ports, and she listed over while going about (that is, while making a turn to bring the wind on the other side), the water rushed in and heeled her over still more. Then the guns on her upper side, which had not been lashed, slid across her steeply sloping decks bang into those on the lower side, whereupon the whole lot crashed through the ports or stove her side, so that she filled and sank with nearly everyone on board.
No, the Royal Navy of 1545 was very far from being perfect either in ships or men. But it had made a beginning towards fighting with broadsides under sail; and this momentous change was soon to be so well developed under Drake as to put English sea-power a century ahead of all its rivals in the race for oversea dominion both in the Old World and the New. A rowing galley, with its platform crowded by soldiers waiting to board had no chance against a sailing ship which could fire all the guns of her broadsides at a safe distance. Nor had the other foreign men-of-war a much better chance, because they too were crowded with soldiers, carried only a few light guns, and were far less handy than the English vessels under sail. They were, in fact, nothing very much better than armed transports full of soldiers, who were dangerous enough when boarding took place, but who were mere targets for the English guns when kept at arm's length.
The actual Portsmouth campaign of 1545 was more like a sham battle than a real one; though the French fleet came right over to England and no one can doubt French bravery. Perhaps the best explanation is the one given by Blaise de Montluc, one of the French admirals: "Our business is rather on the land than on the water, where I do not know of any great battles that we have ever won." Henry VIII had seized Boulogne the year before, on which Francis I (Jacques Cartier's king) swore he would clear the Channel of the English, who also held Calais. He raised a very big fleet, partly by hiring Italian galleys, and sent it over to the Isle of Wight. There it advanced and retired through the summer, never risking a pitched battle with the English, who, truth to tell, did not themselves show much more enterprise.
Sickness raged in both fleets. Neither wished to risk its all on a single chance unless that chance was a very tempting one. The French fleet was a good deal the bigger of the two; and Lisle, the English commander-in-chief, was too cautious to attack it while it remained in one body. When the French were raiding the coast Lisle's hopes ran high. "If we chance to meet with them," he wrote, "divided as they should seem to be, we shall have some sport with them." But the French kept together and at last retired in good order. That was the queer end of the last war between those two mighty monarchs, Francis I and Henry VIII. But both kings were then nearing death; both were very short of money; and both they and their people were anxious for peace. Thus ended the Navy's part of 1545.
But three other events of this same year, all connected with English sea-power, remain to be noted down. First, Drake, the hero of the coming Spanish War, was born at Crowndale, by Tavistock, in Devon. Secondly, the mines of Potosi in South America suddenly roused the Old World to the riches of the New. And, thirdly, the words of the National Anthem were, so to say, born on board the Portsmouth fleet, where the "Sailing Orders" ended thus:—"The Watchword in the Night shall be, 'God save King Henrye!' The other shall answer, 'Long to raign over Us!'" The National Anthems of all the other Empires, Kingdoms, and Republics in the world have come from their armies and the land. Our own springs from the Royal Navy and the sea.
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
King Richard II, Act II, Scene I.
To sea, to sea! the calm is o'er;
The wanton water leaps in sport,
And rattles down the pebbly shore;
The dolphin wheels, the sea-cows snort,
And unseen Mermaids' pearly song
Comes bubbling up, the weeds among.
Fling broad the sail, dip deep the oar;
To sea, to sea! the calm is o'er.
To sea, to sea! our wide-winged bark
Shall billowy cleave its sunny way,
And with its shadow, fleet and dark,
Break the caved Tritons' azure day,
Like mighty eagle soaring light
O'er antelopes on Alpine height.
The anchor heaves, the ship swings free,
The sails swell full: To sea, to sea!
—Thomas Lovell Beddoes.
Of Neptune's empire let us sing,
At whose command the waves obey;
To whom the rivers tribute pay,
Down the high mountains sliding:
To whom the scaly nation yields
Homage for the crystal fields
Wherein they dwell:
And every sea-god pays a gem
Yearly out of his wat'ry cell
To deck great Neptune's diadem.
The Tritons dancing in a ring
Before his palace gates do make
The water with their echoes quake,
Like the great thunder sounding:
The sea-nymphs chant their accents shrill,
And the sirens, taught to kill
With their sweet voice,
Make ev'ry echoing rock reply
Unto their gentle murmuring noise
The praise of Neptune's empery.
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven is on the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Where the remote Bermudas ride
In the ocean's bosom unespied,
From a small boat that row'd along
The listening winds received this song:
'What should we do but sing His praise
That led us through the watery maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storms' and prelates' rage:
He gave us this eternal Spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care
On daily visits through the air:
He hangs in shades the orange bright
Like golden lamps in a green night,
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows:
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet;
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars chosen by His hand
From Lebanon He stores the land;
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel's pearl upon our coast;
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple where to sound His name.
O, let our voice His praise exalt
Till it arrive at Heaven's vault,
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding may
Echo beyond the Mexique bay!'
Thus sung they in the English boat
A holy and a cheerful note:
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.
Just as Germany tried to win the overlordship of the world in this twentieth century so Spain tried in the sixteenth; and just as the Royal Navy was the chief, though by no means the biggest, force that has won the whole world's freedom from the Germans now, so the Royal Navy was the chief force that won world-freedom from the Spaniards then.
Spaniards and Portuguese, who often employed Italian seamen, were the first to begin taking oversea empires. They gained footholds in places as far apart as India and America. Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and waded into the Pacific, sword in hand, to claim it for the King of Spain. A Portuguese ship was the first to go right round the world. The Spaniards conquered all Central and great parts of North and South America. The Portuguese settled in Brazil.
While this was going on abroad France and England were taken up with their own troubles at home and with each other. So Spain and Portugal had it all their own way for a good many years. The Spanish Empire was by far the biggest in the world throughout the sixteenth century. Charles V, King of Spain, was heir to several other crowns, which he passed on to his son, Philip II. Charles was the sovereign lord of Spain, of what are Belgium and Holland now, and of the best parts of Italy. He was elected Emperor of Germany, which gave him a great hold on that German "Middle Europe" which, stretching from the North Sea to the Adriatic, cut the rest in two. Besides this he owned large parts of Africa. And then, to crown it all, he won what seemed best worth having in Central, North, and South America.
France and England had something to say about this. Francis I wrote Charles a pretty plain letter. "Your Majesty and the King of Portugal have divided the world between you, offering no part of it to me. Show me, I pray you, the will of our father Adam, so that I may see if he has really made you his universal heirs." Nor did the two Henrys forget the claims of England. Henry VII claimed most of the eastern coast of what are now Canada and the United States, in virtue of the Cabot discoveries. In the Naval Museum at Madrid you can still see the bullock-hide map of Juan de la Cosa, which, made in the year 1500, shows St. George's Cross flying over these very parts.
But it was not till after 1545, when the mines of Potosi made Europe dream of El Dorado, the great new Golden West, that England began to think of trying her own luck in America. Some of the fathers of Drake's "Sea-Dogs" had already been in Brazil, notably "Olde Mr. William Hawkins, a man for his wisdome, valure, experience, and skill in sea causes much esteemed and beloved of King Henry the Eight." Hawkins "armed out a tall and goodlie ship called the Pole of Plimmouth, wherewith he made three long and famous voyages into the coast of Brasil." He went by way of Africa, "where he trafiqued with the Negroes, and took of them Oliphants' teeth; and arriving on the coast of Brasil, behaved himself so wisely, that he grew into great friendship with those savages"—very different from the vile cruelty with which the Spaniards always treated the poor natives. These voyages were made about 1530; and the writer says that they were "in those days very rare, especially to our Nation."
In 1554 Charles V planned to make all such voyages work for the glory of Spain instead of England. But, thanks chiefly to the English Sea-Dogs, everything turned out the other way. Charles saw that if he could only add England to his vast possessions he could command the world; for then he would have not only the greatest land-power but the greatest sea-power too. Queen Mary seemed made for his plan. Her mother, Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife, was a Spaniard, and she herself cared less for England than for Spain. She was only too ready to marry Charles's heir, Philip, of Armada fame. After this Charles would leave his throne to Philip, who would then be King of England as well as King of Spain.
Philip sailed for England with a hundred and sixty ships, and came up the Channel with the Spanish standard at the main (that is, at the tip top of the main, or highest, mast). Lord Howard of Effingham sailed to meet him and answer Philip's salute. But Philip and his haughty Dons thought it was nonsense for the Prince of Spain to follow the custom of the sea by saluting first when coming into English waters. So the Spanish fleet sailed on and took no notice, till suddenly Howard fired a shot across the Spanish flagship's bows. Then, at last, Philip's standard came down with a run, and he lowered topsails too, so as to make the salute complete. Howard thereupon saluted Philip, and the two fleets sailed on together. But there was no love lost between them. Neither was the marriage popular ashore. Except for the people at court, who had to be civil to Philip, London treated the whole thing more as a funeral than a wedding. Philip drank beer in public, instead of Spanish wine, and tried to be as English as he could. Mary did her best to make the people like him. And both did their best to buy as many friends at court as Spanish gold could buy. But, except for his Queen and the few who followed her through thick and thin, and the spies he paid to sell their country, Philip went back with even fewer English friends than he had had before; while the Spanish gold itself did him more harm than good; for the English Sea-Dogs never forgot the long array of New-World wealth that he paraded through the streets of London—"27 chests of bullion, 99 horseloads + 2 cartloads of gold and silver coin, and 97 boxes full of silver bars." That set them asking why the whole New World should be nothing but New Spain.
But seventeen years passed by; and the Spanish Empire seemed bigger and stronger than ever, besides which it seemed to be getting a firmer hold on more and more places in the Golden West. Nor was this all; for Portugal, which had many ships and large oversea possessions, was becoming so weak as to be getting more and more under the thumb of Spain; while Spain herself had just (1571) become the victorious champion both of West against East and of Christ against Mahomet by beating the Turks at Lepanto, near Corinth, in a great battle on landlocked water, a hundred miles from where the West had defeated the East when Greeks fought Persians at Salamis two thousand years before.
Sir Drake, whom well the world's end knew,
Which thou didst compass round,
And whom both poles of heaven once saw,
Which north and south do bound.
The stars above would make thee known,
If men here silent were;
The sun himself cannot forget
The daring English sailors who roved the waters to prey on Spanish vessels were given the name of Sea-Dogs because they often used to hunt together like a pack of hounds. Their Norse forefathers were often called sea-wolves; and sometimes there was not so very much difference between the two. War to the knife was the rule at sea when Spaniards and Englishmen met, even in time of peace (that is, of peace between the sovereigns of Spain and England, for there was no such thing as real peace at sea or in any oversea possession). Spain was bound to keep Englishmen out of the New World. Englishmen were bound to get in. Of course the Sea-Dogs preyed on other people too, and other peoples' own Sea-Dogs preyed on English vessels when they could; for it was a very rough-and-tumble age at sea, with each nation's seamen fighting for their own hand. But Spanish greed and Spanish cruelty soon made Spain the one great enemy of all the English Sea-Dogs.
Sea-Dogs were not brought up on any bed of roses. They were rough, and their lives were rougher. They were no gentler with Spaniards than Spaniards were with them when both were fighting. But, except by way of revenge, and then very seldom, they never practised such fiendish cruelty as the Spaniards practised the whole time. "Captain John Smith, sometime Governor of Virginia and Admiral of New England" (whom the Indian girl Pocahontas saved from death) did not write The Seaman's Grammar till after most of Queen Elizabeth's Sea-Dogs were dead. But he was a big boy before Drake died; so one of his Directions for the Takying of a Prize may well be quoted here to show that there was a Sea-Dog code of honour which would pass muster among the rules of war today. What's more, the Sea-Dogs kept it. "Always have as much care to their wounded as to your own; and if there be either young women or aged men, use them nobly."
Some of the other Directions show that Smith knew how to fight like a lion as well as how to treat his captives well. "Out with all your sails! A steadie man at the helm! Give him (the enemy) chace! Hail him with trumpets! Whence is your ship? Of Spain!—whence is yours? Of England! Be yare at the helm! Edge in with him! Give him a volley of small shot, also your prow and broadside as before! With all your great and small shot charge him! Make fast your grapplings. Board him!" Then, after giving much good advice as to how the rest of a sea fight should be managed, Smith tells his pupils what to do in case of fire. "Captaine, we are foul of each other and the ship is on fire!" "Cut anything to get clear and smother the fire with wet clothes." Here he adds this delightful little note: "In such a case they will presentlie bee such friends as to help each other all they can to get clear; and if they bee generous, and the fire bee quenched, they will drink kindly one to the other, heave their canns overboard, and begin again as before." The duties of a good crew after the fight are carefully laid down: "Chirurgeon (surgeon) look to the wounded and wind up the slain, and give them three guns (volleys) for their funerals" (as we do still). "Swabber, make clean the ship! Purser, record their names! Watch, be vigilant! Gunners, spunge your ordnance! Souldiers, scour your pieces! Carpenters, about your leaks! Boatswain and the rest, repair sails and shrouds! Cook, see you observe your directions against the morning watch!" The first thing in this "morning watch" the captain sings out, "Boy, hallo! is the kettle boiled?"—"Ay, ay, Sir!" Then the captain gives the order: "Boatswain, call up the men to prayer and breakfast." The victory won, and the Spanish ship once safe in the hands of an English crew, the Directions end with a grand salute: "Sound drums and trumpets: Saint George for England!" ("Saint George for England!" is what Sir Roger Keyes signalled to the fleet he led against the Germans at Zeebrugge on St. George's Day in 1918, three hundred years after Smith's book was written.)
Sea-Dogs worked desperately hard for all they got, ran far more than the usual risks of war, and were cheated by most of the traders ashore. As for the risks: when Shakespeare speaks of a "Putter-out of five for one" he means that what we now call insurance agents would bet five to one against the chance of a ship's ever coming back when she was going on a long voyage through distant seas full of known and unknown dangers, such as pirates, cannibals, shipwreck, and deadly diseases. As for cheats: Sea-Dogs were not perfect themselves, nor were all landsmen quite so bad as those in the old sailors' song:
For Sailours they bee honest men,
And they do take great pains.
But Land-men and ruffling Ladds
Do cheat them of their gains.
All the same, the "Land-men" often did cheat sailors so much that sailors might well be excused for poking fun at "Land-men" who were seasick. Yet, at a time when even the best crews had no means of keeping food and water properly, a land-lubber might also be excused for being not only seasick but sick in worse ways still. The want of fresh food always brought on scurvy; and the wonder is that any one lived to tell the tale when once this plague and others got a foothold in a ship.
But the Norse blood tingling in their veins, the manly love of wonderful adventure, and, by no means least, the gamble of it, that dared them to sail for strange outlandish parts with odds of five to one against them, these, quite as much as the wish to make a fortune, were the chief reasons why Sea-Dogs sailed from every port and made so many landsmen mad to join them. And, after all, life afloat, rough as it was, might well be better than life ashore, when men of spirit wanted to be free from the troubles of taking sides with all the ups and downs of kings and courts, rebels and religions.
Whether or not the man who wrote The Complaynt of Scotland was only a passenger or off to join the Sea-Dogs is more than we shall ever know; for all he tells us is that he wrote his book in 1548, and that he was then a landsman who "heard many words among the seamen, but knew not what they meant." In any case, he is the only man who ever properly described the daily work on board a Sea-Dog ship. The Sea-Dogs themselves never bothered their heads about what they thought such a very common thing; and whatever other landsmen wrote was always wrong. A page of this quaint old book, which was not printed till two hundred and fifty years after it was written, will show us how much the work aboard a Sea-Dog ship was, in some ways, like the work aboard any other sailing ship, even down to the present day; and yet how much unlike in other ways. Some of the lingo has changed a good deal; for English seamen soon began to drop the words King Henry's shipwrights brought north from the Mediterranean. Many of these words were Italian, others even Arabic; for the Arabs, Moors, and Turks haunted the Mediterranean for many centuries, and some of their sea-words passed current into all the northern tongues. We get Captain from the Italian Capitano, and Admiral from the Arabic Amir-al-bahr, which means Commander-of-the-sea.
"I shall report their crying and their call," says our author. "Then the boatsman" (who was the officer next to the captain) "cried with an oath: 'I see a great ship.' Then the master (that is, the captain) whistled and bade the mariners lay the cable to the windlass to wind and weigh (that is, heave the anchor up). Then the mariners began to wind the cable in with many a loud cry; and, as one cried, all the others cried in that same tune, as it had been an echo in a cave. 'Veer, veer; veer, veer; gentle gallants, gentle gallants! Wind, I see him! Wind, I see him! Pourbossa, pourbossa! Haul all and one!'" When the anchor was hauled above the water they cried: "Caupon, caupon; caupon, cola; caupon holt; Sarrabossa!" When setting sail they began with the same kind of gibberish. "Hou! Hou! Pulpela, Pulpela! Hard out strife! Before the wind! God send! God send! Fair weather! Many Prizes! Many Prizes! Stow! Stow! Make fast and belay—Heisa! Heisa! One long pull! One long pull! Young blood! More mud! There, there! Yellow hair! Great and small! One and all!" The "yellow hair" refers to the fair-haired Norsemen. What the master told the steersman might have been said by any skipper of our own day: "Keep full and by! Luff! Con her! Steady! Keep close!" But what he told the "Boatswain" next takes us back three hundred years and more. "Bear stones and limepots full of lime to the top" (whence they would make it pretty hot for an enemy held fast alongside). The orders to the artillery and infantry on board are equally old and very odd when we remember modern war. "Gunners, make ready your cannons, culverins, falcons, sakers, slings, head-sticks, murdering pieces, passevolants, bazzils, dogges, arquebusses, calivers, and hail shots! Souldiers, make ready your cross-bows, hand-bows, fire-spars, hail-shot, lances, pikes, halberds, rondels, two-handed swords, and targes!" Yet, old as all this was, the artillery seems to have made a good many noises that would have been familiar to those of us who heard the noises of the Great War. "I heard the cannons and guns make many hideous cracks" (like the stabbing six-inchers). "The bazzils and falcons cried tir-duf, tir-duf, tir-duf" (like the anti-aircraft "Archies"). Then the small artillery cried tik-tak, tik-tak, tik-tak (something like the rattle of machine-guns, only very much slower).
The cannons of those days seem like mere pop-guns to those who knew the British Grand Fleet that swept the Germans off the sea. But the best guns Drake used against the Spanish Armada in 1588 were not at all bad compared with those that Nelson used at Trafalgar in 1805. There is more change in twenty years now than there was in two hundred years then. The chief improvements were in making the cannon balls fit better, in putting the powder into canvas bags, instead of ladling it in loose, and in fitting the guns with tackle, so that they could be much more easily handled, fired, and aimed.
The change in ships during the sailing age was much greater than the change in guns. More sails and better ones were used. The old forecastle, once something really like a little castle set up on deck, was made lower and lower, till it was left out altogether; though the name remains to describe the front part of every ship, and is now pronounced fo'c's'le or foxle. The same sort of top-hamper (that is, anything that makes the ship top-heavy) was cut down, bit by bit, as time went on, from the quarter-deck over the stern; till at last the big British men-of-war became more or less like the Victory, which was Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, and which is still kept in Portsmouth Harbour, where Henry VIII's first promise of a sailing fleet appeared in 1545, the year that Drake was born.
Drake was a first-rate seaman long before he grow up. His father, also a seaman, lived in a man-of-war on the Medway near where Chatham Dockyard stands today; and Drake and his eleven sturdy brothers spent every minute they could in sailing about and "learning the ropes." With "the master of a barque, which used to coast along the shore and sometimes carry merchandise into Zeeland (Holland) and France" Drake went to sea at the age of ten, and did so well that "the old man at his death bequeathed his barque to him by will and testament."
But the Channel trade was much too tame for Drake. So in 1567, when he was twenty-two, he sailed with Hawkins, who was already a famous Sea-Dog, to try his fortune round the Spanish Main, (that is, the mainland of northern South America and of the lands all round Panama). Luck went against them from start to finish. Hawkins, who founded the slave trade that lasted till the nineteenth century, was attacked this time by the negroes he tried to "snare" in Africa. "Envenomed arrows" worked havoc with the Englishmen. "There hardly escaped any that had blood drawn, but died in strange sort, with their mouths shut some ten days before they died." As everybody who sailed to foreign parts used slaves in those days Hawkins and Drake were no worse than the rest; and less bad than those whites who kept them three hundred years later, when people knew better. But Hawkins' complaint against the negroes for not coming quietly is just the same sort of nonsense as any other complaint against anything alive for being "vicious" when we want to take or kill it. "This animal," said a Frenchman who made wise fun of all such humbug, "is very wicked. When you attack it, it defends itself!"
With what he could get—some four or five hundred negroes—Hawkins did a roaring trade in those parts of the Spanish Main where King Philip's subjects were not too closely watched by Governors and troops. But new troubles began when Hawkins, trying to leave the West Indies, was blown back by a hurricane into Vera Cruz, then known as San Juan de Ulua. Hawkins still had a hundred negroes left; so, hoping for leave from Mexico City to trade them off, he held the Kind's Island, which entirely commanded the entrance to the harbour, where he saw twelve Spanish treasure ships. But it was four hundred miles to the City of Mexico and back again; and meanwhile a great Spanish fleet was expected out from Spain. Hawkins had this fleet completely at his mercy; for it could no more get past the King's Island if he chose to stop it than the fleet inside could get out. Moreover, the stormy season was beginning; so the fleet from Spain might easily be wrecked if Hawkins kept it at bay.
The very next morning the fleet arrived. Hawkins was terribly tempted to keep it out, which would have made his own fleet safe and would have struck a heavy blow at Spain; for all the Spanish vessels together were worth many millions. But he feared the wrath of Queen Elizabeth, who did not want war with Spain; so he let the Spaniards "enter with their accustomed treason" after they had agreed not to attack him.
For a few days everything went well. Then suddenly the Spaniards set on the English, killed every Englishman they could catch ashore, and attacked the little English fleet by land and sea. Once the two Spanish fleets had joined they were in overwhelming force and could have smothered Hawkins to death by sheer weight of numbers. But he made a brave fight. Within an hour the Spanish flagship and another vessel had been sunk, a third was on fire, and every English deck was clear of Spanish boarding parties. But the King's Island, to which Hawkins had moored his vessels, now swarmed with Spaniards firing cannon only a few yards off. To hearten his men he drank their health and called out, "Stand by your ordnance lustily!" As he put the goblet down a round shot sent it flying. "Look," he said, "how God has delivered me from that shot; and so will He deliver you from these traitors." Then he ordered his own battered ship to be abandoned for the Minion, telling Drake to come alongside in the Judith. In these two little vessels all that remained of the English sailed safely out, in spite of the many Spanish guns roaring away at point-blank range and of two fire-ships which almost struck home.
Drake and Hawkins lost each other in the darkness and gale outside. Drake's tiny Judith, of only fifty tons, went straight to England, with every inch of space crowded by her own crew and those she had rescued from the other vessels. Hawkins was so overcrowded in the Minion (which then meant "darling") that he asked all who would try their luck ashore to go forward, while all who would stand by the Minion stayed aft. A hundred went forward, were landed south of the Rio Grande, and died to a man, except three. One of these walked all round the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic sea-board, till he reached the mouth of the St. John in New Brunswick, when a Frenchman took him home. The other two were caught by the Spaniards and worked as slaves, one in Mexico, the other as a galley-slave in Europe. Both escaped in the end, one after fourteen, the other after twenty-two, years. The Spaniards found their own hostages all safe and sound aboard the flagship that Hawkins had abandoned at the King's Island. This surprised them very much; for they had kept all the English hostages Hawkins had sent them in exchange for theirs when they had made the agreement never to attack him, and they knew that by the laws of war he had the right to kill all the Spaniards who were in his power when the other Spaniards broke their word.
The treason of Ulua took place in 1568, just twenty years before the Great Armada. During those fateful twenty years the storm of English hatred against the Spanish tyrants grew and grew until it burst in fury on their heads.
Nothing daunted, Drake and his dare-devils went, three years running, to the Spanish Main. The third year, 1572, brought him into fame. He had only two tiny vessels, the Pasha and the Swan, with seventy-three men, all told. But with these faithful few he sailed into a secret harbour, intending to seize the whole year's treasure chest of Spain. To his surprise the found this letter from a scout on the coast: "Captain Drake! If you fortune to come to this port, make haste away! For the Spaniards have betrayed the place and taken away all that you left here." The date was fourteen days before. He soon saw that others knew his secret harbour; for in came Rance, an Englishman, who then joined forces. Stealing quietly along the coast, the hundred and twenty English lay in wait off Nombre de Dios, the place on the Atlantic coast of the Isthmus of Panama where the treasure was put aboard for Spain. An hour before dawn Drake passed the word along the waiting line: "Shove off!" Bounding into the bay he saw a Spanish rowboat, which at once saw him and pulled hard-all for the shore. The English won the desperate race, making the Spaniards sheer off to a landing some way beyond the town. Then they landed and tumbled the Spanish guns off their mountings on the wharf, to the amazement of the sleepy Spanish sentry, who ran for dear life.
No time was to be lost now; for the news spread like wildfire, and the alarm bells were ringing from every steeple in the town. So Drake made straight for the Governor's palace, while his lieutenant, Oxenham, (the hero of Westward Ho!), went by a side street to take the enemy in flank. The Spaniards fired a volley which killed Drake's trumpeter, who had just sounded the Charge! On went the English, swords flashing, fire-pikes blazing, and all ranks cheering like mad. When their two parties met each other the Spaniards were in full flight through the Treasure Gate of Panama, which Drake banged to with a will. The door of the Governor's Palace was then burst open, and there, in solid gleaming bars, lay four hundred tons of purest silver, enough to sink the Pasha and the Swan and all Drake's boats besides. But Drake would not touch a single bar. It was only diamonds, pearls, and gold that he had room for now; so he made for the King's great Treasure House itself. But a deluge of rain came on. The fire-pikes and arquebusses had to be taken under cover. The immensely strong Treasure House defied every effort to break it in. The Spaniards, finding how very few the English were, came on to the attack. Drake was wounded, so that he had to be carried off the field. And the whole attack ended in failure, and dead loss.
The game seemed up. Rance and his men withdrew, and Drake was left with less than fifty. But he was determined to be revenged on Spain for the treachery to Hawkins at Ulua (the modern Vera Cruz); and equally determined to get some Spanish treasure. So, keeping out of sight for the next five months, till the rainy season was over and the next treasure train was ready, he went wide of Nombre de Dios and made for Panama (the Pacific end of the trail across the Isthmus). He had nineteen picked Englishmen and thirty-one Maroons, who, being the offspring of Negro slaves and Indians, hated Spaniards like poison and knew the country to a foot.
On the 7th of February, 1573, from the top of a gigantic tree that stood on the Divide, Drake first saw the Pacific. Vowing to sail an English ship across the great South Sea he pushed on eagerly. Three days later his fifty men were lying in wait for the mule train bringing gold from Panama. All had their shirts on over their coats, so as to know one another in the night attack. Presently the tinkle of mule bells told of the Spanish approach. When the whole line of mules had walked into his trap Drake's whistle blew one long shrill blast and his men set on with glee. Their two years of toil and failure seemed to have come to an end: for they easily mastered the train. But then, to their intense disgust, they found that the Spaniards had fooled them by sending the silver train this way and the gold one somewhere else.
Without losing a moment Drake marched back to the Atlantic, where he met Têtu, a very gallant Frenchman, who, with his own seventy men, gladly joined company; for Spain hated to see the French there quite as much as she hated to see the English. The new friends then struck inland to a lonely spot which another Spanish train of gold and jewels had to pass on its way to Nombre de Dios. This time there was no mistake. When Drake's whistle blew, and the leading mules were stopped, the others lay down, as mule trains will. Then the guard was quickly killed or put to flight, and all the gold and jewels were safely seized and carried to the coast. Here again disaster stared Drake in the face; for all his boats were gone, and not one of the men left with them was in sight. But once more Drake got through, this time by setting up an empty biscuit bag as a sail on a raft he quickly put together. With one other Englishman and two Frenchmen he soon found his boats, divided the treasure with the French, put the English share on board ship, and, after giving many presents to the friendly Maroons, sailed for home. "And so," says one of his men, "we arrived at Plymouth on Sunday, the 9th of August, 1573, at what time the news of our Captain's return did so speedily pass over all the church that very few remained with the preacher, all hastening to see the evidence of God's love towards our Gracious Queen and Country."
The plot kept thickening fast and faster after this. New Spain, of course, was Spanish by right of discovery, conquest, and a certain kind of settling. But the Spaniards wanted to keep everyone else away, not only from all they had but from all they wished to have. Their Governor-General plainly showed this by putting up in his palace the figure of a gigantic war-horse pawing at the sky, and by carving underneath, "The Earth itself is not enough for Us." Nor was this the worst. No whites, not even the Germans, have ever been so fiendishly cruel to any natives as the Spaniards were to those they had in their power. They murdered, tortured, burnt alive, and condemned to a living death as slaves every native race they met. There were brutal Belgians in the Congo not so very long ago. American settlers and politicians have done many a dark deed to the Indians. And the British record in the old days of Newfoundland is quite as black. But, for out-and-out cruelty, "the devildoms of Spain" beat everything bad elsewhere. Moreover, while English, French, and Spaniards all wanted gold when they could get it, there was this marked difference between the two chief opponents, that while Spain cared mostly for tribute England cared mostly for trade. Now, tribute simply means squeezing as much blood-money as possible out of an enslaved country, no matter at what cost of life and liberty to the people there; while trade, though often full of cheating, really means an exchange of goods and some give-and-take all round. When we consider this great difference, and remember how cruel the Spaniards were to all whom they had made their enemies, we can understand why the Spanish Empire died and why the British lives.
One day Queen Elizabeth sent for Drake and spoke her mind straight out. "Drake, I would gladly be revenged on the King of Spain for divers injuries"; and, said Drake, "she craved my advice; and I told Her Majesty the only way was to annoy him by the Indies." Then he told her his great plan for raiding the Pacific, where no outsider had ever been, and where the Spaniards were working their will without a thought of danger. Elizabeth at once fell in with Drake's idea and "did swear by her Crown that if any within her Realm did give the King of Spain to understand hereof they should lose their heads therefor." The secret had to be very well kept, even from Burleigh, who was then more or less like what a Prime Minister is now. Burleigh was a very cautious man, afraid of bringing on an open war with Spain. Elizabeth herself did not want open war; but she was ready to go all lengths just short of that. In those days, and for the next two centuries, a good deal of fighting could go on at sea and round about oversea possessions without bringing on a regular war in Europe. But for Elizabeth to have shown her hand now would have put Philip at least on his guard and perhaps spoilt Drake's game altogether. So the secret was carefully hidden from every one likely to tell Mendoza, the lynx-eyed ambassador of Spain. That Elizabeth was right in all she did is more than we can say. But with enemies like Philip of Spain and Mary Queen of Scots (both ready to have her murdered, if that could be safely done) she had to hit back as best she could.
"The Famous Voyage of Sir Francis Drake into the South Sea, and therehence about the whole Globe of the Earth, begun in the Yeare of our Lord 1577" is the greatest raid in history. His fleet was small enough, compared with what we know of fleets today. But it did wonderful work for all that. The flagship Golden Hind was of only a hundred tons. The four others were smaller still. There were less than two hundred men, all told. Yet with these Drake sailed off to raid the whole Pacific seaboard of New Spain. He took "great store of wildfire, chain-shot, harquebusses, pistols, corslets, bows, and other weapons. Neither had he omitted to make provision for ornament and delight, carrying with him expert musicians, rich furniture, and divers shows of curious workmanship, whereby the magnificence of his native country might amongst all nations be the more admired."
Sou'sou'west went Drake until he reached the "Land of Devils" in South America, northeast of Montevideo. Terrific storms raised tremendous seas through which the five little vessels buffeted their toilsome way. The old Portuguese pilot, whom Drake had taken for his knowledge of that wild coast, said the native savages had "sold themselves to the Devil, because he was so much kinder than the Spaniards; and the Devil helped them to keep off Spanish vessels by raising these awful storms." The frightful Straits of Magellan (through which the British ship Ortega led the Germans such a dance of death) took Drake seventeen squally days to clear. But he was out of the frying-pan into the fire when he reached the Pacific, where he struck a storm fifty-two days long. One of his vessels sank. Two others lost him and went home. But the Golden Hind and the little pinnace Benedict remained safe together off Cape Horn, which Drake was now the first man to discover.
Carried too far south of his course, and then too far west by trusting the bad Spanish maps, Drake only reached Valparaiso in the north of Chili at the end of 1578. Thinking he must be a Spaniard, as no one else had ever sailed that sea, the crew of the Grand Captain of the South opened a cask of wine and beat a welcome on their drums. Before the Spaniards knew what was happening gigantic Tom Moone had led the English boarders over the side and driven the crew below. Half a million was the sum of this first prize. The news spread quickly, scaring the old Governor to death, heartening the Indians, who had just been defeated, and putting all Spanish plans at sixes and sevens. Messengers were sent post-haste to warn the coast. But Drake of course went faster by sea than the Spaniards could by land; so he overhauled and took every vessel he met. Very few showed fight, as they never expected enemies at sea and were foolish enough not to be ready for those that were sure to come sooner or later. Even ashore there was little resistance, often, it is true, because the surprise was complete. One day some Spaniards, with half a ton of silver loaded on eight llamas, came round a corner straight into Drake's arms. Another day his men found a Spaniard fast asleep near thirteen solid bars from the mines of Potosi. The bars were lifted quietly and the Spaniard left peacefully sleeping.
Sailing into Lima Drake cut every single Spanish ship adrift and then sailed out again, leaving the harbour a perfect pandemonium of wrecks. Overhauling a ship from Panama he found that the King's great treasure ship, Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion, the "chiefest glory of the whole South Sea," had such a long start of him that she might unload at Panama before he could come up with her. The Spaniards, a lubberly lot, brave soldiers but never handy sailors, were afraid of the Straits of Magellan and knew nothing of Cape Horn; so they always sent their treasure across the Isthmus of Panama.
Drake set every stitch of canvas the Golden Hind could carry, taking four more prizes by the way and learning that he was gaining on the treasure ship. After clearing the prizes he sent them back with no one on board hurt, plenty to eat and drink, and presents for all ranks and ratings—very much to the amazement of the Spaniards. "Only a day ahead," was the news the last prize gave him. But they were nearing Panama; so Drake strained every nerve anew, promising a chain of solid gold to the first look-out who saw the chase. Next midday his cousin, young Jack Drake, yelled out "Sail-ho!" and climbed down on deck to get the golden chain.
Panama was now so close that Drake was afraid of scaring the treasure ship into making a run for it; so he trailed twelve empty wine casks over the stern to slacken the speed of the Golden Hind and make her look more like a lubberly Spaniard. As the evening breeze came up and reached him first he cut the casks adrift, set every sail, and presently ran alongside. "Who are you?" asked the Spanish captain. "A ship of Chili!" answered Drake. But when Don Anton looked down on the Golden Hind he saw her decks crowded with armed men from whom a thundering shout of triumph came—"English! English! Strike sail!" Then Drake blew his whistle, at which there was perfect silence while he called, "Strike sail, Señor Anton! or I must send you to the bottom!" Anton, however, was a very brave man, and he stoutly replied, "Strike sail? Come and do it yourself!" At once the English guns cut down his masts and rigging, while a perfect hail of arrows prevented the Spaniards from clearing the wreckage away. Don Anton's crew began running below, and when, in despair of making sail, he looked overside, there was gigantic Tom Moone, at the head of the boarders, climbing out of the pinnace. Then Anton struck his flag, was taken aboard the Golden Hind, and, with all his crew, given a splendid banquet by his English foes. After this the millions and millions of treasure were loaded aboard the Golden Hind, and the Spaniards were given handsome presents to soften their hard luck. Then they and their empty treasure ship were allowed to sail for Panama.
Throwing the Spaniards off the scent by steering crooked courses Drake at last landed at what is now Drake's Bay, near the modern San Francisco, where the Indians, who had never even heard of any craft bigger than canoes, were lost in wonder at the Golden Hind and none the less at the big fair-haired strangers, whom they took for gods. Drake, as always, was very kind to them, gave them rich presents, promised them the protection of his Queen, whose coins he showed them, and, pointing to the sky while his men were praying, tried to make them understand that the one true God was there and not on earth. They then crowned him with a head-dress of eagle's feathers, while he made them a speech, saying that he would call their country New Albion. California thus became the counterpart of Cape Breton, over which John Cabot had raised St. George's Cross eighty-two years before.
Leaving the Indians in tears at his departure Drake crossed the Pacific to the Moluccas, where a vile Portuguese, with the suitable name of Lopez de Mosquito, had just killed the Sultan, who was then his guest, chopped up the body, and thrown the pieces into the sea, to show his contempt for the natives. Drake would have gladly helped the Sultan's son, Baber, if he had only had a few more men. But having no more than fifty-six left he could not risk war with the Portuguese among their own possessions. He did, however, make a treaty with Baber which was the foundation of all the English Far-Eastern trade. And here, as everywhere, he won the hearty good-will of the natives.
After a narrow escape from being wrecked on an unknown reef, and other escapes from dangers which alone would fill a story book, the gallant Golden Hind sailed into Plymouth Sound with ballast of silver and cargo of gold. "Is Her Majesty alive and well?" asked Drake of a fishing smack. "Ay, ay, that she is, my Master." So Drake wrote off to her at once and came to anchor beside what is now Drake's Island. He wished to know how things were going at Court before he went to London. The Queen wrote back to say she wished to see him, and that she would "view" some of the wonderful things he had brought back from foreign parts. Straight on this hint he went to town with jewels enough to soften any woman's heart. The Spanish ambassador was beside himself with rage; but in London "the people were swarming daily in the streets to behold their Captain Drake and vowing hatred to all that misliked him."
To crown everything, the Golden Hind came round to London, where she was the wonder of the day, and when the Queen herself went aboard to a state banquet at which she knighted the hero of the sea: "I bid thee rise, Sir Francis Drake!"
By 1580, the year of Drake's return, Spain and England were fast moving toward the war that had been bound to come ever since the Old World had found the riches of the New.
The battle grounds of rival sea-powers had been shifting farther and farther west since history began. Now the last step was to come. We have seen already that the centre of the world's sea trade had moved for thousands of years from south-eastern Asia toward north-western Europe, and that in the fifteenth century it was pretty well divided between Venice and the Hansa Towns. This was only natural, because Venice was in the middle of southern Europe and the Hansa Towns were in the middle of northern Europe. The two were therefore well placed to receive, store, and distribute the bulk of the oversea trade. In a word, Venice (on the Adriatic) and the Hansa Towns (mostly on what is now the German coast) were the great European central junctions of oversea trade; while the Atlantic states of Spain and Portugal, France and England were only terminal points, that is, they were at the end of the line; for the Atlantic ended the world to the west.
The discovery of a rich New World changed all that. Venice and the Hansa Towns became only stations by the way; while the new grand central junction of the world was bound to be somewhere among the Atlantic states of England, France, Portugal, and Spain. When these four countries became rivals for this junction England won, partly because she had the advantage of being an island, and thus safe from invasion by land, but mostly because her men were of the fighting kindred of the sea. Yet she had to fight hard to win; she had to fight hard to keep what she won; and we all know how hard she has just had to fight again for the real "Freedom of the Seas."
Her first great rival, Spain, was stronger than ever in 1580, because it was then that Philip II added Portugal, as well as all the oversea possessions of Portugal to his own enormous empire. He felt that if he could only conquer England, then the dream of his father, Charles V, would certainly come true, and he would be the master of the world. France also stood in his way, but only by land; and if he had England and England's sea-power he could make short work of France. His having Portugal gave him much that he needed for his "Invincible Armada": plenty of ships, sailors at least as good as his own, new ports and new islands, like the Azores, and the "wealth of All the Indies"—for he now had the Portuguese trade with the Indies as well as his own with the West.
Luckily for England, Philip was a landsman, no soldier, and very slow. So England struck first, but at New Spain, not, Old, because Elizabeth would not have open war if she could help it. She had enemies in Scotland, enemies in France, a few at home, and millions in Spain. Besides, she was cleverer at playing off one against the other than in managing a big war; and, like most people everywhere, even in our own sea-girt Empire now, she never quite understood how to make war at sea.
In 1585 London was all agog about Sir Francis Drake again; for he was to command the "Indies Voyage" against New Spain, with Frobisher, of North-West-Passage fame, as his Vice-Admiral, and Knollys, the Queen's own cousin, as Rear-Admiral. There were twenty-one ships and twenty-three hundred men; with Carleill, a first-class general, to command the soldiers ashore. Drake's crew of the Golden Hind came forward to a man, among them gigantic Tom Moone, the lion of the boarding parties. It is quite likely that Shakespeare went down with the crowds of Londoners who saw the fleet set sail from Woolwich; for the famous London vessel, Tiger, which he mentions both in Macbeth and in Twelfth Night, was one of Drake's fleet.
Drake's written plan proves that he was not only a daring raider but a very great admiral as well. It marked down for attack all the places in New Spain the taking of which would knock the sea trade there to pieces, because they were the same by sea as railway junctions are by land. More than this, he planned to hold Havana, so that the junctions he destroyed could not be made to work again, as from there he could pounce on working parties anywhere else.
Drake first swooped down on San Domingo in Hayti, battering the walls from the sea while Carleill attacked them by land. The Spaniards had been on their guard, so no treasure was found. Drake therefore put the town to ransom and sent his Maroon servant to bring back the Spanish answer. But the Spanish messenger ran his lance into the Maroon and cantered away. The Maroon dragged himself back and fell dead at Drake's feet. Drake sent word to say he would hang two Spaniards a day till the one who had killed his Maroon was hanged himself. No answer having come in next morning, two Spanish friars were strung up. Then the offender was brought in and hanged by the Spaniards in front of both armies. After this Drake burnt a fresh bit of the town each day till the Spaniards paid the ransom.
The next dash was for Cartagena on the mainland of South America. The Spaniards felt safe from a naval attack here, as the harbour was very hard to enter, even with the best of Spanish pilots. But Drake did this trick quite easily without any pilot at all; and, after puzzling the Spaniards by his movements, put Carleill ashore in the dark just where the English soldiers could wade past the Spanish batteries under cover at the weakest spot. When Carleill reached the barricade his musketeers fired into the Spaniards' faces and wheeled off to let the pikemen charge through. After a fierce hand-to-hand fight the Spaniards ran. The town gave in next day. Having been paid its ransom Drake sailed for the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in Florida and utterly destroyed it, then went on to Sir Walter Raleigh's colony of Roanoke, in what is now North Carolina, and thence home.
He had missed the yearly treasure fleet by only half a day. He had lost so many men by sickness that he had no chance of taking and holding Havana. And the ransoms were less than he had hoped for. But he had done enough to cripple New Spain for the next few years at any rate. Arrived at Plymouth he wrote to London, saying, "There is now a very great gap opened, very little to the liking of the King of Spain."
But the King, stung to the quick, went on with his Armada harder than before, and in 1587 had it more than half ready in Lisbon and Cadiz. Then Drake "singed King Philip's beard" by swooping down on Cadiz and smashing up the shipping there; by going on to Cape St. Vincent, which he seized and held with an army while his ships swept off the fishing craft that helped to feed the great Armada; and by taking "the greatest ship in all Portugal, richly laden, to our Happy Joy." This was the best East Indies treasure ship, loaded with silks and spices, jewels and gold, to the value of many millions. But, better than even this, Drake found among her papers the secrets of the wonderful trade with the East, a trade now taken over by the Spaniards from the conquered Portuguese. With these papers in English hands the English oversea traders set to work and formed the great East India Company on the last day of the year 1600. This Company—founded, held, and always helped by British sea-power—went on, step by step, for the next two hundred and fifty-seven years, after which India, taken over by the British Crown, at last grew into the present Indian Empire, a country containing three times as many people as the whole population of the United States, and yet a country which is only one of the many parts of the British Empire all round the Seven Seas.
Crippled by English sea-power both in New Spain and Old, threatened by English sea-power in his trade with the Far East, and harassed by English sea-power everywhere between Spain and the Spanish Netherlands, where the Duke of Parma was preparing an army for the invasion of England, King Philip kept working on with murder in his heart. At last, in the summer of 1588, his Great Invincible Spanish Armada seemed to be as Great, Invincible, and Spanish as he could ever hope to make it. All the landlubbers, even in England, thought it very great indeed; and most of them think so still. The best Spanish soldiers, like all the few really good Spanish sailors, had very grave doubts. Those who knew the English Navy best expected nothing but disaster: their letters still remain to prove it. But most people, then as now, knew nothing about navies; and so the Armada went on collecting ships and men together, heartening the landsmen of Spain, and disheartening far too many landsmen in England.
The fatal weakness of the Great Armada was its being out of date. Though little better than an ancient floating army, it had to fight what then was the one really modern fleet; and this was its undoing. Time out of mind, as we have seen already, battles on the water had always been made as much like battles on the land as the wit of man could make them. They were fought by soldiers under generals, not by sailors under admirals. They were fought mostly on the platforms of huge rowboats called galleys; and the despised galley-slaves were almost the only seamen. Even the officers and men who handled the clumsy old sailing craft, or the still clumsier sail aboard a galley, were thought to be next door to nobodies; for their only work was to fit their craft together like so many bits of land in order that the soldiers might have the best imitation of a "proper field." The main bodies of these floating armies drew up in line-abreast (that is, side by side) charged each other end-on, and fought it out hand-to-hand on the mass of jammed-together platforms. No such battle was ever fought far from the land; for a good breeze would make the platforms wobble, while no galley could survive a gale.
These ancient rowboat battles on calm coastal waters lasted till Lepanto in 1571. Guns, muskets, and sailing craft were all used at Lepanto. But the main fighting was done on galley platforms, and not so very differently done from the way the Greeks and Persians fought at Salamis twenty centuries before. Then, after less than twenty years, the Armada, though better than the Spaniards at Lepanto, was sent across the open sea to fight a regular sea-going fleet, whose leaders were admirals, whose chief fighting men were sailors, whose movements were made under sail, and whose real weapon was the shattering broadside gun. It was ancient Spanish floating army against modern English Sea-Dog fleet.
Philip's silly plan was that the Armada should make for the Straits of Dover, where it would see that Parma's Spanish army had a safe passage from Flanders into England. Philip had lost his best admiral, Santa Cruz, and had put the Armada in charge of Medina Sidonia, a seasick landlubber, whom he ordered not to fight any more than could possibly be helped until Parma had reached England. Parma, who was a good soldier, saw at once what nonsense it was to put the army first and navy second in the fighting, because, even if he could get into England, his lines of communication with the bases in Flanders and Spain could never be safe until Drake's fleet had been beaten. He knew, as all soldiers and all sailors know, that unless you have a safe road over which to bring your supplies from your base to your front your fleets and armies must simply wither away for want of these supplies—for want of men, arms, food, and all the other things a fleet and army need. Therefore he wanted the fleet to fight first, so as to clear, or try to clear, safe roads across the sea. After these roads, or "lines of communication" between the bases and the front, had been cleared he would try to conquer England with his Spanish army.
But Philip went his own silly way; and Elizabeth, his deadly enemy, nearly helped him by having some silly plans of her own. She and her Council (all landsmen, and no great soldier among them) wanted to divide the English fleet so as to defend the different places they thought the Armada might attack. This would also please the people; for most people do like to see ships and soldiers close in front of them, even when that is quite the wrong place for the ships and soldiers to be. Of course this plan could never have worked, except in favour of the Spaniards, who might have crushed, first, one bit of the English fleet, and then another, and another, though they had no chance whatever against the united whole.
Drake's own perfect plan was to take the whole fleet straight to Lisbon and beat the Armada as it tried to get out. This would have given him an enormous advantage; first, because he would have found the Armada at once, instead of having to search for it after it had sailed; secondly, because he could have crushed it ship by ship as it came out of the Tagus; and, thirdly, because this defeat of the Armada off the coast of Portugal would certainly prevent Parma from taking his army from Flanders into England. On the 30th of March, 1588, a day to be forever remembered in the history of sea-power, Drake wrote all this from Plymouth to the Queen and her Councillors. One civilian, Sir Francis Walsingham, saw at once that Drake was right. But the others shook their heads; while even those who thought Drake knew better than they did were afraid to let the fleet go so far away, because the people liked the comfort of seeing it close beside the coast. Drake's way was the way of Nelson, Jellicoe, Beatty, and all the greatest seamen. But he was not allowed to try it till the 7th of July, when the Armada had left Lisbon and was in the harbour of Corunna at the northwest corner of the Spanish coast. And even then the Queen kept him so short of stores that he could not have waited there to take the best chance.
When almost in sight of Spain a roaring sou'wester blew up; so, being unable to wait, he had to come back to Plymouth on the 12th. Then for a week the English fleet was taking in stores as hard as it could. Lord Howard of Effingham, the Lord High Admiral of England, was in command as the Great Officer of State who represented the Queen. But he was a very sensible man, who, knowing that Drake was the greatest seaman in the world, let him do the fighting in the proper way.
The southwest wind that blew Drake back brought the Armada out and up the English Channel. Howard and Drake, their desperate week of taking in stores at last quite done, were playing a game of bowls on the green when Captain Fleming, of the ever famous Golden Hind, rushed up to say the Spaniards were in sight of the Lizard, only sixty miles west. Drake, knowing perfectly well what time there was to spare, and how best to calm the people looking on, said, "There's time to finish the game first and the Spaniards after." But the fleet got its sailing orders on the spot; and all that fateful night the ships were working out of Plymouth Sound. The Queen and her politicians, though patriotic as any Sea-Dog, had, by keeping Drake so short of stores, very nearly got their own fleet caught in just the same way as Drake had wished to catch the Great Armada, that is, coming out of port, ship by ship, against a united fleet outside. But Philip's silly plan, the clumsiness of the Armada, and, above all, the supreme skill of the English Sea-Dogs, put everything to rights again.
Next morning Drake was safely out at sea in the Channel, with fifty-four ships, when he sighted a dim blur toward the west. This was the Great Invincible Armada. Rain killed the wind, and the English lay under bare poles, unseen by the Spaniards, who still left some of their idle sails swinging to and fro. The great day had come at last. Philip's Armada had drunk to Der Tag (the day) of England's overthrow just as the Germans did three centuries later; and nearly all the Spaniards thought that thirty thousand Spaniards on the water were more than a match for fifteen thousand English. But the Spaniards were six thousand short, through sickness and desertion, and of the remaining twenty-four thousand little more than a quarter were seamen. The rest were soldiers, with many camp-followers. The fifteen thousand English, on the other hand, were nearly all on board; and most of them had been trained to sea fighting from their youth up. The Spaniards were one-quarter seamen and three-quarters landsmen. The English were three-quarters seamen and one-quarter landsmen; and most of these landsmen were like the Marines of the present day, "soldier and sailor too." Nor was this the only difference that helped to seal the fate of the doomed Armada. For not only were the English seamen twice as many and twice as good as the Spanish seamen, but in the numbers of their trained seamen-gunners the English beat the Spaniards no less than ten to one: and guns were the weapons that decided the issue of the day, just as they did at Jutland in our recent war against the Germans.
A little before sunset the mist lifted, and the Spaniards, to their intense surprise, saw the whole English fleet together. Every big ship in the Armada sent boats hurrying off to know what orders Sidonia had to give them. But Sidonia had none. That the Sea-Dogs had worked out of Plymouth so quickly and were all together in a single fleet was something he had not reckoned on, and something Philip's silly plan had not provided for. Still, the Armada had one advantage left, the weather-gage; for the southwest wind was piping up again, blowing from the Armada to the English. Yet even this advantage was soon lost, not by any change of wind, but by English seamanship. For while eight English vessels held the attention of the Armada, by working about between it and the shore, the rest of Drake's fleet stole off to sea, got safely out of sight, tacked to windward with splendid skill, edged in toward the Armada when sea-room west of it was gained, and then, next morning, to the still more intense surprise of the Armada, came down to attack it, having won the weather-gage by sailing round behind it in the night.
This was the decisive stroke. The fight itself was simply the slaughter of a floating army by a fleet. The Spaniards fought like heroes, day after slaughterous day. But their light guns, badly served by ill-trained crews, fired much too high to hull the English ships "'twixt wind and water," that is, to smash holes in their sides along the water-line. On the other hand, the English had more and better guns, far more and far better seaman-gunners, and vessels managed by the sea's own "handy men." They ran in with the wind, just near enough to make their well-aimed cannon-balls most deadly on the Spanish water-line, but never so near that the Spaniards could catch them with grappling hooks and hold them fast while the Spanish soldiers boarded. Another way the skilful English had was to turn their broadside against the enemy's end-on. This, whether for a single ship or for a fleet, is called "crossing the T"; and if you will look at a T you will see that guns firing inward from the whole length of the cross-stroke have a great advantage over guns firing back from the front of the up-stroke. In other words, the broad front converges on the narrow front and smashes it.
The crowded Spaniards sailed on, the whole week long, before the pursuing English in the "eagle formation," with the big ships forming the body and the lighter ones the wings: good enough for ancient battles like Lepanto, but of no use against a modern fleet like Drake's. Most of them could hardly have been more nearly useless if they had been just so many elephants fighting killer whales at sea. Do what they could, they could not catch the nimble Sea-Dogs who were biting them to death. But they still fought on. Their crowded soldiers were simply targets for the English cannon-balls. Sometimes the Spanish vessels were seen to drip a horrid red, as if the very decks were bleeding. But when, at the end of the week, Sidonia asked Oquendo, "What are we to do now?", Oquendo, a dauntless warrior, at once replied: "Order up more powder!"
The Spaniards at last reached Calais and anchored in the Roads. But, when the tidal stream was running toward them full, Drake sent nine fire-ships in among them. There was no time to get their anchors up; so they cut their cables, swung round with the tide in horrible confusion, dashing into one another in the dark, and headed for the shallows of the Flemish coast. This lost them their last chance of helping Parma into England. But it also saved Parma from losing the whole of his army at sea. Once more the brave, though cruel, Spaniards tried to fight the English fleet. But all in vain. This was the end. It came at Gravelines, on the 29th of July 1588, just ten days after Captain Fleming of the Golden Hind had stopped Drake's game of bowls at Plymouth. North, and still north, the beaten Armada ran for its life; round by the stormy Orkneys, down the wild waters of the Hebrides and Western Ireland, strewing the coasts with wreckage and dead men, till at last the few surviving ships limped home.
There never was a better victory nor one more clearly gained by greater skill. Nor has there ever been a victory showing more clearly how impossible it is to keep sea empires safe without a proper navy.
But, after all, it is the whole Sea-Dog war, and not any single battle or campaign, that really made those vast changes in world-history which we enjoy today. For we owe it to the whole Sea-Dog breed that the fair lands of North America are what they are and not as Spain might otherwise have made them. The Sea-Dogs won the English right of entry into Spain's New World. They, strange as it may seem, won French rights, too; for Spain and France were often deadly enemies, and Spain would gladly have kept the French out of all America if she had only had the fleet with which to do it. Thus even the French-Canadians owe Drake a debt of gratitude for breaking down the great sea barriers of Spain.
"The Invincible Armada" could not, of course, have been defeated without much English bravery. And we know that the Queen, her Councillors, and the great mass of English people would have fought the Spanish army bravely enough had it ever landed. For even Henry V, calling to his army at the siege of Harfleur,
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
was no braver than Queen Elizabeth addressing her own army at Tilbury Fort, the outwork of London, when the Armada was sailing up the Channel: "I am only a poor weak woman. But I have the heart of a king; and of a King of England too."
There can be no doubt whatever that both leaders and followers must have good hearts, and have them in the right place too; and that the heart of England beat high throughout this great campaign. But good heads, rightly used, are equally needed in war. Sea-Dog courage counted for much against the Great Armada; but Sea-Dog skill for more.
If you want a fight in which the Sea-Dog hearts might well have quailed against appalling odds, then turn to the glorious end of Drake's old flagship, the Revenge, when her new captain, Sir Richard Grenville, fought her single-handed against a whole encircling fleet of Spain.
Grenville, Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney had been among those members of Parliament who had asked Queen Elizabeth to give Sir Walter Raleigh a Royal Charter to found the first of the English oversea Dominions—the colony on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. Grenville himself went out to Roanoke. He was a born soldier of fortune and "first-class fighting man"; an explorer, scout, and pioneer; but not a colonist at all. On his return from founding Raleigh's colony his boats were swept away in a storm just before he saw a Spanish treasure ship. But he made his carpenter put together some sort of boat with bits of boxes; and in this he boarded the Spaniard, just reaching her deck before his makeshift craft went down.
On the 1st of September, 1591, the Revenge, with Grenville in command of her less than two hundred men, was at "Flores in the Azores" when Don Alonzo de Bazan arrived with fifty-three ships of Spain. The little English squadron under Lord Thomas Howard had no chance against this overwhelming force. So it put to sea just in time to escape destruction. But when Howard saw that the Revenge was being surrounded he gallantly came back and attacked the Spaniards in rear; while the little George Noble of London ran alongside the Revenge, offering to stand by through thick and thin. Grenville ordered her off, and Howard himself also retired, seeing no chance whatever of helping the Revenge and every chance of losing all his own ships.
Then, at three in the afternoon, the whole Spanish fleet closed in on the Revenge, which had only one hundred men really fit for duty. The rest were sick. Grenville, who had sworn he would cut down the first man who touched a rope while there still seemed a chance to escape, now refused the Spanish summons to surrender and prepared to fight to the last. Trimming his sails as carefully as if for a yacht race he ran down close-hauled on the starboard tack, right between the two divisions of the Spanish fleet, till the flagship, three times the size of the Revenge, ranged up on his weather side, thus blanketing his canvas and stealing the wind. As the Revenge lost way the ships she had passed on the other side began ranging up to cut her off completely. But meanwhile her first broadside had crashed into the flagship, which hauled off for repairs and was replaced by two more ships. The fight raged with the utmost fury all that sunny afternoon and far into the warm dark night. Two Spaniards were sunk on the spot, a third sank afterwards, and a fourth could only be saved by beaching. But still the fight went on, the darkness reddened by the flaming guns.
Maddened to see one English ship keeping their whole fleet of fifty-three at bay the Spaniards closed in till the Revenge was caught fast by two determined enemies. In came the Spanish grapplings, hooking fast to the Revenge on either side. "Boarders away!" yelled the Spanish colonels. "Repel Boarders!" shouted Grenville in reply. And the boarders were repelled, leaving a hundred killed behind them. Only fifty English now remained. But they were as defiant as before, giving the Spaniards deadly broadsides right along the water-line, till two fresh enemies closed in and grappled fast. Again the boarders swarmed in from both sides. Again the dauntless English drove them back. Again the English swords and pikes dripped red with Spanish blood.
But now only twenty fighting men were left, while Grenville himself had been very badly wounded twice. Two fresh enemies then closed in, grappled, boarded, fought with fury, and were barely driven back. After this there was a pause while both sides waited for the dawn. Four hundred Spaniards had been killed or drowned and quite six hundred wounded. A hundred Sea-Dogs had thus accounted for a thousand enemies. But they themselves were now unable to resist the attack the Spaniards seemed unwilling to resume; for the first streak of dawn found only ten men left with weapons in their hands, and these half dead with more than twelve hours' fighting.
"Sink me the ship, Master Gunner!" was the last order Grenville gave. But meanwhile the only two officers left alive, both badly wounded, had taken boat to treat for terms; and the terms had been agreed upon. Don Bazan promised, and worthily accorded, all the honours of war. So Grenville was carefully taken on board the flagship, laid in Don Bazan's cabin, and attended by the best Spanish surgeon. Then, with the Spanish officers standing before him bareheaded, to show him all possible respect, Grenville, after thanking them in their own language for all their compliments and courtesies, spoke his farewell to the world in words which his two wounded officers wrote home:
"'Here die I, Richard Grenville, with a joyful and quiet mind; for that I have ended my life as a true soldier ought to do, that hath fought for his Queen and Country, honour and religion.' And when he had said these and other such like words he gave up the ghost with a great and stout courage."
At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay,
And a pinnace, like a flutter'd bird, came flying from far away:
"Spanish ships of war at sea! we have sighted fifty three!"
He had only a hundred seamen to work the ship and to fight,
And he sailed away from Flores till the Spaniard came in sight,
With his huge sea-castles heaving upon the weather bow.
"Shall we fight or shall we fly?
Good Sir Richard, tell us now,
For to fight is but to dip!
There'll be little of us left by the time this sun be set."
And Sir Richard said again: "We be all good Englishmen.
Let us bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil,
For I never turn'd my back upon Don or devil yet."
Sir Richard spoke and he laugh'd, and we roar'd a hurrah, and so,
The little Revenge ran on sheer into the heart of the foe,
With her hundred fighters on deck, and her ninety sick below;
For half of their fleet to the right and half to the left were seen,
And the little Revenge ran on thro' the long sea-lane between.
Thousands of their soldiers look'd down from their decks and laugh'd,
Thousands of their seamen made mock at the mad little craft
Running on and on, till delay'd
By their mountain-like San Philip that, of fifteen hundred tons,
And up-shadowing high above us with her yawning tiers of guns,
Took the breath from our sails, and we stay'd.
And while now the great San Philip hung above us like a cloud
Whence the thunderbolt will fall
Long and loud,
Four galleons drew away
From the Spanish fleet that day,
And two upon the larboard and two upon the starboard lay,
And the battle-thunder broke from them all.
But anon the great San Philip, she bethought herself and went,
Having that within her womb that had left her ill content;
And the rest they came aboard us, and they fought us hand to hand,
For a dozen times they came with their pikes and musqueteers,
And a dozen times we shook 'em off as a dog that shakes his ears
When he leaps from the water to the land.
And the sun went down, and the stars came out far
over the summer sea,
But never a moment ceased the fight of the one
and the fifty-three.
Ship after ship, the whole night long, their
high-built galleons came,
Ship after ship, the whole night long, with her
battle-thunder and flame;
Ship after ship, the whole night long, drew back
with her dead and her shame.
For some were sunk and many were shatter'd, and so
could fight us no more—
God of battles, was ever a battle like this
in the world before?
For he said "Fight on! fight on!"
Tho' his vessel was all but a wreck;
And it chanced that, when half of the short summer night was gone,
With a grisly wound to be drest he had left the deck.
But a bullet struck him that was dressing it suddenly dead,
And himself he was wounded again in the side and the head,
And he said 'Fight on! fight on!'
And the night went down, and the sun smiled out far
over the summer sea,
And the Spanish fleet with broken sides lay round us
all in a ring;
But they dared not touch us again, for they fear'd that
we still could sting,
So they watch'd what the end would be.
And we had not fought them in vain,
But in perilous plight were we,
Seeing forty of our poor hundred were slain,
And half of the rest of us maim'd for life,
In the crash of the cannonades and the desperate strife;
And the sick men down in the hold were most of them
stark and cold,
And the pikes were all broken or bent, and the powder
was all of it spent;
And the masts and the rigging were lying over the side;
But Sir Richard cried in his English pride,
"We have fought such a fight for a day and a night
As may never be fought again!
We have won great glory, my men!
And a day less or more
At sea or ashore,
We die—does it matter when?
Sink me the ship, Master Gunner—sink her, split her in twain!
Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain!"
And the gunner said, "Ay, ay," but the seamen made reply:
"We have children, we have wives,
And the Lord hath spared our lives.
We will make the Spaniard promise, if we yield, to let us go;
We shall live to fight again, and to strike another blow."
And the lion there lay dying, and they yielded to the foe.
And the stately Spanish men to their flagship bore him then,
Where they laid him by the mast, old Sir Richard caught at last,
And they praised him to his face with their courtly foreign grace;
But he rose upon their decks, and he cried:
"I have fought for Queen and Faith like a valiant man and true;
I have only done my duty as a man is bound to do:
With a joyful spirit I Sir Richard Grenville die!"
And he fell upon their decks, and he died.
And they stared at the dead that had been so valiant and true,
And had holden the power and glory of Spain so cheap
That he dared her with one little ship and his English few;
Was he devil or man? He was devil for aught they knew,
But they sank his body with honour down into the deep,
And they mann'd the Revenge with a swarthier alien crew,
And away she sail'd with her loss and long'd for her own;
When a wind from the lands they had ruin'd awoke from sleep,
And the water began to heave and the weather to moan,
And or ever that evening ended a great gale blew,
And a wave like the wave that is raised by an earthquake grew,
Till it smote on their hulls and their sails and their
masts and their flags,
And the whole sea plunged and fell on the shot-shatter'd
navy of Spain,
And the little Revenge herself went down by the island crags
To be lost evermore in the main.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
The Dutch Wars, which lasted off and on for fifty years (1623-1673), were caused by rivalry in oversea trade. In the sixteenth century the Dutch and English had joined forces against the Portuguese, who had tried to keep them out of the East Indies altogether. But when once the Portuguese were beaten the allies fell out among themselves, the Dutch got the upper hand, and, in 1623, killed off the English traders at Amboyna, one of the Moluccas. War did not come for many years. But there was always some fighting in the Far South East; and Amboyna was never forgotten.
The final step toward war was taken when the British Parliament passed the famous Navigation Act of 1651. By this Act nothing could be brought into England except in English ships or in ships belonging to the country from which the goods came. As the Dutch were then doing half the oversea freight work of Europe, and as they had also been making the most of what oversea freighting England had lost during her Civil War, the Act hit them very hard. But they did not want to fight. They had troubles of their own at home. They also had a land frontier to defend. And they wanted to keep their rich sea freight business without having to fight for it. But the British were bent on war. They remembered Amboyna. They did not see why the Dutch should keep other shippers out of the East Indies. And it angered them to see the Dutch grow rich on British trade taken away while the British were busy with a war.
When things are in such a state the guns almost go off by themselves. Captain Young, with three ships, met three Dutch men-of-war in the Channel and fired at the first that refused to salute according to the Custom of the Sea. Then the great British admiral, Blake, fired at the great Dutch admiral, van Tromp, for the same reason. A hot fight followed in each case; but without a victory for either side. At Dungeness, however, van Tromp with eighty ships beat Blake with forty, and swept the Channel throughout the winter of 1652-3. But in February, when the fleets were about equal, the British got the better of him in the Straits of Dover, after a running fight of three days. Blake being wounded, Monk led the fleet to another victory in May. But the dogged Dutch were not yet beaten; and it was not till the last of July that the final battle came.
Monk made straight for the Dutch line at six in the morning. For nine hours the fight went on, the two fleets manoeuvring with great skill and fighting furiously every time they came together. Each time they separated to manoeuvre again some ships were left behind, fighting, disabled, or sinking. The British attacked with the utmost courage. The Dutch never flinched. And so noon passed, and one, and two o'clock as well. Van Tromp's flag still flew defiantly; but van Tromp himself was dead. When the fleets first met he had been killed by a musket-shot straight through his heart. When they first parted the flag for a council of war was seen flying from his ship. The council of Dutch admirals hurriedly met, decided to keep his flag aloft, so as not to discourage their men, took orders from his second-in-command, and met the British as bravely as before. But after nine hours fighting their fleet broke up and left the field, bearing with it the body of van Tromp, the lion of the Dutch, and by far the greatest leader who had as yet withstood the British on the sea.
This great battle off the coast of Holland made the Dutch give in. They were divided among themselves; the merchants keeping up a republic and a navy, but the nobles and inland people wishing for a king and army to make the frontier safe. The British, though also divided among themselves, had the advantages of living on an island, of having settled what kind of government they would obey for the time being, and of having at the head of this government the mighty Cromwell, one of the greatest masters of the art of war the world has ever seen.
Cromwell understood warfare on the sea, though his own magnificent victories had been won on land. He also understood the three things Britain needed then to make and keep her great: first, that she should be strong enough to make foreigners respect her; secondly, that her oversea trade should be protected by a strong navy; and thirdly, that she should begin to found a British Empire overseas, as foreigners always tried to shut the British out of their own oversea dominions.
In 1654 a fleet and army were sent against the Spanish West Indies; for, though there was no war with Spain in Europe, there never was any peace with Spaniards overseas. Cromwell's orders, like those of Pitt a hundred years later, were perfect models of what such orders ought to be. He told the admiral and general exactly what the country wanted them to do, gave them the means of doing it, and then left them free to do it in whatever way seemed best on the spot. But the admiral and general did not agree. King's men and Cromwell's men had to be mixed together, as enough good Cromwellians could not be spared so far away from home. The leaders tried to stand well with both sides by writing to the King; and every other trouble was made ten times worse by this divided loyalty. Jamaica was taken. But the rest was all disgraceful failure.
A very different force sailed out the same year under glorious Blake, who soon let Spaniards, Italians, and Barbary pirates know that he would stand no nonsense if they interfered with British vessels in the Mediterranean. The Italian princes were brought to book, as the Spaniards had just been brought to book at Malaga. Then Blake swooped down on the Moorish pirates' nest at Tunis, sinking every vessel, silencing the forts, and forcing the pirates to let their Christian slaves go free. After this the pirates of Algiers quickly came to terms without waiting to be beaten first.
Meanwhile the frightened Spaniards had stopped the treasure fleet of 1655. But next year they were so short of money that they had to risk it; though now there was open war in Europe as well as in New Spain. Running for Cadiz, the first fleet of treasure ships fell into British hands after very little fighting; and Londoners had the satisfaction of cheering the thirty huge wagon-loads of gold and silver booty on its way to safekeeping in the Tower.
All that winter Blake was cruising off the coast of Spain, keeping the seaways open for friends and closed to enemies, thus getting a strangle-hold under which the angry Spaniards went from bad to worse. In the spring his hardy vigil met with its one reward; for he learnt that the second treasure fleet was hiding at Santa Cruz de Teneriffe in the Canary Islands, within a hundred miles of north-western Africa. Teneriffe was strongly fortified, as it was a harbour of refuge between Spain and her oversea possessions, both East and West. It was also very strong by nature, being surrounded by mountains, subject to dead calms and sudden storms, and lying snugly at the inner end of a big deep bay. But Blake knew the brave Spaniards for the lubbers they have always been at sea. So, on the 20th of April, 1657, he ran in with wind and tide, giving the forts at the entrance more than they bargained for as he dashed by. Next, ranging alongside, he sank, drove ashore, or set on fire every single Spanish vessel in the place. Then he went out with the tide, helped by the breeze which he knew would spring up with the set of the sun.
This perfect feat of daring skill, though sometimes equalled by the Navy, has never been surpassed; and when Blake died on his way home the people mourned their sudden loss as they have never mourned except for Nelson and for Drake.
The Dutch quickly took up the East India trade dropped by the beaten Spaniards, started their general oversea freighting again, and were soon as dangerous rivals as before. The Dutch at home were very much afraid of war, because their land frontier was threatened by France, while their seaways were threatened by England. But they could not make the Dutch East India Company keep its promises; for oversea companies in those days were mostly a law to themselves; and, in this case, the Dutch at home, though afraid to say so, quite agreed with the Dutch overseas in wishing to shut out the British from all the rich trade with the East. The new British Government, under sly and selfish Charles II, was eager to show that it would care as much for British sea trade as great Cromwell had. So it did not take long to bring on a war.
The first battle was fought on the 3rd of June, 1665, and won by the British, who broke through the Dutch line. The Dutch retreat, however, was magnificently covered by van Tromp's son, Cornelius; and the Duke of York (brother to Charles II and afterwards himself King James II) flinched from pressing home a finishing attack. Next year Monk, a really great commander, fought the famous Four Days Battle in the Downs, (11-14 June 1666). He was at first weaker in numbers than de Ruyter, the excellent Dutch admiral; but he skilfully struck one part of the Dutch line very hard before the rest could support it. On the second and third days the Dutch, do what they could, were quite unable to crush him. Both sides had some bad ships and bad crews; but as the Dutch had more of these than the British had they suffered the greater loss by flinching.
On the fourth day Monk was helped by gallant Prince Rupert, cousin to Charles II and by far the best of all the Stuarts. The Government of Charles, afraid that Louis XIV would send the French to join the Dutch, had just done one of those foolish things that are always done when scared civilians try to manage fleets and armies for themselves. They had sent Rupert off to guard against the French, thus risking a double defeat, by weakening Monk in front of the Dutch and Rupert in front of the French (who never came at all) instead of leaving the whole fleet together, strong enough to fight either enemy before the two could join. Rupert came in the nick of time; for, even with his fresh ships to help Monk through this last and most desperate day, de Ruyter and van Tromp were just enough stronger to win. But the fighting had been so deadly to both sides that the Dutch were in no condition to go on.
Again there was some very bad behaviour on both sides, especially among the court favourites. But Charles never thought of punishing these men for deserting Monk, any more than he thought of honouring the memory of Sir Christopher Myngs, Rupert's second-in-command, who fell, mortally wounded, at the end of the fight, after having done all that skill and courage could possibly do to turn the fortune of the day. Myngs was one of those leaders whom men will follow anywhere; and in the diary of Samuel Pepys, a good official at Navy headquarters in London, we may see the shame of Charles shown up by the noble conduct of the twelve picked British seamen who, after following Myngs to the grave, came forward, with tears in their eyes, to ask this favour: "We are here a dozen of us who have long served and honoured our dead commander, Sir Christopher Myngs. All we have is our lives. But if you will give us a fire-ship we will do that which shall show how we honour his memory by avenging his death on the Dutch."
Even the King did his best for the fleet now, as he was afraid to meet Parliament without a British victory. After immense exertions Monk and Rupert met de Ruyter and van Tromp, with almost equal forces, on the 25th of July, at the mouth of the Thames, and closed in so fiercely that there was hardly any manoeuvring on either side. Locked together in a life-or-death struggle the two fleets fought all day long. Next morning the British again closed in, and again the desperate fight began. But several Dutch captains flinched this time; and so de Ruyter, hoping the next shot would kill him, retired defeated at last.
The following year (1667) the Dutch came back and sank a British fleet at Chatham; for Charles and his vile favourites were doing for the British Navy what de Ruyter's flinching captains had been doing for the Dutch.
The Peace of Breda ended this second Dutch war in disgrace. But the Treaty of Dover, in 1670, brought on the third Dutch war with even greater shame; for Charles now sold himself to Louis XIV, who thus bought the Royal Navy for an attack on the Dutch, by which he and Charles were to benefit at the expense of all the rest. The French and British fleets, worked by the hidden hands of their two kings, grew suspicious of each other and failed to win a victory. The Dutch fought with the courage of despair and came through with the honours of war. But, worn out by their efforts, and unable to defend themselves by both land and sea, they soon lost their position as one of the Great Powers, and have never won it back.
It may be said now to England, Martha, Martha, thou art busy about many things, but one thing is necessary. To the Question, What shall we do to be saved in this World? there is no other Answer but this, Look to your Moat.
The first Article of an Englishman's Political Creed must be, That he believeth in the Sea.… We are in an Island, confined to it by God Almighty, not as a Penalty but a Grace, and one of the greatest that can be given to Mankind. Happy Confinement, that hath made us Free, Rich, and Quiet.
George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, 1633-95.
In Chapter VI we saw how French and English once fought a Hundred Years War to decide the French possession of all the land of France, and how the French, having the greater army, won. Now, in these next seven chapters we shall learn how they fought another Hundred Years War to decide the command of the sea, and how the English, grown into a British Empire and having the greater navy, won in their turn. Both victories proved to be for the best. France and England both gained by the first war; because the natural way for France to grow was all over the land that is France now, while the natural way for England to grow was not on the continent of Europe but in the British Isles. The British Empire gained more than the French by the second war; but as France could never have held an oversea Empire without a supreme navy, and as she could never have a supreme navy while she had two land frontiers to defend with great armies, she really lost nothing she then could have kept. Besides, in the nineteenth century she won a great empire in northern Africa, where her Mediterranean sea-power keeps it safe. The British Empire, on the other hand, being based on world-wide sea-power, is rightly placed as it is. So neither French nor British are tempted to envy each other now; while their Hundred Years Peace, followed by their glorious Alliance in the Great War, should make them friends for ever.
The Franco-British wars which began in 1689 and ended on the field of Waterloo in 1815 are not called the Second Hundred Years War in books. But that is what they were in fact. The British Navy was the chief cause of British victory all through, and, as French and British always took opposite sides, we may also call the whole of these seven wars by the one name of "The French War," just as we have called the other wars against our chief opponents "The Spanish War" and "Dutch War"; and just as we might call "The Great War" by the name of "The German War."
Two more points must be well understood, or else we shall miss the real meaning of our imperial history and the supreme importance of the Royal Navy.
First, there have been four attempts made in modern times by Great Powers on the continent of Europe to seize the overlordship of the World; and each time the Royal Navy has been the central force that foiled the attack upon the freedom of mankind. These four attempts have been made about a century apart from one another. The Spanish attempt was made at the end of the sixteenth century. The first French attempt was made by Louis XIV at the end of the seventeenth. The second French attempt was made by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth. The German attempt was made at the beginning of the twentieth. Though alike in the ambitions of their makers, these attempts were most unlike in the way the wars were carried on; for, while the Spaniards and Germans were monsters of cruelty, the French were foemen worthy of the noblest steel.
Secondly, as we shall see in Chapter XVI, the middle of this long French War was marked by the marvellous growth of the British Empire under the elder Pitt; a man whose like the world had never seen before and may not see again; orator, statesman, founder of empire, champion of freedom, and one of the very few civilians who have ever wielded the united force of fleets and armies without weakening it by meddling with the things that warriors alone can do.
Louis XIV liked to be called the Sun King (Roi Soleil) and Great Monarch (Grand Monarque). His own France was easily the first Great Power in Europe. She was rich and populous. The French army was the most famous in the world. French became the language of diplomacy. Whenever two nations speaking different languages wrote to each other about affairs of state or made treaties they did so in French, as they do still. But all this was not enough for Louis. He wanted to be a conqueror in Europe and beyond the seas. His people did not need oversea trade and empire in the same way as the Dutch and British, did not desire it half so much, and were not nearly so well fitted for it when they had it. France was a kingdom of the land. But, no matter, Louis must make conquests wherever he could.
Hoping to get England under his thumb he befriended James II, the last Stuart king, whom the English drove out in 1688. James, less bad but less clever than his vile brother Charles, had a party called Jacobites, who wanted French help to set him on the throne again, but no French interference afterwards. Most of Great Britain favoured the new king, William III; most of Ireland the old one, James. This greatly endangered British sea-power; for the French fleet had been growing very strong, and an enemy fleet based on Ireland would threaten every harbour in Great Britain from Bristol to the Clyde. More than this, a strong enough fleet could close the Channel between the south of Ireland and the north of France. There would then be no way out of Great Britain on to the Seven Seas except round the north of Scotland. But an enemy fleet strong enough to shut off Great Britain from the short cuts north and south of Ireland would certainly be strong enough to command the roundabout way as well; for it would be close to its base on the west coast of Ireland, while ships coming round by the north of Scotland would be far from their own. Thus Ireland, then as now, was the key to the sea-door of Great Britain. Luckily for Great Britain then, and for our Empire and Allies throughout the Great War, keys are no good unless you have the hand to turn them. And, then as now, the strong right hand that holds the key of Ireland was and is the Royal Navy.
In 1689 William III had at last succeeded in forming the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV, who now had enemies all round him except in little Switzerland. But France was easily the strongest of all the Great Powers, and she was under a single command; while Spain and Austria were lukewarm and weak against her, the many little German countries could not act well together, and Great Britain had many Jacobites at home besides still more in Ireland. Thus the Dutch and British friends of King William were the only ones to be depended on through thick and thin.
Moreover, the Navy had grown dangerously weak under the last two Stuart kings; and some of its men were Jacobites who knew the French king wished to put the Stuarts on the British throne again. So, when the great French admiral, Tourville, defeated the Dutch and British fleets off Beachy Head in 1690, the British fought far more feebly than the Dutch, who did as well as the best of them had done when led by the immortal van Tromp. Luckily for the British, Louis XIV did not want to make them hate him more than he could help, because he hoped to use them for his own ends when he had brought them under James again. Better still, William beat James in Ireland about the same time. Best of all, the Royal Navy began to renew its strength; while it made up its mind to stop foreign invasions of every kind. Even Jacobite officers swore they would stop the French fleet, even if James himself was on board of it. Then the tide of fortune turned for good and all.
In the spring of 1692 Louis and James, with a French and a Jacobite-Irish army, were at La Hogue, in the north-west corner of the Normandy peninsula, ready for the invasion of England. They had to wait for Tourville to clear the Dutch and British fleets away. But they thought these fleets had not joined company and that the British fleet would be so full of Jacobites as to be easily defeated again. At the first streak of dawn on the 19th of May Admiral Russell was off Harfleur, at the north-east corner of the Normandy peninsula. His own British ships of the line (that is, the ships of the biggest and strongest kind) numbered sixty-three; while his Dutch allies had thirty-six. Against these ninety-nine Tourville had only forty-four. Yet, having been ordered to attack, and not getting the counter-order till after the battle was over, he made for the overwhelming Dutch and British with a skill and gallantry beyond all praise.
The fury of the fight centred round the Soleil Royal, Tourville's flagship, which at last had to be turned out of the line. Then, as at Jutland in the Great War, mist veiled the fleets, so that friend and foe were mixed together. But the battle went on here and there between different parts of the fleets; while a hot action was fought after dark by Admiral Carter, who, though a Jacobite, was determined that no foreign army should ever set foot in England. Mortally wounded, he called to his flag captain, "Fight the ship as long as she swims," and then fell dead. All through the foggy 20th the battle was continued whenever the French and Allies could see each other. Next morning the Soleil Royal became so disabled that she drifted ashore near Cherbourg. But Tourville had meanwhile shifted his flag to another ship and fought his way into La Hogue with twelve of his best men-of-war. Some of the other French ships escaped by reaching St. Malo through the dangerous channel between La Hogue and the island of Alderney. Five others escaped to the eastward, and four went so far that they rounded Scotland before getting home.
On the 23rd and 24th Admiral Rooke, the future hero of Gibraltar, sailed up the bay of La Hogue with his lighter vessels; then took to his boats and burnt Tourville's men-of-war, supply ships, and even rowboats, in full view of King Louis and King James and of their whole army of invasion. No other navy has seen so many strange sights, afloat and ashore, as have been seen by the British. Yet even the British never saw a stranger sight than when the French cavalry charged into the shallow water where the Dutch and British sailors were finishing their work. A soldier-and-sailor rough-and-tumble followed, sabres and cutlasses slashing like mad, and some of the horsemen being dragged off their saddles by well-handled boat-hooks.
La Hogue was not a glorious victory, like Trafalgar, because the odds were nine to four in favour of the Dutch and British. But it was one of the great decisive battles of the world, because, from that time on, the British Isles, though often threatened, were never again in really serious danger of invasion.
King Charles II of Spain, having no children, made a will leaving his throne to Philip V, a grandson of Louis XIV, whose wife was sister to Charles. Louis declared that "the Pyrenees had ceased to exist"; by which boast he meant that he would govern the Spanish Empire through his grandson, turn the Mediterranean into "a French lake," and work his will against British sea-power, both mercantile and naval.
The war that followed was mostly fought on land; and the great British hero of it was the famous Duke of Marlborough, who was a soldier, not a sailor. But the facts that England, as usual, could not be invaded, and that her armies, also as usual, fought victoriously on the continent of Europe, prove how well British sea-power worked: closing the sea to enemies, opening it for friends, moving armies to the best bases on the coast, and keeping them supplied with all they needed at the front—men, munitions, clothing, food, and everything else.
The great naval feat of this war was the daring attack Rooke made on Gibraltar in 1704 with the help of some very gallant Dutch. Landing all the Marines ("Soldier and Sailor too") on the narrow neck of ground joining the famous Rock of Gibraltar to the mainland of Spain, and ranging all his broadsides against the batteries on the seaward front, Rooke soon beat the Spaniards from their guns and forced them to surrender a place which, if properly defended, should have kept out a fleet ten times as strong. No sooner had Gibraltar fallen than a French fleet came to win it back. But, after a fierce battle off Malaga, with over fifty ships a side, the French gave up the idea; and from that day to this Gibraltar has been British.
British sea-power won many advantages by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. France and Spain agreed that one king should never rule both countries. The British kept Gibraltar and Minorca, which together made two splendid bases for their fleet in the Mediterranean; while France gave up all her claims to Newfoundland and the Territory of Hudson Bay, besides ceding Acadia (Nova Scotia), to the British Crown.
Though the same king did not reign over both countries the same family did. So the French and Spanish Bourbons made a Family Compact against British sea-power. Spain promised to take away from the British all the trading rights she had been forced to grant them in America, while France promised to help Spain to win Gibraltar back again.
When the secret began to leak out the feeling against the Bourbons ran high; and when a merchant skipper called Jenkins paraded London, showing the ear he said the Spaniards had cut off him in South America, the people clamoured for immediate war. Admiral Vernon became immensely popular when he took Porto Bello in the Spanish Main. But he was beaten before Cartagena. He was a good admiral; but the Navy had been shamefully neglected by the government during the long peace; and no neglected navy can send out good fleets in a hurry.
Still, the Navy and mercantile marine were good enough to enable British sea-power to turn the scale against Prince Charlie in Scotland and against the French in Canada. The French tried to help the last of the Stuarts by sending supply ships and men-of-war to Scotland. But the British fleet kept off the men-of-war, seized the supply ships, and advanced along the coast to support the army that was running the Jacobites down. Prince Charlie's Jacobites had to carry everything by land. The British army had most of its stores carried fen times better by sea. Therefore, when the two armies met for their last fight at Culloden, the Jacobites were worn out, while the British army was quite fresh. In Canada it was the same story when the French fortress of Louisbourg was entirely cut off from the sea by a British fleet and forced to surrender or starve. In both cases the fleets and armies worked together like the different parts of one body. At Louisbourg the British land force was entirely made up of American colonists, mostly from enlightened Massachusetts.
A fleet sent against the French in India failed to beat that excellent French admiral, La Bourdonnais. But Anson's famous four years voyage round the world (1740-44) was a wonderful success. The Navy having been so much neglected by the government for so many years before the war, Anson had to put up with some bad ships and worse men. Even poor old pensioners were sent on board at the last minute to make up the number required. Of course they soon died off like flies. But his famous flagship, the Centurion, got through, beat everything that stood up to her, and took vast quantities of Spanish gold and silver. Yet this is by no means the most wonderful fact about the Centurion. The most wonderful thing of all is, that, though she was only a one-thousand-tonner (smaller than many a destroyer of the present day) she had no fewer than eight officers who rose to high and well-won rank in after years, and three—Anson, Saunders, and Keppel—who all became First Lords of the Admiralty, and thus heads of the whole Navy.
Three years after his return Anson won a victory over the French off Cape Finisterre, while Hawke won another near the same place a few months later. In both the French fought very well indeed; but, with less skill in handling fleets and smaller numbers than the British, they had no chance. One of Hawke's best captains was Saunders. Thus twelve years before Pitt's conquest of Canada the three great admirals most concerned with it had already been brought together.
The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war in 1748, settled nothing and satisfied nobody. It was, in fact, only a truce to let the tired opponents get their breath and prepare for the world-wide struggle which was to settle the question of oversea empire.
The British in America were very angry with the Mother Country for giving back Louisbourg. But they were much too narrow in their views; for their own fate in America depended entirely on the strength of the Royal Navy, which itself depended on having a safe base in the Mother Country. Now, France had conquered those parts of the once Spanish but then Austrian Netherlands which included the present coast of Belgium; and Britain could no more allow the French to threaten her naval base from the coast of Belgium then than she could allow the Spaniards before or the Germans in our own time. Therefore both she and her colonists won many points in the game, when playing for safety, by
The British part of the Seven Years War was rightly known as The Maritime War, because Pitt, the greatest of British empire-builders, based it entirely on British sea-power, both mercantile and naval. Pitt had a four-fold plan. First, it is needless to say that he made the Navy strong enough to keep the seaways open to friends and closed to enemies; for once the seaways are cut the Empire will bleed to death just as surely as a man will if you cut his veins and arteries. This being always and everywhere the Navy's plainest duty it need not have been mentioned here unless each other part of Pitt's fourfold plan had not only depended on it but helped to make it work. The second part of his plan was this: not to send British armies into the middle of Europe, but to help Frederick the Great and other allies to pay their own armies—a thing made possible by the wealth brought into Britain by oversea trade. The third part was to attack the enemy wherever British fleets and armies, acting together in "joint expeditions," could strike the best blows from the sea. The fourth was to send joint expeditions to conquer the French dominions overseas.
But lesser men than Pitt were at the head of the Government when the fighting began; and it took some time to bring the ship of state on to her proper course even after his mighty hand began to steer.
In 1754 "the shot heard round the world" was fired by the French at Washington's American militiamen, who were building a fort on the spot where Pittsburg stands today. The Americans were determined to stop the French from "joining hands behind their backs" and thus closing every road to the West all the way from Canada to New Orleans. So they sent young George Washington to build a fort at the best junction of the western trails. But he was defeated and had to surrender. Then Braddock was sent out from England in 1755. But the French defeated him too. Then France sent out to Canada as great a master of the art of war on land as Drake had been by sea. This was the gallant and noble Montcalm, who, after taking Oswego in 1756 and Fort William Henry in 1757, utterly defeated a badly led British army, four times the size of his own, at Ticonderoga in 1758.
Meanwhile war had been declared in Europe on the 18th of May, 1756. On one side stood France, Austria, Saxony, Russia, and Sweden; on the other, Great Britain, Prussia, and a few smaller German states, among them Hanover and Hesse. Things went as badly here as overseas; for the meaner kind of party politicians had been long in power, and the Fleet and Army had both been neglected. There was almost a panic in England while the French were preparing a joint expedition against Minorca in the Mediterranean lest this might be turned against England herself. Minorca was taken, a British fleet having failed to help it. Hawke and Saunders were then sent to the Mediterranean as a "cargo of courage." But the fortunes of war could not be changed at once; and they became even worse next year (1757). The Austrians drove Frederick the Great out of Bohemia. The French took Hanover. And, though Frederick ended the year with two victories, Pitt's own first joint expedition failed to take Rochefort on the west coast of France. Clive's great victory at Plassey, which laid the foundation of our Indian Empire, was the only silver lining to the British clouds of war.
But in 1758 Pitt was at last managing the war in his own perfect way; and everything began to change for the better.
The enemy had already felt the force of British sea-power in three different ways. They had felt it by losing hundreds of merchant vessels on the outbreak of war. They had felt it in Hanover, where they were ready to grant the Hanoverians any terms if the surrender would only be made before a British fleet should appear on their flank. And they had felt it during the Rochefort expedition, because, though that was a wretched failure, they could not tell beforehand when or where the blow would fall, or whether the fleet and army might not be only feinting against Rochefort and then going on somewhere else.
There is no end to the advantages a joint fleet and army possesses over an army alone, even when the army alone has many more men. It is ten times easier to supply armies with what they need in the way of men, guns, munitions, food, clothes, and other stores, when these supplies can be carried by sea. It is ten times easier to keep your movements secret at sea, where nobody lives and where the weaker sea-power can never have the best of lookouts, than it is on land, where thousands of eyes are watching you and thousands of tongues are talking. So, if your army fights near a coast against an enemy who commands the sea, you can never tell when or where he may suddenly attack your line of supply by landing an army to cut it. The French generals, though they had the best army in the world, were always looking over their shoulders to see if some British joint expedition was not hovering round the flank exposed to the coast. The French Navy, though very gallant, could only help French shipping here and there, by fits and starts, and at the greatest risk. So, while the British forces used the highways of the sea the whole time, the French forces could only use them now and then by great good luck. Thus British sea-power hampered, spoilt, or ruined all the powers of the land.
The French wanted to save Louisbourg, the fall of which they knew would be the first step to the British conquest of Canada. But they could not send a fleet through the English Channel right under the eyes of the British naval headquarters, from which they were themselves expecting an attack. So they tried one from the Mediterranean. But Osborne and Saunders shut the door in their faces at Gibraltar and broke up their Toulon fleet as well. Then the French tried the Bay of Biscay. But Hawke swooped down on the big convoy of supply vessels sheltering at Aix and forced both them and their escorting men-of-war to run aground in order to save themselves from being burnt. Meanwhile large numbers of French farmers and fishermen had to be kept under arms to guard the shores along the Channel. This, of course, was bad for the harvest of both sea and land, on which the feeding of the men at the front so greatly depended. But there was no help for it, as the British fleet was watching its chance to pounce down on the first point left unguarded, and the French fleet was not strong enough to fight it out at sea. St. Malo and Cherbourg were successfully attacked. The only failure was at St. Cast, where a silly old general made mistakes of which a clever French one quickly took advantage.
Thus harassed, blockaded, and weakened on every coast, France could do nothing to save Louisbourg, the first link in the long, thin chain of French posts in America, where the fortunes of war were bound to follow the side that had the greater sea-power. No army could fight in America if cut off from Europe; because the powder and shot, muskets and bayonets, cannons and cannon-balls, swords and pistols, all came out from France and England. More than this, the backbone of both armies were the French and British regulars, who also came from France and England. Most of all, fleets were quite as important at Quebec and Montreal as at Louisbourg, for ocean navigation went all those hundreds of miles inland. Beyond these three great points, again, sea-power, of a wholly inland kind, was all-important; for the French lived along another line of waterways—from Montreal, across the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. You might as well expect an army to march without legs as to carry on a war in America without fleets of sea-going ships and flotillas of inland small craft, even down to the birchbark canoe.
Pitt's plan for 1758 was to attack Canada on both flanks and work into place for attacking her centre the following year. Louisbourg on the coast of Cape Breton guarded her sea flank. Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburg) at the forks of the Ohio guarded her land flank and her door to the Golden West. Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain guarded her gateway into the St. Lawrence from the south. Here the British attack, though made with vastly superior numbers, was beaten back by the heroic and skilful Montcalm. But Fort Duquesne, where Washington and Braddock had been defeated, was taken by Forbes and re-named Pittshurg in honour of the mighty Minister of War. Louisbourg likewise fell. So Canada was beaten on both wings, though saved, for the moment, in the centre.
Louisbourg never had the slightest chance; for Boscawen's great fleet cut it off from the sea so completely that no help the French could spare could have forced its way in, even if it had been able to dodge past the British off the coast of France. The British army, being well supplied from the sea, not only cut Louisbourg off by land as well as the fleet had cut it off by sea but was able to press the siege home with such vigour that the French had to surrender after a brave defence of no more than eight weeks. The hero of the British army at Louisbourg was a young general of whom we shall soon hear more—Wolfe.
If we ever want to choose an Empire Year, then the one to choose, beyond all shadow of a doubt, is 1759; and the hero of it, also beyond all shadow of a doubt, is Pitt. Hardwicke, Pitt's chief civilian adviser, was a truly magnificent statesman for war. Anson was a great man at the head of the Navy. Ligonier was equally good at the head of the Army, with a commission as "Commander-in-Chief of all His Majesty's Forces in Great Britain and America," which showed how much Pitt thought of the Canadian campaigns. The silent Saunders was one of the best admirals that even England ever had. And when people drank to "the eye of a Hawke, and the heart of a Wolfe!" they showed they knew of other first-rate leaders too. But by far the greatest head and heart, by far the most inspiring soul, of this whole vast Empire War was Pitt. In many and many a war, down to our own day, the warriors who have led the fleets and armies have been greater and nobler than the statesmen who managed the government. But Pitt was greater, though even he could not be nobler, than any of the warriors who served the Empire under him; for he knew, better than any one else, how to make fleets and armies work together as a single United Service, and how to make the people who were not warriors work with the warriors for the welfare of the whole United Empire. Of course he had a wonderful head and a wonderful heart. But his crowning glory as an Empire-maker is that he could rise above all the petty strife of party politicians and give himself wholly to the Empire in the same spirit of self-sacrifice as warriors show upon the field of battle.
In choosing commanders by land and sea Pitt always took the best, no matter who or what their friends or parties were; and no commander left Pitt's inspiring presence without feeling the fitter for the work in hand. In planning the conquest of Canada, Pitt and Ligonier agreed that Amherst and Wolfe were the men for the army, while Pitt and Anson agreed that Saunders and Holmes were the men for the fleet. This was all settled at the beginning of Empire Year—1759.
But this was only a part, though the most important part, of Pitt's Imperial plan. No point of vantage, the whole world round, escaped his eagle eye. The French and Dutch were beaten in India; though both fought well, and though the French fleet fought a drawn battle with the British off Ceylon. On the continent of Europe our allies were helped by a British army at the decisive victory of Minden, which drove the French away from Hanover. And in the West Indies the island of Guadaloupe was taken by a joint expedition of the usual kind; but only after the French had made a splendid resistance of over three months.
Stung to the quick by these sudden blows from the sea France planned a great invasion of the British Isles. She did not hide it, hoping thereby to make the British keep their fleets at home in self-defence. But though, as always happens, there were people weak enough to want to keep the Navy close beside the coast and stupidly divided up, so that plenty of timid folk could see the ships in front of them, just where the enemy with one well handled fleet could beat them bit by bit, Pitt paid no attention at all to any silly nonsense of the kind. He and Anson knew, of course, that, when you have the stronger fleet, the only right way is to defend yourself by attacking the enemy before he can attack you. So, instead of wasting force at home, Pitt sent joint expeditions all over the seaboard world, wherever they were needed to guard or make the Empire overseas; while he sent fleets to beat or blockade the French fleets off their own, not off the British, coasts.
The dreaded invasion never came off; and the only two French fleets that did get out were destroyed: the one from the Mediterranean off Lagos in the south of Portugal, and the one from the west coast of France in Quiberon Bay.
Boscawen's fleet was refitting and taking in stores at Gibraltar when one of his look-out frigates signalled up to the Governor's house, where Boscawen was dining, that the French were slipping through the Strait by hugging the African shore under cover of the dark. The British flagship had her sails unbent (that is, unfastened altogether). Every vessel had her decks and hold lumbered up with stores. Half the crews were ashore; and if a spy had taken a look round he would have thought the enemy could never have been overhauled. But the Navy is never caught napping. In the twinkling of an eye Gibraltar was full of British blue-jackets racing down to their ships, leaping on board, and turning their skilful hands to the first job waiting to be done. Within two hours Boscawen was off hotfoot after the French, hoisting in boats, stowing the last of the lumbering stores, and clearing decks for action. Overhauling La Clue near Lagos, off the coast of Portugal, he ranged up alongside, flagship to flagship. But the French, fighting with equal skill and courage, beat him off. Falling astern he came abreast of the gallant Centaure, which had already fought four British men-of-war. Being now a mere battered hulk she surrendered. Then Boscawen, his damage repaired, pushed ahead again. La Clue, whose fleet was the smaller, seeing no chance of either victory or escape, chose shipwreck rather than surrender, and ran his flagship straight on the rocks, with every stitch of canvas drawing full and his flag kept flying.
Quiberon and Quebec go together, like "the eye of a Hawke and the heart of a Wolfe"; for Hawke's victory at Quiberon made it certain that Wolfe's victory at Quebec could not be undone. The French were trying to unite their west-coast fleets at Morbihan for an invasion of England or at least a fight to give some of their own shipping a breathing spell free from blockade. Their admiral, Conflans, was trying to work his way in under very great difficulties. He was short of trained men, short of proper stores, and had fewer ships than Hawke. Hawke's cruisers had driven some of Conflans' storeships into a harbour a hundred miles away from Brest, where Conflans was trying hard to get ready for the invasion of England. The result was that these stores had to be landed and carted across country, which not only took ten times longer than it would have taken to send them round by sea but also gave ten times as much trouble. At last Conflans managed to move out. But he had about as much chance of escape as a fly in a spider's web; for Hawke had cruisers watching everywhere and a battle fleet ready to pounce down anywhere. Conflans had been ordered to save his fleet by all possible means till he had joined the French fleet and army of invasion. So he is not to be blamed for what he tried to do at Quiberon.
On the 20th of November he was sailing toward Quiberon Bay when he saw the vanguard of Hawke's fleet coming up before a rising gale. With fewer ships, and with crews that had been blockaded so long that they were no match for the sea-living British, he knew he had no chance in a stand-up tight in the open, and more especially in the middle of a storm. So he made for Quiberon, where he thought he would be safe; because the whole of that intricate Bay is full of rocks, shoals, shallows, and all kinds of other dangers.
But Hawke came down on the wings of the wind, straight toward the terrific dangers of the Bay, and flying before a gale which in itself seemed to promise certain shipwreck; for it blew on-shore. Conflans ran for his life, got into the Bay, and had begun to form his line of battle when some distant shots told him that his rear was being overhauled. Then his last ships came racing in. But the leading British, like hounds in full cry, were closing on them so fast that before they could join his line they were caught in the fury of the fight. Within a few desperate minutes two French ships were so badly battered that they had to surrender, while three more were sent to the bottom. Then the gale shifted and blew Conflans' own line out of order. He at once tried to move into a better place. But this only made matters worse. So he anchored in utter confusion, with wrecking rocks on one side and Hawke's swooping fleet on the other. Once more, however, he tried a change—this time the bold one of charging out to sea. But Hawke was too quick for him, though the well-named Intrépide rushed in between the two racing flagships, the Royal George and Soleil Royal. This was the end. The gale rose to its height. Darkness closed in. And then, amid the roaring of the battle and the sea, the victorious British anchored beside all that was left of the French.
There were no such sea fights on the coasts of Canada, where the British were in overwhelming naval strength. But never was there a joint expedition which owed more to its fleet than the one that took Quebec this same year (1759). The fact that the battles were fought on the land, and that Wolfe and Montcalm both fell in the one which decided the fate of Quebec, has made us forget that sea-power had more to do with this and the other American campaigns than all the other forces put together. The army did magnificently; and without Wolfe's and the other armies the conquest could never have been made. But the point is this, that, while each little army was only a finger of the hand that drew the British sword in Canada, the fleet which brought the armies there and kept them going was part and parcel of the whole vast body of British sea-power united round the world.
Pitt planned to give French Canada the knockout blow in Empire Year. So, holding the extreme east and west at Louisbourg and Fort Duquesne, he sent a small force to cut the line of the Lakes at Niagara, a much larger one to cut into the line of the St. Lawrence from Lake Champlain, and the largest and strongest of all up the St. Lawrence to take Quebec, which, then as now, was the key of Canada. Niagara was taken; and the line of Lake Champlain was secured by Amherst, who, however, never got through to the St. Lawrence that year. But the great question was, who is to have the key? So we shall follow Saunders and Wolfe to Quebec.
Wolfe's little army of nine thousand men was really a landing party from Saunders' big fleet, which included nearly fifty men-of-war (almost a quarter of the whole Royal Navy) and well over two hundred transports and supply ships. The bluejackets on board the men-of-war and the merchant seamen on board the other ships each greatly outnumbered the men in Wolfe's army. In fact, the whole expedition was made up of three-quarters sea-power and only one-quarter land.
Admiral Durell, who had been left at Halifax over the winter, was too slow in getting the advance guard under way in time to cut off the twenty-three little vessels sent out from France to Montcalm in the spring. But this reinforcement was too small to make any real difference in the doom of Quebec when once British sea-power had sealed the St. Lawrence. Saunders took Wolfe's army and the main body of his own fleet up the great river in June: a hundred and forty-one vessels, all told, from the flagship Neptune of ninety guns down to the smallest craft that carried supplies. It was a brave sight off the mouth of the Saguenay, where the deep-water estuary ends, to see the whole fleet, together at sunset, with its thousand white sails, in a crescent twenty miles long, a-gleam on the blue St. Lawrence.
The French-Canadian pilots who had been taken prisoners swore that no fleet could ever get through the Traverse, a tricky bit of water thirty miles below Quebec. But, in the course of the summer, the British sailing masters, who had never been there before, themselves took two hundred and seventy-seven vessels right through it with greater ease in squadrons than any French-Canadian could when piloting a single ship. The famous Captain Cook, of whom we shall soon hear more, had gone up a month ahead with Durell, and, in only three days, had sounded, surveyed, and buoyed the Traverse to perfection.
When once the fleet had reached Quebec Montcalm was completely cut off from the outside world, except for the road and river up to Montreal. His French-Canadian militia more than equalled Wolfe's army in mere numbers. But his French regulars from France, the backbone of the whole defence, were not half so many. Vaudreuil, the French-Canadian Governor, was a fool. Bigot, the French Intendant, was a knave. They both hated the great and honest Montcalm and did all they could to spite him. The natural strength of Quebec, "the Gibraltar of America," was, with his own French regulars, the only defence on which he could always rely.
The bombardment of Quebec from across the narrows of the St. Lawrence ("Kebec" is the Indian for "narrows") went on without much result throughout July; and Wolfe's attempt to storm the Heights of Montmorency, five miles below Quebec, ended in defeat. During August a squadron under Holmes, third-in-command of the fleet, kept pushing up the St. Lawrence above Quebec, and thus alarming the French for the safety of their road and river lines of communication with Montreal, the only lines left. They sent troops up to watch the ships, and very wearing work it was; for while the ships carried Wolfe's landing parties up and down with the tide, the unfortunate Frenchmen had to scramble across country in a vain effort to be first at any threatened point.
From the 3rd of September to the famous 13th Wolfe worked out his own splendid plan with the help of the fleet. Three-fourths of the French were entrenched along the six miles of North Shore below Quebec, to please Vaudreuil, who, as Governor, had power to order Montcalm. The rest were in or above Quebec; and mostly between Cap Rouge, which was seven miles, and Pointe-aux-Trembles, which was twenty-two miles, above. Wolfe's plan was to make as big a show of force as possible, up to the very last minute, against the entrenchments below Quebec and also against the fifteen miles of North Shore between Cap Rouge and Pointe-aux-Trembles, while he would really land at what we now call Wolfe's Cove, which is little more than one mile above Quebec. If he could then hold the land line west to Montreal, while Holmes held the river line, Montcalm would be absolutely cut off in every direction and be forced to fight or starve. Montcalm's secret orders from the King being to keep any other foothold he possibly could if Quebec was taken, he had to leave stores of provisions at different points toward the West and South, as he intended to retire from point to point and make his last stand down by New Orleans.
Quebec was, however, to be held if possible; and everything that skill and courage could do was done by Montcalm to hold it. He even foresaw Wolfe's final plan and sent one of his best French battalions to guard the Plains of Abraham. But Vaudreuil withdrew it four days before the battle there. Again, on the very eve of battle, Montcalm ordered the same battalion to ramp for the night in defence of Wolfe's Cove. But Vaudreuil again counter-ordered, this time before the men had marched off, thus leaving that post in charge of one of his own friends, a contemptible officer called Vergor.
Wolfe knew all about Vergor and what went on in the French camp, where Vaudreuil could never keep a secret. So he and Saunders and Holmes set the plan going for the final blow. The unfortunate Frenchmen above Cap Rouge were now so worn out by trying to keep up with the ships that Wolfe knew they would take hours to get down to Quebec if decoyed overnight anywhere up near Pointe-aux-Trembles, more than twenty miles away. He also knew that the show of force to be made by Saunders the day before the battle would keep the French in their trenches along the six miles below Quebec. Besides this he knew that the fire of his batteries opposite Quebec would drown the noise of taking Vergor's post more than a mile above. Finally, the fleet kept him perfectly safe from counter-attack, hid his movements, and took his army to any given spot far better and faster than the French could go there by land.
With all this in his favour he then carried out his plan to perfection, holding the French close below and far above Quebec by threatening attacks from the ships, secretly bringing his best men together in boats off Cap Rouge after dark, dropping them down to Wolfe's Cove just before dawn, rushing Vergor's post with the greatest ease, and forming up across the Plains of Abraham, just west of Quebec, an hour before Montcalm could possibly attack him. Cut off by water and land Montcalm now had to starve or fight Wolfe's well-trained regulars with about equal numbers of men, half of whom were militia quite untrained for flat and open battlefields. Wolfe's perfect volleys then sealed the fate of Quebec; while British sea-power sealed the fate of Canada.
The rest of the war was simply reaping the victories Pitt had sown; though he left the Government in 1761, and Spain joined our enemies the following year. The jealous new king, George III, and his jealous new courtiers, with some of the jealous old politicians, made up a party that forced Pitt out of the Government. They then signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1763 without properly securing the fruit of all his victories.
But Canada had been won outright. The foundations of the Indian Empire had been well and truly laid. And the famous Captain Cook, who surveyed the Traverse for Saunders and made the first charts of British Canada, soon afterwards became one of the founders of that British Australasia whose Australian-New Zealand-Army-Corps became so justly famous as the fighting "Anzacs" throughout our recent war against the Germans.
The Royal George, Hawke's flagship at the Battle of Quiberon Bay, the battle which confirmed the conquest of Canada, was a first-rate man-of-war of 100 guns. On the 29th of August, 1782, while at anchor off Spithead, between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, her guns broke loose with the rolling and she went down with all hands.
Toll for the brave—
The brave that are no more:
All sunk beneath the wave,
Fast by their native shore.
Eight hundred of the brave,
Whose courage well was tried,
Had made the vessel heel
And laid her on her side;
A land-breeze shook the shrouds,
And she was overset;
Down went the Royal George,
With all her crew complete.
Toll for the brave—
Brave Kempenfelt is gone,
His last sea-fight is fought,
His work of glory done.
It was not in the battle,
No tempest gave the shock,
She sprang no fatal leak,
She ran upon no rock;
His sword was in the sheath,
His fingers held the pen,
When Kempenfelt went down
With twice four hundred men.
Weigh the vessel up,
Once dreaded by our foes,
And mingle with your cup
The tears that England owes;
Her timbers yet are sound,
And she may float again,
Full charg'd with England's thunder,
And plough the distant main;
But Kempenfelt is gone,
His victories are o'er;
And he and his eight hundred
Must plough the wave no more.
The rights and wrongs of this Revolution are not our business here. But British sea-power is. So we should like to tell the whole story of the Navy in that unhappy time; because most books say little about it and do not say that little well. But, as we have no time for more than the merest glance, all we can do is to ask those who want to learn the truth in full to read The Influence of Sea-Power on History, by that expert American, Admiral Mahan.
The Revolution was not a fight between British and Americans, as we and they are apt to think it now, but a British civil war that divided people in Britain as well as in America. In both countries there were two parties, the Government and Opposition, each against the other; the only difference, though a very great one, being that while the Opposition in America took up arms the Opposition in Britain did not. Both countries were then parts of the same British Empire; and so this war was really the link between the other two great civil wars that have divided the English-speaking peoples. Thus there were three civil wars in three successive centuries: the British Civil War in the seventeenth, between Roundhead and Cavalier in England; the British-American Civil War in the eighteenth, between the King's Party Government and the Opposition on both sides of the Atlantic; and the American Civil War in the nineteenth, between the North and South of the United States.
The American Opposition had no chance of winning their Independence, however much they might proclaim it, so long as the Royal Navy held the sea against them. Washington knew this perfectly well; and his written words are there to prove it. The Revolutionists fought well on land. They invaded Canada and took the whole country except the walls of Quebec. They also fought well at sea; and Paul Jones, a Scotsman born, raided the coasts of Great Britain till nurses hushed children by the mere sound of his name.
But no fleet and army based on the New World could possibly keep up a war without help from the Old; because, as we have seen all through Pitt's Imperial War, the Old World was the only place in which enough men, ships, arms, and warlike stores could be found. Stop enough supplies from crossing the Atlantic, and the side whose supplies were stopped would certainly lose. And more than that: whichever side commanded the sea would soon command the land as well. Quebec held out under Carleton till relieved by a fleet in the spring. But, even if Quebec had fallen, the American invaders would have been driven out again by the mere arrival of the fleet. For whichever side lost the use of the St. Lawrence lost the only means of moving, feeding, arming, and reinforcing an army in Canada well enough to stand the strain.
The turn of the tide of fortune came, and only could come, when all the foreign navies in the world took sides against the King's party in this British civil war. France, Spain, and Holland were thirsting for revenge. So when they saw a vile creature like Lord George Germain bungling through a war Pitt never would have made; when they saw British generals half-hearted because belonging to the party that opposed the King's; when they saw how steadfastly Washington fought; and, most of all, when they saw how much the Royal Navy was weakened by the Opposition in Parliament, who stopped a great deal of money from being voted for the Army and Navy lest the King should be too strong against the Americans; when foreigners whose own navies had been beaten by the British saw such a chance, they came in with navies which they had meanwhile been strengthening on purpose to get their revenge.
France, Spain, and Holland all fought on the side of the Revolution, their big navies joining the little one formed by Paul Jones; while Russia, Sweden, Denmark (which then included Norway), Prussia, and the Hansa Towns, all formed the Armed Neutrality of the North against the weakened British Navy. The King's Party Government thus had nine navies against it—four in arms and five in armed neutrality; and this checked the British command of the Atlantic just long enough to make Independence safe for the American Revolutionists.
It did, not, however, stop the Navy from saving the rest of the Empire; for Pitt and the Opposition in the Mother Country, who would not strengthen the Navy against the Americans, were eager to strengthen it against foreign attack. In 1782 Rodney beat the French in the Atlantic, and Hughes beat them in the Indian Ocean; while Gibraltar was held triumphantly against all that France and Spain could do by land and sea together.
Nelson and Napoleon never met; and Wellington the soldier beat Napoleon ten years after Nelson was killed at Trafalgar. Yet it was Nelson's victories that made Napoleon's null and void, thus stopping the third attempt in modern times to win the overlordship of the world. As Drake stopped Philip of Spain by defeating the Armada, as Russell stopped Louis XIV by the battle of La Hogue, as Jellicoe in our own day stopped the Kaiser off the Jutland Bank, so Nelson stopped Napoleon by making British sea-power quite supreme. Century by century the four mightiest warlords of the land have carried all before them until their towering empires reached the sea. But there, where they were strangers, they all met the same Royal Navy, manned by sailors of the only race whose home has always been the sea, and, meeting it, they fell.
Able men all, and mighty warlords, the might of three was much more in their armies than in themselves. Cruel Philip was not a warrior of any kind. Ambitious Louis and the vainglorious Kaiser were only second-rate soldiers, who would never have won their own way to the highest command. But Napoleon was utterly different. He was as great a master of the art of war on land as Nelson was by sea; and that is one reason why Nelson, who caused his downfall, stands supreme. But there are other reasons too. Nelson, like Drake, fought three campaigns with marvellous skill; but he also fought more seamanlike foes. Like Russell, he completely destroyed the enemy fleet; but he never had Russell's advantage in numbers. We might go on with other reasons yet; but we shall only give two more: first, that magic touch of his warm heart which made his captains "like a band of brothers," which made the bluejackets who carried his coffin treasure up torn bits of the pall as most precious relics, and which made the Empire mourn him as a friend; secondly, the very different kind of "Nelson touch" he gave his fleet when handling it for battle, that last touch of perfection in forming it up, leading it on, striking hardest at the weakest spot, and then driving home the attack to the complete destruction of the enemy.
Nelson was not the first, but the fifth, great admiral to command fleets in the last French War (1793-1815). Howe, Hood, St. Vincent, Duncan, Nelson: that is the order in which the victors came. Howe, Hood, St. Vincent, and Duncan were all men who had fought in Pitt's Imperial War; and each was old enough to have been Nelson's father. Howe was the hero of the relief of Gibraltar in 1782, at the time that all the foreign navies in the world were winning American Independence by taking sides in a British civil war. Howe was also the hero of "the Glorious First of June" in 1794, when he defeated the French off the north-west coast of France.
But it was under Hood, not Howe, that Nelson learnt the way fleets should be used; and it was under St. Vincent that he first sprang into fame.
St. Vincent, with fifteen ships of the line (that is, big battleships) was sailing south to stop a Spanish fleet from coming north to join the French, when, on the 14th of February, 1797, the look-out reported "enemy in sight." St. Vincent was walking up and down the quarter-deck with his flag-captain, Hallowell, as the reports came in. "Ten ships of the line in sight." Then "fifteen," the same number that he had himself. Then "twenty" … "twenty-five" … and at last "twenty-seven." When this total of twenty-seven was reported, the officer reporting said, in a questioning way, "Pretty long odds, Sir?" But, quick as a flash, St. Vincent answered, "Enough of that, Sir! the die is cast; and if they are fifty I will go through them!" And he did. This victory, which broke up the plans the French and Spaniards had made against Britain, was thought so important that Jervis, as he then was called, was made Lord St. Vincent, taking his title from the place near which he won the battle, Cape St. Vincent, the south-west corner of Europe.
In October Admiral Duncan was made Lord Camperdown for destroying the Dutch fleet which was trying to help the French into Ireland. He caught it off Camperduin (on the coast of North Holland) and smashed it to pieces after a furious battle, in which the Dutch, with a smaller fleet, showed that they too were of the Viking breed. This victory stopped the danger from the north, just as St. Vincent's stopped it from the south. Both were fought in the only proper way to defend the British Empire on the sea when the enemy comes out, that is, by going to meet him in his own waters, instead of waiting to let him choose his own point of attack against the British coast.
Next year, 1798, Nelson was also made a peer for a glorious victory won on his own account. He had learnt from Lord Hood the first principle of all defence—that the real aim is not so much to stand on guard or even to win a victory as to destroy the enemy's means of destroying you. This chimed in with his own straight-forward genius; and he never forgot his old chief: "the best officer that England has to boast of." Hood had the misfortune never to have been in supreme command during a great battle. But, in Nelson's opinion, he stood above all other commanders-in-chief of his own time; and, as we look back on him now, we see that Nelson alone surpassed him.
Napoleon, like the Germans of today, hoped to make land-power beat sea-power in the East by stirring up rebellion against the British rule in India and making Egypt his bridge between Europe and Asia. With daring skill he crossed the Mediterranean and conquered Egypt. But his victory proved worse than useless; for Nelson followed the French fleet and utterly defeated it in the Bay of Aboukir at the mouth of the Nile on the 1st of August, 1798. The battle was fought with the utmost firmness on both sides, each knowing that the fate of Egypt, of the East, and of Napoleon's army as well as of his fleet, hung trembling in the scales. The odds were twelve British battleships to thirteen French. The French sailors, as usual, were not such skilled hands as the British, partly because France had always been rather a country of landsmen than seamen, but chiefly because the French fleets were, as a rule, so closely blockaded that they could not use the open sea for training nearly so much as their British rivals did. Still, the French fleet, though at anchor (and so unable to change its position quickly to suit the changes of the fight) looked as if it could defy even Nelson himself. For it was drawn up across the bay with no spot left unguarded between it and the land at either end of the line; and it was so close in shore that its admirals never thought anybody would try to work his way inside.
But that is just what Nelson did. He sent some of his ships between the van of the French and the Aboukir shoal, where there was just room to scrape through with hardly an inch to spare; and so skilful was the British seamanship that this marvellous manoeuvre took the French completely by surprise. Then, having his own fleet under way, while the French was standing still, he doubled on their van (that is, he attacked it from both sides), held their centre, and left their rear alone. By this skilful move he crushed the van and then had the centre at his mercy. The French gunners stuck to their work with splendid courage, driving the Bellerophon off as a mere battered hulk and keeping most of the rest at bay for some time. But the French flagship, Orient, which the Bellerophon had boldly attacked, was now attacked by the Swiftsure and Alexander; and the French admiral, Brueys, already wounded twice, was mortally hit by a cannon ball. He refused to be carried below, saying that "a French admiral should die on deck in a fight like this." His example encouraged the crew to redouble their efforts. But, just after he died, fire broke out on board the Orient and quickly spread fore and aft, up the rigging, and right in toward the magazine. The desperate battle was now at its fiercest, raging all round this furious fire, which lit the blackness of that warm Egyptian night with devils' tongues of flame. The cannonade went on. But even the thunder of two thousand guns could not drown the roar of that seething fire, now eating into the very vitals of the ship, nearer and nearer to the magazine. Every near-by ship that could move now hauled clear as far as possible; while the rest closed portholes and hatchways, took their powder below, sent all hands to fire stations, and breathlessly waited for the end. Suddenly, as if the sea had opened to let Hell's lightning loose, the Orient burst like a gigantic shell and crashed like Doomsday thunder. The nearest ships reeled under the terrific shock, which racked their hulls from stem to stern and set some leaking badly. Masts, boats, and twisted rigging flew blazing through the air, fell hissing on the watered decks, and set two British vessels and one French on fire. But the crews worked their very hardest, and they saved all three.
For a few awed minutes every gun was dumb. Then the Franklin, the French ship that had taken fire, began the fight again. But the Defence and Swiftsure brought down her masts, silenced nearly all her guns, and forced her to surrender. By midnight the first seven ships in that gallant French line had all been taken or sunk; every man who could be saved being brought on board the victorious British men-of-war and, of course, well treated there. The eighth Frenchman, the Tonnant, still kept up the fight, hoping to stop the British from getting at the five astern. Her heroic captain, Thouars, had, first, his right arm, then his left, and then his right leg, smashed by cannon balls. But, like Brueys, he would not leave the deck, and calmly gave his orders till he died.
Dawn found the Tonnant still trying to stem the British advance against the French rear, and the French frigate Justice actually making for the disabled British battleship, Bellerophon, which she wished to take. But the light of day soon showed the remaining French that all they could do for their own side now was to save as many ships as possible. So the rear then tried to escape. But one blew up; two ran ashore; and, of all the fleet that was to have made Napoleon's foothold sure, only four escaped, two from the line of battle and two from the frigates on the flank.
Nelson had won a victory which was quite perfect in reaching his great aim—the complete destruction of Napoleon's power in Egypt and the East. Napoleon himself escaped to France, after a campaign in Palestine followed by a retreat to Egypt. But his army was stranded as surely as if it had been a wrecked ship, high and dry. Three years after the Battle of the Nile the remnant of it was rounded up and made to surrender. Moreover, Malta, the central sea base of the whole Mediterranean, had meanwhile (1800) fallen into British hands, where, like Egypt, it remains to this day.
The same year (1801) that saw the French surrender in Egypt saw Nelson win his second victory, this time in the north. Napoleon (victorious, as usual, on land, and foiled, as usual, at sea) had tried to ruin British shipping by shutting it out of every port on the continent of Europe. This was his "Continental System." It hurt the Continent; for British ships carried most of the goods used in trade not only between Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, but also between the different ports on the European continent itself. Napoleon, however, had no choice but to use his own land-power, no matter what the cost might be, against British sea-power. He was encouraged to do this by finding allies in those countries which had formed the anti-British Armed Neutrality of the North twenty years before. Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, Prussia, and the Hansa Towns of Germany, were all glad to hit British sea-power in the hope of getting its trade for themselves. So the new Alliance arranged that, as soon as the Baltic ports were clear of ice, the Russian, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian fleets would join the French and Spanish.
But Nelson was too quick for them. On the 1st of April he led a fleet along the channel opposite Copenhagen, which is the gateway of the Baltic. After dark, his trusty flag-captain, Hardy, took a small rowboat in as close as possible and tried the depths with a pole; for the boat was so close to the Danish fleet that the splash of the sounding lead on the end of a line would surely have been heard. By eleven o'clock Nelson had found out that he could range his own fleet close enough alongside the Danes. So he sat up all night planning his attack. At seven next morning he explained it to his captains, and at nine to the pilots and sailing-masters. Half an hour later the fleet began to move into place. Three big ships grounded in the narrow, shallow, and crooked channel. But the rest went on, closing up the dangerous gaps as best they could. Just, after ten the first gun was fired; but it was another hour and a half before the two fleets were at it, hard all. At one o'clock a Danish victory seemed quite as likely as a British one. Very few Danish gnus had been silenced, while two of the grounded British men-of-war were flying signals of distress, and the third was signalling to say she could do nothing. In the meantime the few British men-of-war that were trying to work into the channel from the other end under Sir Hyde Parker were being headed off by the wind so much that they could hardly do more than threaten their own end of the Danish line. Parker was the Commander-in-chief; though Nelson was making the attack.
It was at this time of doubt and danger that Parker, urged by a nervous staff officer, ordered up signal No. 39, which meant "Discontinue action" (that is, stop the fight if you think you ought to do so). The story commonly told about this famous signal is wrong; as most stories of the kind are pretty sure to be. Signal 39 did not order Nelson to break away, no matter what he thought, but meant that he could leave off if he thought that was the right thing to do. As, however, he thought the chance of winning still held good, he told his signal lieutenant simply to "acknowledge but not repeat No. 39." Then he added, "and keep mine flying," his own being the one for "close action." These two signals then gave Nelson's captains the choice of going on or breaking off, according to which seemed the better. All went on except "the gallant, good Riou," a man who, if he had lived today, would certainly have won the Victoria Cross. Riou was in charge of a few small vessels which were being terribly mauled by the Trekroner batteries without being able to do any good themselves. So he quite rightly hauled off, thus saving his division from useless destruction. Unluckily he was killed before getting out of range; and no hero's death was ever more deeply mourned by all who knew his career. Good commanders need cool heads quite as much as they need brave hearts.
Shortly after Riou had left the scene the Danes began to fire more slowly, while the British kept up as well as ever. But, the Trekroner forts that had hammered Riou now turned their guns on the Monarch and Defiance, making the battle in that part of the line as hot as before; while some Danes so lost their heads as to begin firing again from ships that had surrendered to the British. This was more than Nelson could stand. So he wrote to the Danish Crown Prince: "Lord Nelson has been commanded to spare Denmark when she no longer resists. The line of defence which covers her shores has struck to the British flag. Let firing cease, then, that he may take possession of his prizes, or he will blow them into the air along with the crews who have so nobly defended them. The brave Danes are the brothers, and should never be the enemies, of the English."
Nelson refused the wafer offered him to close up the letter, saying, "this is no time to look hurried"; and, sending to his cabin for a candle, wax, and his biggest seal, he folded and sealed the letter as coolly as if writing in his house at home instead of in a storm of shot and shell. After arranging terms the Danes gave in; and the whole Armed Neutrality of the North came to nothing. For the second time Nelson had beaten Napoleon.
This defeat did not really harm the Northern Powers; for, though they liked their own shipping to do all the oversea trading it could, they were much better off with the British, who could take their goods to market, than with Napoleon, who could not. Besides, the British let them use their own shipping so long as they did not let Napoleon use it; while Napoleon had to stop it altogether, lest the British, with their stronger navy, should turn it to their advantage instead of his. In a word: it was better to use the sea under the British navy than to lose it under Napoleon's army.
Both sides now needed rest. So the Peace of Amiens was signed in March 1802. With this peace ended Napoleon's last pretence that he was trying to save the peoples of the world from their wicked rulers. Some of them did need saving; and many of the French Revolutionists were generous souls, eager to spread their own kind of liberty all over Europe. But British liberty had been growing steadily for a good many hundreds of years, and the British people did not want a foreign sort thrust upon them, though many of them felt very kindly toward the French. So this, with the memory of former wars, had brought the two countries into strife once more. All might then have ended in a happy peace had not Napoleon set out to win the overlordship of the world, like Philip and Louis before him and the German Kaiser since. France, tired of revolutionary troubles and proud of the way her splendid army was being led to victory, let Napoleon's dreams of conquest mislead her for twelve years to come. Hence the new war that began in 1803 and ended on the field of Waterloo.
Napoleon had used the peace to strengthen his navy for a last attempt to bring the British to their knees. Villeneuve, the admiral who had escaped from the Nile, was finally given command of the joint fleets of France and Spain in the south, while Napoleon himself commanded the great army of invasion at Boulogne, within thirty miles of England. "Let us," said Napoleon, "be masters of the Channel for six hours and we shall be the masters of the world." But he knew that the only way to reach London was to outwit Nelson.
Napoleon's naval plans were wonderfully clever, like all his plans. But they were those of a landsman who failed to reckon with all the troubles of bringing the different squadrons of the French and Spanish fleets together in spite of the British blockade. Moreover, they were always changing, and not always for the better. Finally, toward the end of August, 1805, when he saw they were not going to work, he suddenly began a land campaign that ended with his stupendous victory over the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz early in December.
But meanwhile the French and Spanish fleets had remained a danger which Nelson wished to destroy at its very source, by beating Villeneuve's main body wherever he could find it. At last, on the 21st of October, after two years of anxious watching, he caught it off Cape Trafalgar, at the northwest entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. Directly he saw he could bring on a battle he ran up the signal which the whole world knows, and which we of the Empire will cherish till the end of time: "England expects that every man will do his duty." That he had done his own we know from many an eye-witness, as well as from this entry in his private diary three months before Trafalgar: "I went on shore for the first time since the 16th of June 1803; and, from having my foot out of the Victory, two years wanting ten days." During all this long spell of harassing duty he kept his fleet "tuned up" to the last pitch of perfection in scouting, manoeuvring, and gunnery, so as to be always ready for victorious action at a moment's notice.
Villeneuve had thirty-three battleships, Nelson only twenty-seven. But these twenty-seven all belonged to one navy and were manned by crews who had been drilled for battle on the open sea without a single spell of mere harbour work, like the French and Spaniards. Still, the enemy were brave, and Nelson remarked that "they put a good face on it." But he quickly added, "I'll give them such a dressing as they never had before." It was a lovely day of light west wind and bright sunshine as the British bore down to the attack in two lines-ahead ("follow-my-leader"), the port (or left) one led by Nelson in the immortal Victory, flying the battle signal "Engage the enemy more closely," and the starboard one by Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign. The first shot was fired on the stroke of noon, or at "eight bells," as they say on board. Nelson's plan, as usual, was to strike hardest at the weakest spot, which he knew he could reach because his fleet was so much better trained. He and Collingwood went through the enemy's long line at two spots about half a mile apart, crushing his centre, and separating his front from his rear. The double-shotted British guns raked the enemy vessels with frightful effect as their muzzles passed close by the sterns. The enemy fired back bravely enough; but with much less skill and confidence. The Spaniards were already beginning to feel none too friendly toward Napoleon; while the French had already lost their trust in Spanish help.
Yet the Spaniards were a proud people, not to be beaten without a hard struggle; while the French were bound to do their best in any ease. So the fight was furious and fought at the closest quarters. The gunners could often see every feature of their opponents' faces and were sometimes scorched by the flashes from opposing guns. The Victory was fighting a terrific duel with the French Redoutable, and Nelson was pacing the deck with his flag-captain, Hardy, when, at 1.25, he suddenly sank on his knees and fell over on his side, having been hit by a musket-shot fired from the enemy's mizzentop, only fifteen yards away. "They've done for me at last," said Nelson, as Hardy stooped over him. A Sergeant of Marines and two bluejackets ran forward and carried him below. Though in great agony he pulled out his handkerchief and, with his one hand, carefully covered his face, in the hope that the men between decks would not see who was hit.
While Nelson lay dying below, the fight raged worse than ever round the Victory. The Redoutable's tops were full of snipers, who not only plied their muskets to good effect but also used hand grenades (something like the bombs of the present day). The Victory's deck was almost cleared by the intense fire of these men, and the crew of the Redoutable got ready to board. But on the word "Repel boarders!" so many marines and blue-jackets rushed up from below that the French gave up the attempt. The musketry fire was still very hot from one ship to another; and the French snipers were as bad as ever. But those in the mizzentop from which Nelson was hit were all sniped by his signal midshipman, young Jack Pollard, who, being a dead shot, picked off the Frenchmen one by one as they leaned over to take aim. In this way Pollard must have hit the man who hit Nelson.
An hour after Nelson had fallen the Victory had become so battered, so hampered by a maze of fallen masts and rigging, and so dangerously holed between wind and water, that Hardy was glad of her sheering off a bit, out of the thick of the fight. He then ran below to see Nelson, who at once asked, "Well, Hardy, how goes the battle?" "Very well, my Lord," said Hardy, "we have twelve of the enemy's ships." "I hope," said Nelson, "that none of ours have struck." "There's no fear of that," said Hardy. Another hour passed before Hardy could come back to say, "I am certain that fourteen or fifteen have struck." "That's well," said Nelson, "but I bargained for twenty." Then, rousing himself to give his last order, he said, "Anchor, Hardy, anchor!" for he knew a storm was coming and that Cape Trafalgar was a bad lee shore (that is, a shore toward which the wind is blowing). A few minutes later he died, murmuring with his latest breath, "Thank God, I've done my duty."
Trafalgar was so complete a victory that Napoleon gave up all attempts to conquer the British at sea. But he renewed his "Continental System" and made it ten times worse than before. Having smashed the Austrian and Russian armies at Austerlitz, and the Prussian one at Jena, he wrote the Berlin Decrees, ordering every port on the continent of Europe to be shut against every single British ship. This was blockade from the land. The British answered with a blockade from the sea, giving notice, by their Orders-in-Council, that their Navy would stop the trade of every port which shut out British vessels. Napoleon hoped that if he could bully Europe into obeying his Berlin Decrees he would "conquer the sea by the land." But what really happened was quite the other way round; for Napoleon's land was conquered by the British sea. So much of the trade of the European ports had been carried on by British vessels that to shut these out meant killing the trade in some ports and hurting it in all. Imagine the feelings of a merchant whose country's army had been beaten by Napoleon, and whose own trade was stopped by the Berlin Decrees, when he saw the sea open to all who were under the care of the British Navy and closed to all who were not! Imagine also what he thought of the difference between Napoleon's land-power, which made him a prisoner at home, and British sea-power, which only obliged him to obey certain laws of trade abroad! Then imagine which side he thought the better one for trade, when he saw Napoleon himself being forced to choose between letting British vessels into France with cloth or letting his army go bare!
Slowly, at first, but very surely, and faster as time went on, the shutting of the ports against British vessels roused the peoples of Europe against Napoleon. They were, of course, roused by his other acts of tyranny—by the way he cut up countries into new kingdoms to suit himself first and the people of these countries last or not at all, by his ordering foreigners about like slaves, and by his being a ruthless conqueror wherever he could. But his shutting of the ports added a kind of slow starvation in the needs and arts of life to all his other sins; while the opening of the ports to British fleets and armies, and to the British trade that followed, meant the bread of life and liberty. Thus Trafalgar forced Napoleon either to give in at once or else to go on raising those hosts of enemies which sapped his strength in Spain and Russia and caused his fall at Waterloo.
The fight between Napoleon's land-blockade and Britain's sea-blockade divided not only the people of Europe into friends and foes but also divided the people of the United States into opposing parties, one in favour of Napoleon, the other in favour of the British. The party favouring Napoleon wanted war against the British. The other party wanted peace.
The War Party hated the British, coveted Canada, and wished to break the British blockade. The Peace Party said that Napoleon was a tyrant, while the British were on the side of freedom, and that Napoleon was rougher with American ships which broke the land-blockade than the British were with those which broke the sea-blockade. The War Party answered that, for one ship Napoleon could catch, the British caught twenty. This was true. But it showed that the War Party would rather make money on Napoleon's side than lose it on the side of freedom.
The War Party's last argument was that British deserters should be safe under the American flag when on the high seas. The high seas meant the sea far enough from any country to be a "no-man's-land," where, as all the other peoples of the world agreed, any navy could enforce the laws of war against any one who broke them. The War Party, however, said "no," and went on tempting British seamen to desert, by offering "dollars for shillings," a thing they could well afford, because they were making a great deal of money out of the war, while the British were forced to spend theirs in fighting the tyrant Napoleon.
The War Party won the vote in Congress; and war was declared in 1812, just when Napoleon was marching to stamp out resistance in Russia.
This war sprang a double surprise on the British. First, the Americans failed badly on land against Canada, though they outnumbered the Canadians fifteen to one, and though the Imperial garrison of Canada was only four thousand strong. Secondly, the little American Navy gave the big British Navy a great deal of trouble by daring cruises on the part of small but smart squadrons against the British trade routes, and, as there were no squadron battles, by what counted for very much more than squadron cruises in the eyes of the world, five ship duels won without a break. Ship for ship of the same class the Americans had the larger and smarter vessels of the two, and often the better crews. Twenty years of war had worn out the reserves of British seamen. "Dollars for shillings" had tempted many of the British who survived to desert the hard work against Napoleon for the easier, safer, and better paid work under the Stars and Stripes; while the mere want of any enemy to fight for the command of the sea after Trafalgar had tended to make the British get slack.
But, even after making all allowances in favour of the British and against the Americans, there is no denying that the Yankee ships fought exceedingly well. Their skilful manoeuvres and shattering broadsides deserved to win; and the U.S. SS. Constitution, Hornet, Wasp, and United States richly deserve their place of honour in the story of the sea. The turn of the tide came on the 1st of June, 1813, when the U.S.S. Chesapeake sailed out of Boston to fight H.M.S. Shannon. These two frigates were about equal in size and armament. The Chesapeake carried fifty more men; but her captain, the very gallant Lawrence, was new to her, like his officers and men, and the crew as a whole were not nearly such veterans as the Shannon's, whom Broke had trained to perfection for seven years. The duel lasted only fifteen minutes. Every single British shot struck home; and when Broke led his boarders on to the Chesapeake's deck the fight had been won already.
The British government, never wanting this war, and doing all they could to avoid it without endangering the side of freedom against Napoleon, had not even now put forth their real naval strength. But in 1814 they blockaded all the ports in the United States that the War Party could shut against them; whereupon, so far as these ports were concerned, American sea trade simply fell dead. They also burnt the American Government buildings at Washington as a reprisal for the Canadian Government buildings the Americans had burnt at Newark and Toronto.
Those two splendid Americans, Commodores Perry and Macdonough, than whom the British never met a better or more generous foe, won the command of Lakes Erie and Champlain, thus partly offsetting British victories elsewhere. The American peace delegates were, however, still more favoured by the state of Europe at the end of 1814, when they were arranging the Treaty of Ghent with the British; for, while they had no outside trouble to prevent them from driving a hard bargain, the British had half the other troubles of the world on their shoulders as well.
The end of it all was that things were left as before. The Treaty said nothing about the claims and causes for which the United States had made the war.
Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the North-west died away;
Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz Bay;
Bluish 'mid the burning water, full in face Trafalgar lay;
In the dimmest North-east distance dawn'd Gibraltar grand and gray;
"Here and here did England help me: how can I help England?"—say,
Whoso turns as I, this evening, turn to God to praise and pray,
While Jove's planet rises yonder, silent over Africa.
This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.
King John, Act V, Scene VII.
Ye Mariners of England
That guard our native seas!
Whose flag has braved a thousand years
The battle and the breeze!
Your glorious standard launch again
To match another foe;
And sweep through the deep,
While the stormy winds do blow!
While the battle rages loud and long,
And the stormy winds do blow.
The spirit of your fathers
Shall start from every wave;
For the deck it was their field of fame,
And Ocean was their grave:
Where Blake and mighty Nelson fell
Your manly hearts shall glow,
As ye sweep through the deep,
While the stormy winds do blow!
While the battle rages loud and long,
And the stormy winds do blow.
Britannia needs no bulwarks,
No towers along the steep;
Her march is o'er the mountain-waves,
Her home is on the deep.
With thunders from her native oak
She quells the floods below,
As they roar on the shore,
When the stormy winds do blow!
When the battle rages loud and long,
And the stormy winds do blow.
The meteor flag of England
Shall yet terrific burn;
Till danger's troubled night depart
And the star of peace return.
Then, then, ye ocean warriors!
Our song and feast shall flow
To the fame of your name,
When the storm has ceased to blow!
When the fiery fight is heard no more,
And the storm has ceased to blow.
I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and
a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song
and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face
and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again,
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call
that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day
with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again,
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way,
where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from
a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick's over.
O, Falmouth is a fine town with ships in the bay,
And I wish from my heart it's there I was to-day;
I wish from my heart I was far away from here,
Sitting in my parlour and talking to my dear.
For it's home, dearie, home—it's home I want to be,
Our topsails are hoisted, and we'll away to sea;
O, the oak and the ash and the bonnie birken tree,
They're all growing green in the old countrie.
In Baltimore a-walking with a lady I did meet
With her babe on her arm, as she came down the street;
And I thought how I sailed, and the cradle standing ready
For the pretty little babe that has never seen its daddy.
And it's home, dearie, home, &c.
O, if it be a lass, she shall wear a golden ring;
And if it be a lad, he shall fight for his king:
With his dirk and his hat and his little jacket blue
He shall walk the quarter-deck as his daddie used to do.
And it's home, dearie, home, &c.
O, there's a wind a-blowing, a-blowing from the west,
And that of all the winds is the one I like the best,
For it blows at our backs, and it shakes our pennon free,
And it soon will blow us home to the old countrie.
For it's home, dearie, home—it's home I want to be,
Our topsails are hoisted, and we'll away to sea;
O, the oak and the ash and the bonnie birken tree,
They're all growing green in the old countrie.
This famous song was sung in the Navy all through the Sailing Age; and it is not yet forgotten after a century of Steam and Steel. Gibraltar, Cadiz, and many other places on the coast of Spain, were great ports of call for the Navy as well as great ports of trade for the Mercantile Marine. So, what with music, dance, and song in these homes of the South, there was no end to the flirtations between the Spanish ladies and the British tars in the piping times of peace.
Farewell, and adieu to you, gay Spanish ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain!
For we've received orders for to sail for old England,
But we hope in a short time to see you again.
We'll rant and we'll roar like true British heroes,
We'll rant and we'll roar across the salt seas,
Until we strike soundings in the channel of old England;
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues.
Then we hove our ship to, with the wind at sou'-west, boys,
We hove our ship to, for to strike soundings clear;
We got soundings in ninety-five fathom, and boldly
Up the channel of old England our course we did steer.
The first we made it was calléd the Deadman,
Next, Ramshead off Plymouth, Start, Portland, and Wight;
We passed by Beechy, by Fairleigh, and Dungeness,
And hove our ship to, off the South Foreland light.
Then a signal was made for the grand fleet to anchor,
All in the downs, that night for to sleep;
Then stand by your stoppers, let go your shank-painters,
Haul all your clew-garnets, stick out tacks and sheets.
Germany made 1914 a year of blood; but let us remember it as also being the hundredth year of peace between the British, Americans, and French, those three great peoples who will, we hope, go on as friends henceforward, leading the world ever closer to the glorious goal of true democracy: that happier time when every boy and girl shall have at least the chance to learn the sacred trust of all self-government, and when most men and women shall have learnt this lesson well enough to use their votes for what is really best.
During the hundred and nine years between Trafalgar and the Great War against the Germans the Royal Navy had no more fights for life or death. But it never ceased to protect the Empire it had done so much to make. It took part in many wars; it prevented many others; it helped to spread law and justice in the world; and, at the end of all this, it was as ready as ever to meet the foe.
Sometimes it acted alone; but much oftener with the Army in joint expeditions, as it had for centuries. And here let us remind ourselves again that the Navy by itself could no more have made the Empire than the Army could alone. The United Service of both was needed for such work in the past, just as the United Service of these and of the Royal Air Force will be needed to defend the Empire in the future. Nor is this all we must remember; for the fighting Services draw their own strength from the strength of the whole people. So, whenever we talk of how this great empire of the free was won and is to be defended, let us never forget that it needed and it needs the patriotic service of every man and woman, boy and girl, whether in the fighting Services by sea and land and air or among those remaining quietly at home. One for all, and all for one.
The Navy's first work after the peace of 1815 was to destroy the stronghold of the Dey of Algiers, who was a tyrant, enslaver, and pirate in one. This released thousands of Christian slaves and broke up Algerian slavery for ever. A few years later (1827) the French and British fleets, now happily allied, sank the Turkish fleet at Navarino, because the Sultan was threatening to kill off the Greeks. Then the Navy sent the Pasha of Egypt fleeing out of Beirut and Acre in Syria, closed in on Alexandria, and forced him to stop bullying the people of the whole Near East.
By this time (1840) steam had begun to be used in British men-of-war. But the first steamer in the world that ever fired a shot in action, and the first to cross any ocean under steam the whole way, was built at Quebec in 1831. This was the famous Royal William, which steamed from Pictou (in Nova Scotia) to London in 1833, and which, on the 5th of May, 1836, in the Bay of San Sebastian, fired the first shot ever fired in battle from a warship under steam. She had been sold to the Spanish Government for use against the Carlists, who were the same sort of curse to Spain that the Stuarts were to Britain, and was then leading the British Auxiliary Steam Squadron under Commodore Henry. (The American Savannah is often said to have crossed the Atlantic under steam in 1819. But her log (ship's diary) proves that she steamed only eighty hours during her voyage of a month.)
In 1854 French and British were again allied, this time against Russia, which wanted to cut Europe off from Asia by taking Constantinople. The Allies took Sebastopol in the Crimea because it was the Russian naval base in the Black Sea. The Czar never thought that "bleeding his big toe" could beat him. But it did. He had to supply his army by land, while the Allies supplied theirs by sea; and though theirs fought thousands of miles from their bases at home, while his fought in Russia itself, within a few hundred miles of its bases inland, yet their sea-power wore out his land-power in less than two years.
Russia was at that time a great world-power, stretching without a break from the Baltic to Alaska, which she owned. What, then, kept Canada free from the slightest touch of war? The only answer is, the Royal Navy, that Navy which, supported by the Mother Country alone, enabled all the oversea Dominions to grow in perfect peace and safety for this whole hundred years of British wars. Moreover, Canada was then, and long remained, one of the greatest shipping countries in the world, dependent on her own and the Mother Country's shipping for her very life. What made her shipping safe on every sea? The Royal Navy. But, more than even this, the Mother Country spent twenty-five hundred millions of her own money on keeping Canada Canadian and British by land and sea. And here, again, nothing could have been done without the Navy.
The Navy enabled the Mother Country to put down the Indian Mutiny, a mutiny which, if it had succeeded, would have thrown India back a thousand years, into the welter of her age-long wars; and these wars themselves would soon have snuffed out all the "Pacifist" Indian Nationalists who bite the British hand that feeds them, though they want Britain to do all the paying and fighting of Indian defence. The Navy enabled the Mother Country to save Egypt from ruin at home, from the ruthless sword of the Mahdi in the Soudan, and from conquest by the Germans or the Turks. The Navy also enabled the Mother Country to change a dozen savage lands into places where people could rise above the level of their former savage lives.
All this meant war. But if these countries had not been brought into the British Empire they could only have had the choice of two evils—either to have remained lands of blood and savagery or to have been bullied by the Germans. And if the British do not make friends of those they conquer, how is it that so many Natives fought for them without being in any way forced to do so, and how is it that the same Boer commander-in-chief who fought against the British in the Boer War led a Boer army on the British side against the Germans? The fact is that all the white man's countries of the British Empire overseas are perfectly free commonwealths in which not only those of British blood but those of foreign origin, like Boers and French-Canadians, can live their lives in their own way, without the Mother Country's having the slightest wish or power to force them to give a ship, a dollar, or a man to defend the Empire without which they could not live a day. She protects them for nothing. They join her or not, just as they please. And when they do join her, her Navy is always ready to take their soldiers safe across the sea. No League of Nations could ever better this.
Nor is this the only kind of freedom that flourishes under the White Ensign of the Navy. The oversea Dominions, which govern themselves, make what laws they please about their trade, even to charging duty on goods imported from the Mother Country. But the parts of the Empire which the Mother Country has to rule, (because their people, not being whites, have not yet learnt to rule themselves), also enjoy a wonderful amount of freedom in trade. And foreigners enjoy it too; for they are allowed to trade with the Natives as freely as the British are themselves. Nor is this all. During the hundred and nine years between Trafalgar and the Great War most of the oversea colonies of Holland, Spain, and Portugal could have easily been taken by British joint expeditions. But not one of them was touched.
There never was the slightest doubt that the Navy's long arm could reach all round the Seven Seas. When the Emperor of Abyssinia imprisoned British subjects wrongly and would not let them go, the Navy soon took an army to the east coast of Africa and kept it supplied till it had marched inland, over the mountains, and brought the prisoners back. When the Chinese Mandarins treated a signed agreement like a "scrap of paper" (as the Germans treated the neutrality of Belgium) they presently found a hundred and seventy-three British vessels coming to know the reason why, though the Chinese coast was sixteen thousand miles from England. No, there is no question about the Navy's strong right arm. But it has no thievish fingers.
The Empire has grown by trade rather than by conquest. There have been conquests, plenty of them. But they have been brought on either by the fact that other Powers have tried to shut us out of whole continents, as the Spaniards tried in North and South America, or by fair war, as with the French, or by barbarians and savages who would not treat properly the British merchants with whom they had been very glad to trade. Of course there have been mistakes, and British wrongs as well as British rights. But ask the conquered how they could live their own lives so much in their own way under a flag of their own and without the safeguard of the Royal Navy.
These things being so, the Empire, which is itself the first real League of Nations the world has ever seen, would be wrong to give up any of the countries it holds in trust for their inhabitants; and its enormous size is more a blessing than a curse. The size itself is more than we can quite take in till we measure it by something else we know as being very large indeed. India, for instance, has three times as many people as there are in the whole of the United States; though India is only one of the many countries under the British Crown. So much for population. Now for area. The area added to the British Empire in the last fifty years is larger than that of the whole United States. Yet we don't hear much about it. That is not the British way. The Navy is "The Silent Service."
We have not been through the Sailing Age without learning something about the "Handy Man" of the Royal Navy, whether he is a ship's boy or a veteran boatswain (bo's'n), a cadet or a commander-in-chief, a blue-jacket or a Royal Marine ("soldier and sailor too"). But we must not enter the Age of Steam and Steel without taking another look at him, if only to see what a great part he plays in our lives and liberties by keeping the seaways open to friends and closed to enemies. Without the Handy Man of the Royal Navy the Merchant Service could not live a day, the Canadian Army could not have joined the other British armies at the front, and the Empire itself would be all parts and no whole, because divided, not united, by the Seven Seas. United we stand: divided we fall.
The sea is three times bigger than the land, but three hundred times less known. Yet even our everyday language is full of sea terms; because so much of it, like so much of our blood, comes from the Hardy Norsemen, and because so much of the very life of all the English-speaking peoples depends upon the handy man at sea. Peoples who have Norse blood, like French and Germans, but who have never lived by sea-power, and peoples who, like the Russians and Chinese, have neither sea-power nor a sea-folk's blood, never use sea terms in their ordinary talk. They may dress up a landsman and put him on the stage to talk the same sort of twaddle that our own stage sailors talk—all about "shiver my timbers," "hitching his breeches," and "belaying the slack of your jaw." But they do not talk the real sea sense we have learnt from the handy man of whose strange life we know so little.
When we say "that slacker's not pulling his weight" we use a term that has come down from the old Rowing Age, when a man who was not helping the boat along more with his oar than he was keeping her back with his weight really was the worst kind of "slacker." But most of the sea terms we use in our land talk come from the Sailing Age of Drake and Nelson. To be "A1" is to be like the best class of merchant ships that are rated A1 for insurance. "First-rate," on the other hand, comes from the Navy, and means ships of the largest size and strongest build, like the super-dreadnoughts of to-day. If you make a mess of things people say you are "on the wrong tack," may "get taken aback," and find yourself "on your beam ends" or, worse still, "on the rocks." So you had better remember that "if you won't be ruled by the rudder you are sure to be ruled by the rock." If you do not "know the ropes" you will not "keep on an even keel" when it's "blowing great guns." If you take to drink you will soon "have three sheets in the wind," because you will not have the sense to "steer a straight course," but, getting "half seas over," perhaps "go by the board" or be "thrown overboard" by friends who might have "brought you up with a round turn" before it was too late. Remember three other bits of handy man's advice: "you'd better not sail so close to the wind" (do not go so near to doing something wrong), "don't speak to the man at the wheel" (because the ship may get off her course while you are bothering him), and, when a storm is brewing, mind you "shorten sail" and "take in a reef," instead of being such a fool as to "carry on till all is blue." When you are in for a fight then "clear the decks for action," by putting aside everything that might get in your way. The list could be made very much longer if we took the whole subject "by and large" and "trimmed our sails to every breeze" when we were "all aboard." But here we must "stow it," "make everything ship-shape," trust to the "sheet-anchor," and, leaving the age of mast and sail, go "full steam ahead" into our own.
"Full steam ahead" might well have been the motto of Nelson's flag-captain, Hardy, when he was First Sea Lord of the Admiralty; because, twenty years before the first steam armoured ship was launched, he wrote this opinion: "Science will alter the whole Navy. Depend on it, steam and gunnery are in their infancy." There were just a hundred years between Trafalgar and laying the keel of the first modern Dreadnought in 1905. But Hardy foresaw the sort of change that was bound to come; and so helped on toward Jellicoe and Jutland. That is one reason why foreigners cannot catch the British Navy napping.
Another is because the British "handy man" can "turn his hand to anything"; though even his worst enemies can never accuse him of being "jack of all trades and master of none." He is the master of the sea. But he knows the ropes of many other things as well; and none of the strange things he is called upon to do ever seem to find him wanting. When a British joint expedition attacked St. Helena the Dutch never dreamt of guarding the huge sheer cliffs behind the town. But up went a handy man with a long cord by which he pulled up a rope, which, in its turn, was used to haul up a ladder that the soldiers climbed at night. Next morning the astounded Dutchmen found themselves attacked by land as well as by sea and had to give in.
One day the admiral (Sir William Kennedy) commanding in the Indian Ocean a few years ago heard that two Englishwomen had been left on a desert island by a mail steamer from which they had landed for a picnic. The steamer was bound to go on. The women were not missed till too late. So the captain telegraphed to the Admiral from the next port. The Admiral at once went to the island in his flagship, found the women with their dresses all torn to ribbons on the rocks, measured them for sailor suits himself, and had them properly rigged out by the ship's tailor, just like the bluejackets, except for the skirts—white jerseys, navy blue serge uniforms, with blue jean collars and white trimmings, straw hats with H.M.S. Boadicea on the ribbon in gold, knife and lanyard, all complete.
To beat this admiral in turning his hand to anything at a moment's notice we must take the bluejacket whom Captain Wonham saw escaping from a horde of savages on the West Coast of Africa during the Ashanti War of 1874. This man knew the natives well, as he had been the Governor's servant there for several years before the niggers swarmed out of the bush to kill off the whites. Every one seemed to be safe in the boats, when Captain Wonham suddenly spied Jack running for his life on top of a long spit of high rocks that jutted out like a wharf. The natives, brandishing their spears and climbing the rocks, were just going to cut Jack off when he, knowing their craze for the white man's clothes, threw his cap at them. Immediately there was a scramble which held up their advance. As they came on again he threw them his serge, and so on, taking a spurt after each throw. At last he took off his trousers, which set all the niggers fighting like mad round two big chiefs, each of whom was hanging on to one leg. Then he took a neat header and swam off to the boats, which had meanwhile pulled in to his rescue.
When the battleship Majestic was sunk in the Dardanelles a bluejacket ran along her upper side as she rolled over, then along her keel as she turned bottom upwards. Finally, seeing that she was sinking by the stern, and knowing both her own length and the depth of the water, he climbed right up on the tip-top end of her stem, from which he was taken off as dry as a bone. Meanwhile a very different kind of rescue was being made by Captain Talbot, who, having gone down with the ship, rose to the surface and was rescued by a launch. He had barely recovered his breath when he saw two of his bluejackets struggling for their lives. He at once dived in and rescued both at the very great risk of his own.
From East to West, from the Tropics to the Poles, the Navy has gone everywhere and done nearly everything that mortal man can do. Think of the Admiralty "rating" Newfoundland, a country bigger than Scotland and Wales put together, as one of His Majesty's Ships and putting a captain in command! Yet that was done in the early days; and it worked very well. Think of the naval brigades (that is, men landed for service ashore) which have fought alone or with the Army, or with many foreign armies and navies, all over the world for hundreds of years. Drake, as we have seen, always used naval brigades, and they have always been the same keen "first-class fighting men" wherever they went. The only trouble was in holding them back. At the siege of Tangier in North Africa in the seventeenth century Admiral Herbert "checked" Captain Barclay "for suffering too forward and furious an advance, lest they might fall into an ambush"; whereupon Barclay said, "Sir, I can lead them on, but the Furies can't call them back." A naval brigade man-handled the guns on the Plains of Abraham the day of Wolfe's victory, and took forty-seven up the cliff and into position before the army had dug itself in for the night. Nelson lost his right arm when leading a naval brigade at Teneriffe in 1797. Peel's naval brigade in the Indian Mutiny (1857-9) man-handled two big guns right up against the wall that kept Lord Clyde's army from joining hands with the British besieged in Lucknow, blew a hole in it, though it was swarming with rebels, and so let the Marines and the Highlanders through.
In Egypt (1882) Lord Fisher, of whom we shall soon hear more, rigged up a train like an ironclad and kept Arabi Pasha at arm's length from Alexandria, which Lord Alcester's fleet had bombarded and taken. Lieutenant Rawson literally "steered" Lord Wolseley's army across the desert by the stars during the night march that ended in the perfect victory of Tel-el-Kebir. Mortally wounded he simply asked: "Did I lead them straight, Sir?"
The Egyptian campaigns continued off and on for sixteen years (1882-1898) till Lord Kitchener beat the Mahdi far south in the wild Soudan. British sea-power, as it always does, worked the sea lines of communication over which the army's supplies had to go to the front from England and elsewhere, and, again as usual, put the army in the best possible place from which to strike inland. Needless to say, the naval part of British sea-power not only helped and protected the mercantile part, which carried the supplies, but helped both in the fighting and the inland water transport too.
At one time (1885) the little Naval Brigade on the Nile had to be led by a boatswain, every officer having been killed or wounded. In the attempt to rescue the saintly and heroic General Gordon from Khartoum, Lord Beresford rigged up the little Egyptian steamer Safieh with armour plates and took her past an enemy fort that could easily have sunk her as she went by, only eighty yards away, if his machine-gunners had not kept such a stream of bullets whizzing through every hole from which an Egyptian gun stuck out that not a single Egyptian gunner could stand to his piece and live.
Lord Beresford was well to the fore wherever hard work had to be done during that desperate venture; and it was he who performed the wonderful feat of getting the Nile steamers hauled through the Second Cataract by fifteen hundred British soldiers, who hove them up against that awful stream of death while the blue-jackets looked after the tackle. Beresford's Naval Brigade used to tramp fifteen miles a day along the river, sometimes work as many hours with no spell off for dinner, haul the whaleboats up-stream to where the rapids made a big loop, and then, avoiding the loop, portage them across the neck of land into the river again. Handling these boats in the killing heat would have been hard enough in any case; but it was made still worse by the scorpions that swarmed in them under the mats and darted out to bite the nearest hand. Beresford himself had to keep his weather eye on thirty miles of roaring river, on hundreds of soldiers and sailors, and on thousands of natives. Yet he managed it all quite handily by riding about on his three famous camels: Bimbashi, Ballyhooly, and Beelzebub.
But let no one imagine that dozens of joint expeditions ever make the Navy forget its first duty of keeping the seaways clear of every possible enemy during every minute of every day the whole year round. When the Russian fleet was going out to the Sea of Japan during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) it ran into the "Gamecock Fleet" of British fishing vessels in the North Sea, got excited, and fired some shots that killed and wounded several fishermen. Within a very few hours it was completely surrounded by a British fleet that did not interfere with its movements, but simply "shadowed" it along, waiting for orders. There was no fight; and the Russians were left to be finished by the Japanese. But the point is, that, although the British Empire was then at peace with the whole world, the British Navy was far readier for instant action than the Russian Navy, which had been many months at war.
Wordsworth's glorious poem is not in praise of war but of the self-sacrificing warriors who try to save their country from the horrors of war. No wise people, least of all the men who know it best, ever sing the praise of war itself. They might as well sing the praises of disease. But, while those who, like the Germans, force a wicked war upon the world are no better than poisoners of wells and spreaders of the plague, those, on the other hand, who, like the Allies, fight the poisoners of wells and spreaders of the plague are doing the same kind of service that doctors do when fighting germs. Therefore, as doctors to disease, so is the Happy Warrior to war. He no more likes war than doctors like the germs of deadly sickness; and he would rid the world of this great danger if he could. But while war lasts, and wars are waged against the very soul of all we hold most dear, we need the Happy Warrior who can foresee the coming war and lead a host of heroes when it comes. And leaders and followers alike, when faithful unto death, are they not among the noblest martyrs ever known? For greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Who is the Happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright:
Who, with a natural instinct to discern
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn;
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,
But makes his moral being his prime care;
Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
Turns his necessity to glorious gain;
In face of these doth exercise a power
Which is our human nature's highest dower;
Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves
Of their bad influence, and their good receives:
By objects, which might force the soul to abate
Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;
Is placable—because occasions rise
So often that demand such sacrifice;
More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure,
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;
Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,
Or he must fall, to sleep without his fame,
And leave a dead unprofitable name—
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven's applause:
This is the Happy Warrior; this is He
That every Man in arms should wish to be.
In 1864 the Fathers of Confederation met at Quebec, while the Germans took from the Danes the neck of land through which they cut the Kiel Canal to give the German Navy a safe back way between the North Sea and the Baltic. At first sight you cannot understand why Canadian Confederation and the German attack on Denmark should ever be mentioned together. But, just as the waters of two streams in the same river system are bound to meet in the end, so Canada and Germany were bound to meet on the same battlefield when once Canada had begun to grow into a nation within the British Empire and Germany had begun to grow into an empire for whose ambitions there was no room without a series of victorious wars. After beating Austria in 1866, to win the leadership of Central Europe, Germany beat France in 1870, took Alsace and Lorraine, and made herself the strongest land-power in the world. Even then two such very different Englishmen as Cardinal Newman and John Stuart Mill foresaw the clash that was bound to come between the new empire of the Germans and the old one of the British. But most people never see far ahead, while many will not look at all if the prospect seems to be unpleasant.
Thirty years before the war (1884) Germany began to get an empire overseas. Taking every possible chance she went on till she had a million square miles and fifteen million natives. But she neither had nor could get without victorious war any land outside of Germany where she could bring up German children under the German flag. Even including the German parts of Austria there was barely one quarter-million of square miles on which German-speaking people could go on growing under their own flags; while the English-speaking people of the British Empire and the United States had twenty times as much land, fit for whites, on which to grow bigger and bigger populations of their own blood under their own flags. This meant that the new, strong, and most ambitious German Empire was doomed to an ever-dwindling future as a world-power in comparison with the British Empire. The Germans could not see why they should not have as good a "place in the sun" of the white man's countries as the British, whom they now looked on very much as our ancestors looked upon the oversea Spaniards about the time of the Armada. "Why," they asked, "should the British have so much white man's country while we have so little?"
There are only three answers, two that the Germans understand as well as we do, and one that, being what they are, they could hardly be expected to admit, though it is the only one that justifies our case. The two answers which the Germans understand are of course these: that we had the sea-power while they had not; and that, because we had it, we had reaped the full benefit of "first come, first served." But the third answer, which is much the most important, because it turns upon the question of right and wrong, is that while the Germans, like the Spaniards, have grossly abused their imperial powers, we, on the whole, with all our faults, have not.
There are so many crimes for which the Germans have to answer that this whole book could not contain the hundredth part of them. But one crime in one of their oversea possessions will be enough to mention here, because it was all of a piece with the rest. In German South-West Africa the Herreros, a brave native people, were robbed if they worked hard for the German slave-drivers, flogged till their backs were flayed if they did not, and killed if they stood up for their rights. There are plenty of German photographs to prove that the modern Germans are very like the Spaniards of Philip II and utterly unlike the kindly modern French, Italians, Americans, and British. The world itself is witness now, and its conscience is the judge. So there we shall leave our case and turn to follow the ever thickening plot of coming war.
In 1889 Britain spent an extra hundred million dollars on building new men-of-war. Next year Germany got Heligoland from Britain in exchange for Zanzibar. Heligoland is only a tiny inland off the North Sea coast of Germany. But it was very useful to the Germans as one of the main defences of the great naval base there.
In 1897 the Kaiser said, "I shall not rest till I have made my fleet as strong as my army." A year later he said, "Our future is on the water." And in 1900 the German Navy Bill passed by the German Parliament began by saying, "The German Navy must be strong enough to endanger the supremacy of even the mightiest foreign navy." What "foreign navy" could that be if not the British? In 1908 the Kaiser tried to steal a march on the too pacific British Government by writing privately to Lord Tweedmouth, the feeble civilian First Lord of the Admiralty. The First Lord represents the Navy in Parliament; and Parliament represents the People, who elect its members. So when a First Lord is a real statesman who knows what advice to take from the First Sea Lord (who is always an admiral) everything goes well; for then Parliament and the Navy work together as the trusted servants of the whole People. But Tweedmouth, feeble and easily flattered, was completely taken in by the sly Kaiser, who said Germany was only building new ships in place of old ones, while she was really trying to double her strength. It was therefore a very lucky thing that the Kaiser also tried to fool that wonderful statesman, wise King Edward, who at once saw through the whole German trick.
Meanwhile (1898) the Americans had driven the Spaniards out of their last oversea possessions, much to the rage of the Germans, who had hoped to get these themselves. The German admiral at Manilla in the Philippines blustered against the American fleet under Admiral Dewey; but was soon brought to book by Sir Edward Chichester, who told him he would have to fight the British squadron as well if he gave any more trouble about things that were none of his business.
The same year the Germans tried to set the French and British by the ears over Fashoda. A French expedition came out of French Africa into the Sudan, where Kitchener's army was in possession after having freed Egypt from the power of the Madhi's wild Sudanese. French and British both claimed the same place; and for some years Fashoda was like a red rag to a bull when mentioned to Frenchmen; for Kitchener had got there first. Luckily he had fought for France in 1870, spoke French like a Frenchman, and soon made friends with the French on the spot. More luckily still, King Edward the Wise went to Paris in 1903, despite the fears of his Ministers, who did all they could to make him change his mind, and then, when this failed, to go there as a private person. They were afraid that memories of Fashoda and of all the anti-British feeling stirred up by Germans in Europe and America over the Boer War (1899-1902) would make the French unfriendly. But he went to pay his respects to France on his accession to the British Throne, showed how perfectly he understood the French people, said and did exactly the right thing in the right way; and, before either friends or foes knew what was happening, had so won the heart of France that French and British, seeing what friends they might be, began that Entente Cordiale (good understanding of each other) which our glorious Alliance in the Great War ought to make us keep forever. Paris named one of her squares in his honour, Place Edouard Sept; and there the wise king's statue stands to remind the world of what he did to save it from the German fury.
Next year Lord Fisher went to London as First Sea Lord (1904-10) to get the Navy ready for the coming war. He struck off the list of fighting ships every single one that would not be fit for battle in the near future. He put "nucleus crews" on board all ships fit for service that were not in sea-going squadrons for the time being; so that when the Reserves were called out for the war they would find these nucleus crews ready to show them all the latest things aboard. He started a new class of battleships by launching (1906) the world-famous Dreadnought. This kind of ship was so much better than all others that all foreign navies, both friends and foes, have copied it ever since, trying to keep up with each new British improvement as it appeared.
But the greatest thing of all was Fisher's new plan for bringing the mighty British fleets closer together and so "handier" for battles with the Germans. The old plan of posting British squadrons all over the world takes us back to the Conquest of Canada; for it was the work of St. Vincent, to whom Wolfe handed his will the night before the Battle of the Plains (1759). St. Vincent's plan of 1803 was so good that it worked well, with a few changes, down to Fisher's anti-German plan of 1904, about which time the French and British Navies began talking over the best ways of acting together when the Germans made their spring. In 1905—the centenary of Trafalgar—a British fleet visited France and a French fleet visited England. It was a thrilling sight to see that noble Frenchman, Admiral Caillard, whose example was followed by all his officers, stand up in his carriage to salute the Nelson statue in Trafalgar Square.
In 1908, when Canada was celebrating the Tercentenary of a life that could never have begun without Drake or been saved without Nelson, the French and British Prime Ministers (Clemenceau and Campbell-Bannerman) were talking things over in Paris. The result was that the British left the Mediterranean mainly in charge of the French Navy, while the French left the Channel mostly and the North Sea entirely in charge of the British. There was no treaty then or at any other time. Each Government left its own Parliament, and therefore its own People, whose servant it was, to decide freely when the time came. But the men at the head of the French and British fleets and armies arranged, year by year, what they would do when they got the word GO! At the same time (six years before the war) that the Prime Ministers were in conference in Paris Lord Haldane, then Secretary of State for War, was warning Lord French in London that he would be expected to command the British army against the Germans in France, and that he had better begin to study the problem at once.
A great deal of sickening nonsense has been talked about our having been so "righteous" because so "unprepared." We were not prepared to attack anybody; and quite rightly too; though we need not get self-righteous over it. But our great Mother Country's Navy was most certainly and most rightly prepared to defend the Empire and its allies against the attack that was bound to come. If France and Great Britain had not been well enough prepared for self-defence, then the Germans must have won; and wrong would have triumphed over right all over the world. There is only one answer to all this "Pacifistic" stuff-and-nonsense—if you will not fight on the side of right, then you help those who fight on the side of wrong; and if you see your enemy preparing to attack you wrongfully, and you do not prepare to defend yourself, then you are a fool as well as a knave.
All the great experts in statesmanship and war saw the clash coming; and saw that it was sure to come, because the German war party could force it on the moment they were ready. Moreover, it was known that the men of this war party would have forced it on at once if a peace party had ever seemed likely to oust them. The real experts even foresaw the chief ways in which the war would be fought. Lord Fisher foresaw the danger of sea-going submarines long before submarines were used for anything but the defence of harbours. More than this, ten years before the war he named all the four senior men who led the first British army into Flanders. In Lord Esher's diary for the 17th of January, 1904, ten years before the war, is the following note about Fisher's opinion on the best British generals: "French, because he never failed in South Africa, and because he has the splendid gift of choosing the right man (he means Douglas Haig). Then Smith-Dorrien and Plumer." In the same way Joffre and Foch were known to be the great commanders of the French. Again in the same way (that is, by the foreknowledge of the real experts) Lord Jellicoe, though a junior rear-admiral at the time, was pointed out at the Quebec Tercentenary (1908) as the man who would command the Grand Fleet; while Sir David Beatty and Sir Charles Madden were also known as "rising stars."
The following years were fuller than ever of the coming war. In 1910 the Kaiser went to Vienna and let the world know that he was ready to stand by Austria in "shining armour." Austria, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece were all to be used for the grand German railway from Berlin to Bagdad that was to cut Russia off from the rest of Europe, get all the trade of the Near East into German hands, and, by pushing down to the Persian Gulf, threaten the British oversea line between England and Asia.
During the next three years the Italian conquest of Tripoli (next door to Egypt) and the two wars in the Balkans hurt Germany's friends, the Turks and Bulgarians, a great deal, and thus threatened the German Berlin-to-Bagdad "line of penetration" through the Near East and into the Asiatic sea flank of the hated British. With 1914 came the completion of the enlarged Kiel Canal (exactly as foretold by Fisher years before); and this, together with the state of the world for and against the Germans, made the war an absolute certainty at once. The murder of the heir to the Austrian throne, Franz Ferdinand, was only an excuse to goad the gallant Serbians into war. Any other would have done as well if it had only served the German turn.
The earth is full of anger,
The seas are dark with wrath,
The Nations in their harness
Go up against our path:
Ere yet we loose the legions—
Ere yet we draw the blade,
Jehovah of the Thunders,
Lord God of Battles, aid!
E'en now their vanguard gathers,
E'en now we face the fray—
As Thou didst help our fathers,
Help Thou our host to-day!
Fulfilled of signs and wonders,
In life, in death made clear—
Jehovah of the Thunders,
Lord God of Battles, hear!
No one who has had a look behind the scenes will ever forget the three War Wednesdays of 1914, the 22nd and 29th of July and the 5th of August; for during that dire fortnight the fate of the whole world hung trembling in the scales of life and death.
On the first the King reviewed the Grand Fleet, when twenty-two miles of fighting ships steamed by, all ready for instant battle with the High Sea Fleet of Germany: ready not only for battles on the water but under the water and over the water as well. No king, even of sea-girt Britain, was ever so good a judge of what a fleet should be as was King George on that momentous day; for, till the death of his elder brother made him Heir to the Throne, he had spent the whole of his keen young life as a naval officer who did his work so well that he must have risen to a place among the best of British Admirals. Just as it was a great thing to have had King Edward the Wise to make (as he alone could make) the Entente Cordiale with France, so it was a great thing to have had King George the Sailor standing by the helm of the ship of state when the fated war had come. British to the backbone, knowing the Empire overseas as no other king had known it, George V was born to distrust the Germans, being the son of the Danish Princess Alexandra, who had seen all the country round the Kiel Canal torn from the Crown of Denmark within a year of her marriage to King Edward. The Kaiser's lying letter to Lord Tweedmouth in 1908 was the last straw that broke King George's little patience with the German plotters headed by Grand Admiral von Tirpitz. "What," he exclaimed, "would the Kaiser say, if the King wrote a letter like that to Tirpitz?"
The chief kinds of fighting craft in the Grand Fleet can be told off on the fingers of one hand. First, the Battleships and Battle Cruisers. These are to our own fleets what ships-of-the-line-of-battle were to Nelson's, that is, they are the biggest and strongest, with the biggest and strongest guns and the thickest armour. The battle cruiser is faster than the battleship, and therefore not so strong; because to be faster you must thin your heavy armour to let you put in bigger engines. All the ships of this first kind were either Dreadnoughts or super-Dreadnoughts; that is, they were classed according to whether they had been built during the five years after the Dreadnought (1905-10), or during the five years just before the war (1910-14). Each year there had been great improvements, till ships like the Queen Elizabeth had eight gigantic guns throwing shells that weighed nearly a ton each and that could be dropped on an enemy twenty miles away.
The second kind is Cruisers, made up of Armoured Cruisers and Light Cruisers, the Armoured being the bigger and stronger, the Light being the smaller and faster, and both being too small for the line of battle. Cruisers are used in at least a dozen different ways. They scout. They attack and defend oversea trade. They "mother" flotillas ("little fleets") of destroyers, which are much smaller than themselves. They attack and defend the front, flank, and rear of the great lines of battle, clearing off the enemy's cruisers and destroyers and trying to get their own torpedoes home against his larger vessels. They are the eyes and ears, the scouts and skirmishers, the outposts and the watchdogs of the Fleet—swift, keen, sinewy, vigilant, and able to hit pretty hard.
Thirdly come Destroyers. This was the way in which they got their name. Navies had small gunboats before torpedoes were used. Then they had torpedo-boats. Then they built torpedo-gunboats. Finally, they built boats big enough to destroy gunboats, torpedo-boats, and torpedo-gunboats, without, however, losing the handy use of guns and torpedoes in vessels much smaller than cruisers. As battleships and cruisers are arranged in "squadrons" under admirals so destroyers are arranged in "flotillas" under commodores, who rank between admirals and captains.
A new kind of light craft—a sort of dwarf destroyer—grew up with the war. It is so light that it forms a class of its own—the featherweight class. Its proper name is the Coastal Motor Boat, or the C.M.B. for short. But the handy man knows it simply as the Scooter. The first scooters were only forty feet long, the next were fifty-five, the last were seventy. Everything about them is made as light as possible; so that they can skim along in about two feet of water at an outside speed of nearly fifty (land) miles an hour. They are really the thinnest of racing shells fitted with the strongest of lightweight engines. They are all armed with depth charges, which are bombs that go off under water at whatever depth you set them for when attacking submarines. The biggest scooters also carry torpedoes. The scooters did well in the war. Whenever the hovering aircraft had spotted a submarine they would call up the scooters, which raced in with their deadly depth charges. Even destroyers were attacked and torpedoed. One day a German destroyer off Dunkirk suddenly found itself surrounded by scooters which came in so close that a British officer had his cap blown off by the blast from a German gun. He and his scooter, however, both escaped and his torpedo sank the Hun.
Fourthly, come the submarines, those sneaky vipers of the sea that seem made on purpose for the underhand tricks of ruthless Germans. Deadly against unarmed merchantmen, and very dangerous in some other ways, the submarine is slow under water, no match for even a destroyer on the surface, and "tender" to attack by gunfire, to bombs dropped from aircraft, to "sea-quaking" depth charges, and, of course, to ramming. We shall presently hear more about these inventions of the devil.
Fifthly, come the seaplanes, that is, aircraft which can light on the water as well as fly. We began the war with a fair number of comparatively small planes and ended it with a great number of large ones, a few of which could drop a ton-weight bomb fit to sink most battleships if the shot went home. But these monsters of the air were something more than ordinary seaplanes. For out of the seaplane there gradually grew a regular flying boat which began to make it hot for German submarines in 1917. Commander Porte, of the Royal Navy, went on inventing and trying new kinds of flying boats for nearly three years before he made one good enough for its very hard and dangerous work. He had to overcome all the troubles of aircraft and seacraft, put together, before he succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before—making a completely new kind of craft that would be not only seaworthy but airworthy too. Porte's base was at Felixstowe, near the great destroyer and submarine base at Harwich on the east coast of England. Strangely enough, Felixstowe was a favourite summer resort of the Kaiser whenever he came to the British Isles. Felixstowe is within a hundred miles of the Belgian coast, where the Germans had submarines at Ostend and Zeebrugge. It is only fifty from the Dutch lightship on the North Hinder Bank, where German submarines used to come up so as to make sure of their course on their way between the English Channel and their own ports. The neighbourhood of this lightship naturally became a very favourite hunting ground of the new flying boats, which used to bomb the Huns whenever one of their submarines was sighted either on or below the surface. Forty flying boats were launched in 1917, and forty-four submarines were bombed. The "Porte Baby," as the flying boat of '17 was called, measured a hundred feet across the wings and carried a small aeroplane, complete with its own airman, on top. The "Porte Super-Baby" of 1918 could lift no less than fifteen tons and was easily the strongest aircraft in the world. The "Baby's" crew was four—pilot, navigator, wirelesser, and engineer. The "Super-Baby" carried more. Two gigantic Zeppelins and several submarines were destroyed by the "Babies." The "Super-Babies" had no proper chance of showing what they could do, as the Armistice came (11 November 1918) before they were really at work. Porte had many Canadians in his crews; and Canadians brought down the first Zeppelin and sank the first submarine.
But the five chief kinds of fighting craft are only half the battle. There are five more to be told off on the fingers of the other hand. First, the Auxiliary Cruisers, which are swift merchant liners quickly armed and manned by trained Reservists, who are mostly merchant seamen and fishermen in time of peace. These cruisers do scouting and escort duty, and sometimes have a hard fight with the enemy; though they are not strong enough for regular battles between great men-of-war. Secondly, the Supply Vessels of every size and every kind, which keep the Fleet supplied with food and fuel, munitions and repairs, and everything else a great fleet needs. So vast is British sea-power of every kind, compared with the sea-power of any other people, that foreign fleets and joint expeditions generally have to get British shipping to help them through their troubles when the British are either neutral or allied. The Russian fleet could not have gone to the Far East in 1904-05 without the supply ships of the British. The American fleet that went round the world in 1908-09 had to depend on British colliers. And over three-fifths of all the American soldiers that went to France to fight the Germans went in British transports. Transports are any ships that can be used to carry troops, horses, motors, stores, munitions, guns, and all the other things an army needs. They come third on this list. Fourthly, come those Merchantmen which are not used by the Army or Navy because they carry on the regular oversea trade as best they can. Fifthly, comes the Fishing Fleet, many of whose best men and vessels have to be used to fish for mines and submarines, but much of which must still be left to help out the food supply. The merchantmen and fishing craft which carried on their peace-time trade throughout the Great War had many an adventure quite as thrilling and many a hero quite as glorious as any in the fighting fleets. So there was no kind of British sea-power which did not feel the awful stress of war; and none, we may be proud to add, that failed to do its duty.
On the second War Wednesday (July 29th) the British Foreign Minister warned the German Ambassador that the British could not be so base as not to stand by their friends if Germany attacked them without good reason. All through that night the staff of the Foreign Office were wonderfully cheered up in their own work by looking across the famous Horse Guards Parade at the Admiralty, which was ablaze with lights from roof to cellar. The usual way, after the Royal Review that ended the big fleet manoeuvres for the year, was to "demobilize" ships that had been specially "mobilized" (made ready for the front) by adding Reserve men to their nucleus crews. But this year things were different. War was in the very air. So the whole fleet was kept mobilized; and the wireless on top of the Admiralty roof was kept in constant touch with every ship and squadron all round the Seven Seas. By Friday night, the 31st, the whole Grand Fleet had steamed through the Straits of Dover into the grim North Sea and on to Scapa Flow, where it was already waiting when, four days later, it got the midnight call to arms.
By the third War Wednesday (August 5th) the Germans had invaded Belgium and France; that great soldier and creator of new armies, Lord Kitchener, had replaced the civilian, Lord Haldane, at the head of the War Office; Lord French's immortal first army had just got the word GO! and a German mine-layer was already at the work which cost her own life but sank the cruiser Amphion.
Years before the first shot was fired the French and British Navies had prepared their plans for blockading the Austrians in the Adriatic and the Germans in the North Sea. The French were more than a match for the Austrians, the British more still for the Germans. But the Austrians had their whole navy together, while the Germans also had at least nine-tenths of their own. So the French and British, in their efforts to keep the seaways open for friends and closed to enemies, had to reckon with the chances of battle as well as with those of blockade. The Austrians never gave much trouble, except, like the Germans, with their submarines; and after the Italians had joined us (May 1915) the Austrian Navy was hopelessly outclassed.
But the Germans were different. By immense hard work they had passed every navy in the world except the British; and they were getting dangerously close even to that. Their Navy did not want war so soon; and no Germans wanted the sort of war they got. Their Navy wanted to build and build for another ten or twenty years, hoping that our Pacifist traitors (who were ready for peace at any price, honour and liberty of course included) would play the German game by letting the German Navy outbuild the British. Then Der Tag (the day) would come in the way the Germans hoped when they drank to it with shouts of Hoch der Kaiser! (which really meant, The Kaiser on top, the British underneath! though that is not the translation). To get this kind of Tag the Germans needed to strike down their victims one by one in three quite separate wars: first, France and Belgium, Russia and the Southern Slavs; a thing they could have done with Austria, Bulgaria, and Turkey on their side and the rest of Europe neutral. Then, having made sure of their immensely strengthened new position in the world, Der Tag would come against the British Empire. Last of all, they would work their will in South America, being by that time far too strong for the United States. A nightmare plan, indeed! But, with good luck and good management, and taking us one by one, and always having our vile Pacifists to help them, this truly devilish plot might well have been worked out in three successive generations during the course of the twentieth century.
As it was, we had trouble enough to beat them; for they fought well by sea and land and air, though more like devils than like men. The charge of cowardice against our enemies, especially the Turks and Germans, is nonsense. Besides, it takes away our own men's glory if they had nothing more than cowards to put down. Of course the enemy had cowards, as other peoples have; but they had plenty of brave men too; and what, that unsurpassable hero of the air, McCudden, said of one brave German will do for many more. "I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot who, single-handed, fought seven of us for ten minutes, and also put some bullets through all our machines. His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent."
The Germans had not only the advantage of being able to mass nearly all their navy together but of training it all together on the same North Sea practice ground, and of building battle squadrons on purpose for one kind of fight close at home: a single tiger-spring and that was all. The British, on the other hand, had to build a good many ships "fit to go foreign" thousands of miles away, and so had to give up much space to the men's quarters and to fuel; while the Germans could save half this space for increased power in armour, engines, guns, and other things suited to one short cruise and tiger-spring near home. Not the least of the many British triumphs was winning against an enemy who was so brave, so skilful, so strong in many ways, and so very devilish in all.
Now that we know what we are about, let us clear the decks for action and go full steam ahead right through the fight at sea.
The British Navy had to help the British Army into France and take care that the Army's ever-growing forces there, as well as on a dozen different fronts elsewhere, always had the sea-roads kept open to many different bases over half the world. The Seven Seas are ten times bigger than the whole of North and South America. Yet the Navy watched or kept in touch with every part of all of them. So much for space. Now for time. Time was needed to get Kitchener's vast new armies ready. Millions sprang to arms. But it would have been sheer murder to send them to the front without many months of very hard training. So the enemy had to be kept at arm's length for a very long time—for the whole war, indeed, because reinforcements and supplies were always needed in vast and ever vaster quantities, both from the Mother Country and from the Empire, Allies, and Neutrals overseas. In addition to this the British oversea trade routes had to be kept open and the German ones closed; fisheries protected on one side, attacked on the other; and an immense sea service carried on for our Allies as well.
Some staggering facts and figures will be given in the chapter called "Well done!" Here we shall only note that the Navy, with all its Reserves and Auxiliaries, grew from two and a half million tons of shipping to eight millions before the war was over. This means that the Navy, in spite of all its losses, became bigger than any other country's navy, mercantile marine, fishing fleet, river steamers, and all other kinds of shipping, put together, since the world began. When we add the British mercantile marine, British shipbuilding, the British fishing fleets, and all the shipping interests of the Empire overseas, we shall find that British sea-power of all kinds equalled all the sea-power of all the rest of the world together. Destroy that sea-power and we die.
Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands off the north of Scotland was a perfect base for the Grand Fleet, because it was well placed to watch the way out of the North Sea through the two-hundred-mile gap between Norway and the Shetlands, and also because the tremendous tidal currents sweeping through it prevented submarines from sneaking about too close. Six hundred miles south-east was the German Fleet, near the North Sea end of the Kiel Canal. Between lay a hundred and twenty-five thousand square miles of water on which, taking one day with another the whole year round, you could not see clearly more than five miles. This "low average visibility" accounts for all the hide-and-seek that suited German tricks so well.
Within three hours of the British Declaration of War two British submarines were off for Heligoland, where they spied out the enemy's fleet. From that time on every German move was watched from under the water, on the water, or over the water, and instantly reported by wireless to the Admiralty in London and to the Grand Fleet based on Scapa Flow.
Then, when the first British army began to cross into France, the Fleet covered its flank against the Germans, and went on covering it for fifty-one months without a break, through cold and wet, through ceaseless watching, and through many fights.
The first fight was off Heligoland, when British light cruisers and destroyers went into the Bight on a scouting cruise planned by the Admiralty, not the Grand Fleet. The German destroyers fell back to lure the British within range of the enormous guns on Heligoland. That failed. But suddenly, out of the morning mist, came a bunch of German shells throwing up water-spouts that almost splashed aboard. Instantly the British destroyers strung out, farther apart, and put on full racing speed as the next two bunches crept closer in. Whirrh! went the fourth, just overhead, as the flotilla flagship Arethusa signalled to fire torpedoes. At once the destroyers turned, all together, lashing the sea into foam as their sterns whisked round, and charged, faster than any cavalry, straight for the enemy. When the Germans found the range and once more began bunching their shells too close in, the British destroyers snaked right and left, threw out the range-finding, and then raced ahead again. In less than ten minutes they had made more than five miles, fired their torpedoes, and were on their way back. Then up came the British cruisers and converged on the Mainz, which went down fighting. "The Mainz," wrote one of the British officers who saw her, "was immensely gallant. With her whole midships a fuming inferno she kept one gun forward and another aft still spitting forth fury and defiance like a wild cat mad with wounds." In the mean time Jellicoe, rightly anxious about leaving British light craft unsupported by heavier vessels so close to the German Fleet, urged the Admiralty to change their plan by sending on the battle cruisers. Then up came Beatty's four lordly giants—Lion, Queen Mary, Invincible, New Zealand—and the outclassed Germans retired.
The destroyer Defender, having sunk a German, had lowered a whaleboat to pick up survivors, when she was chased by a big German cruiser. So there, all alone, was her whaler, a mere open boat, on the enemy's part of the battlefield. But, through a swirl alongside, up came Submarine E4, opened her conning tower, took the whole boat's crew aboard, dived down again before the Germans could catch her, and landed safe home.
E9 crept in six miles south of Heligoland a fortnight later and sank the German cruiser Hela. But within a week the German von Weddigen had become the most famous of submarine commanders, for sinking no less than three British armoured cruisers with the loss of fifteen hundred men. The Aboukir, having been hit first, was closed by the Hogue and Cressy in order to save her crew. But they were themselves torpedoed before they could either see their enemy or save their friends.
Meanwhile the only German squadron overseas had been doing some daringly clever work under its first-class admiral, Graf von Spee. Leaving his worst vessels at Tsing-tao (the German port in China which was taken by the Japanese and British later on) he sailed into the vast Pacific with his seven best. On his way south he sent the Königsberg to raid the east coast of Africa and the Emden to raid the Indian Ocean. The Königsberg did a good deal of damage to merchantmen and sank the much weaker British light cruiser Pegasus, which was caught refitting at Zanzibar and was pounded into scrap iron with the loss of half her crew. But when the Königsberg made off, probably fearing the arrival of some avenging British, the Pegasus still had her colours flying, not from the mast, for that was shot away, but in the steadfast hands of two undauntable Marines.
The Emden was the most wonderful raider of modern times; and her captain, von Müller, behaved much better than the general run of Germans. Arrived in the Indian Ocean he bagged six ships in five days, sending all the crews into Calcutta in the sixth after sinking the rest. But he soon beat this by twice taking no less than seven ships in a single day! Then he dashed into Penang and sank the unready Russian cruiser Jemchug on his way in and the ready little French destroyer Mousquet on his way out. The Mousquet hadn't the ghost of a chance. But she went straight for the Emden and fought till she sank; her heroic captain, with both legs blown off, commanding her to the very last gasp. By this time, however, the net was closing in; and twelve days later the big Australian cruiser Sydney finished the Emden on Cocos Island Reef.
Meanwhile von Spee's five cruisers had been pressed south by the clever network of Japanese warships working over the vast area of the Pacific under the orders of a staff officer watching every move from his desk at Tokyo. Sir Christopher Cradock was waiting to catch the Germans. But his slow battleship Canopus had not yet joined him when (November 1), with only three cruisers and one armed merchantman, he attacked them off Coronel on the coast of Chili; though they were very hard to see, being against the mountains, while his own ships were clearly outlined against a brilliant sunset. Ordering the armed merchantman away he began the fight between the armoured cruisers: Good Hope and Monmouth against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The German ships were newer, faster, better armed, and the best shooting vessels of the German fleet. The first of their salvoes (volleys) to get home set the Good Hope blazing fore and aft. There was a gale blowing and big seas running; so the end soon came. Cradock's last signal was for the light cruiser Glasgow to save herself, as she could do no further service. But she stood by the Monmouth, whose own captain also ordered her away with the signal that, being too hard hit to escape himself, he would try to close the enemy so as to give the Glasgow a better chance. Suddenly, like a volcano, the Good Hope was rent by a shattering explosion. Then the Monmouth began sinking by the head, and her guns ceased firing. No boat could live in those mountainous seas. So the Glasgow, now under the fire of the whole German squadron, raced away for her life.
Von Spee then swept the coast; and British vessels had to take refuge in Chilean harbours. But Captain Kinnear, a merchant skipper, ran the gauntlet with a skill and courage which nothing could surpass. Off the dreaded Straits of Magellan a German cruiser chased him at twenty-one knots, his own Ortega's regular full speed being only fourteen. But he called for volunteers to help the stokers, whereupon every one of the two hundred Frenchmen going home to fight at once stepped forward, stripped to the waist, and whacked her up to eighteen. Yet still the cruiser kept closing up. So Kinnear turned into Nelson's Channel, the very worst channel in the very worst straits in the world, unlit, uncharted, and full of the wildest currents swirling through pinnacle rocks and over hidden reefs. The cruiser stopped, dumbfounded. The Ortega then felt her way ahead, got through without a scratch, and took her Frenchmen safe to France.
Von Spee presently rounded the Horn and made for the Falkland Islands, the British naval base in the South Atlantic. But, only a month after the news of Coronel had found Sir Doveton Sturdee sitting at his desk in London as the Third Sea Lord of the Admiralty, his avenging squadron had reached the Falklands more than eight thousand miles away. Next morning von Spee also arrived; whereupon Sturdee's much stronger squadron sprang out of Port Stanley and began a chase which could only have one ending. Von Spee turned to fight, with his two armoured cruisers against the two over-powering battle cruisers of the British, so that his three light cruisers might "star away" at their utmost speed, on three divergent courses, in an effort to escape. Vain hope! Sturdee's battle cruisers sank the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, while his other cruisers sank two of the three German cruisers. All the Germans went down with colours flying and fighting to the very last. Only the little Dresden escaped; to be sunk three months later by two British cruisers at Robinson Crusoe's island of Juan Fernandez, four hundred miles off the coast of Chili.
From this time forward not a single enemy warship sailed the outer seas. The Austrians were blockaded in the Adriatic, the Germans in the North Sea, and the Turks at the east end of the Mediterranean. Now and then a German merchantman would be armed in the German colonies or in some friendly neutral harbour and prey on British trade routes for a time. But very few of these escaped being sunk after a very short career; and those that did get home never came out again. So 1914 closed with such a British command over the surface of the sea as even Nelson had never imagined. The worst of the horrible submarine war was still to come. But that is a different story.
The joint expedition of French and British against the Turks and Germans in the Dardanelles filled 1915 with many a deed of more or less wasted daring. Victory would have meant so much: joining hands with Russia in the Black Sea, getting the Russian wheat crop from Odessa, driving the Turks from Constantinople, and cutting right through the Berlin-to-Bagdad line. But, once the Allied Governments had given the enemy time to hold the Dardanelles in full force, the only right way to reach Constantinople was the back way round by land through Greece and Turkey, combined with attacks on the Dardanelles. This, however, needed a vastly larger army than the Governments could spare. So, despite the objections of Fisher, their naval adviser, they sent fleets and armies to wear themselves out against the Dardanelles, till Kitchener, their military adviser, got leave to take off all that were left.
The politicians had blundered badly over the whole campaign. But the French and British soldiers and sailors, after fighting gloriously against long odds, managed their retirement in a way which might serve as the perfect model of what such retirements should be. The Turks and Germans, though eager to crown their victorious defence by smashing the fleet and army which had so long attacked them, were completely hoodwinked. The French and British kept up the cleverest show of force till the last streak of daylight had died away. Then, over the worst of broken ground, down terrific slopes, and across the puzzling beaches, the gallant armies marched, silent as the grave and regular as clock-work. The boats were loaded and taken off to their appointed places as skilfully as Wolfe's were brought down the St. Lawrence the night before the Battle of the Plains. Next morning the astounded enemy found an empty land in front of them; while the sea was swarming with crowded transports, safe beyond the retiring men-of-war.
At four o'clock in the morning of the 4th of August, 1914, Lord Jellicoe opened the secret orders appointing him Commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet, which was then ready waiting in Scapa Flow, the great war harbour in the Orkney Islands off the far north coast of Scotland. Twenty-two months later, off the Jutland Bank of Denmark, he fought that battle of the giant navies for which the Germans had so long prepared. Of course the Germans did not want Jutland at the time it came. For, as we have seen already, they wished to have two quite separate wars, the first against the French and Russians, the second against the British; and, if the British had only kept out for as many months as the Americans did years, the Germans and their allies would certainly have won this first war, besides gaining an immensely better chance of winning the second war as well. Even as it was, they were not only very strong on land but also very strong at sea. They were easily the second sea-power in the world, in regard to both their navy and their merchant shipping. Moreover, they had many advantages, even over the British. This is so little known, and it is so important for a proper understanding of what took place at Jutland, that we must begin by looking a little more closely into the strong and weak points of the two great rival navies.
So far as fitness for battle depended on the officers and men of the Navy itself the Grand Fleet was as nearly perfect as anything could be. Sprung from the finest race of seamen in the world, trained for a longer time than any foreigners, and belonging to what everyone for centuries has known to be the first of all the navies, the British bluejackets formed the handiest crews you could have found in any age or country. Their officers knew how to handle men, ships, and fleets alike; and every one had been long "tuned up" for instant action. The gunnery stood every test, as the Germans know to their cost; and it actually got better as the fight grew worse, partly because the British keep so cool, and partly because length of expert training tells more and more as the storm and stress increase. It was the same in the engine room, the same in everything, right up to the supreme art of handling a fleet at racing speed in the midst of a battle on which the fate of freedom hung.
But when we come to those things that depended on the Government there is a very different tale to tell, because no government can get money for the Navy without votes in Parliament, and men cannot become Members of Parliament without the votes of the People, and most people will not spend enough money to get ready for even a life-or-death war unless they see the danger very close at hand, right in among the other things that press hard upon their notice. Looking after the country's safety needs so much time, so much knowledge, and so much thinking out that it has to be left, like all other kinds of public service, to the Government, which consists of a few leaders acting as the agents of Parliament, which, in its turn, consists of a few hundred members elected by the People in their millions. Whatever government is in power for the time being can, as the trusted agent of the People's chosen Parliament, do whatever it likes with the Army and Navy. The great soldiers and sailors, who know most about war, can only tell the Government what they think. The Government can then follow this expert advice or not, just as it pleases. Now, even in time of approaching danger, the trouble is that governments are always tempted to say and do what costs the least money and gives the least cause for alarm, because they think the People like that best. This was the case with the British governments in power during the fourteen years before the war, when Germany was straining every nerve to get the better of the British Navy. They were warned again and again. But they saw that most of the People, who were not watching the coming German storm, wanted most of the money spent on other things. So they did not like to hear the expert truth; they feared to tell the People; and they hoped the worst would never happen. But it did happen; and it found many a weak spot due to the Government; though not one that was due to the Navy itself. "Well, it's all going just as we expected," said Sir Charles Madden to Lord Jellicoe in the conning tower of the Iron Duke in the middle of the Jutland battle. So it did. Everything that really mattered was foreseen by the real naval experts. You never catch the Navy napping.
But you do catch governments, parliaments, and people napping very often. Yet here we should not be unjust either to governments in general or to those of our Mother Country in particular. Governments of free countries depend upon the People; so we must all take our share of the blame for what our own elected agents do wrong or fail to do right. And as for the Mother Country; well, with all her faults, she did the best of any. We cannot fairly compare her with the self-governing Dominions, like Canada and Australia, because she had so very much more to do. Her war work was more than twice as hard as theirs, even in proportion to her strength; and she led the whole Empire in making the greatest efforts and by far the greatest sacrifices. But we can compare her with our Allies; and, if we do, we shall find her stand the test. For if her Government made mistakes before the war, so did that French Government whose Prime Minister, Caillaux, had to be tried as a traitor during the war. So, too, did that party in Italy which favoured the Germans against the true Italian patriots. And how about the Peace Party in the United States that kept the Americans out of all but the end of the war, gaining a whole world of money and almost losing the nation's soul?
Great Britain gave the Navy what most voters think are needed for a war, especially such things as the papers talked of most, like dreadnoughts, guns, and torpedoes. But there was a lack of light cruisers and destroyers to fight off the same kind of German craft, guard the seaways, and kill the sneaking submarines. The docks in which ships are built and mended make little show for the money spent on them; so the Government never asked Parliament for enough till the war broke out, which meant that some dreadnoughts had to be more or less cramped so as to fit into the old-fashioned docks. The decks of the battle cruisers were not strong enough to keep out armour-piercing shells; so two of them were sunk at Jutland that might have otherwise been saved. The means of guarding the big ships against mines and submarines wore not nearly good enough at the start. There were fishing craft enough, and fishermen who were as good sailors as the world has ever seen, and dockyard hands enough to build new boats to fish for the deadly mines and spread the nets for nosing submarines. But they were not used in time.
Now look at the Germans. Their officers knew their navy had no chance in a fair stand-up fight with Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. But even these officers hoped that their mines and submarines, with a streak of good luck, might make the odds more even. Apart from their naval experts the Germans had no doubt at all. Their bluejackets and the German people as a whole thought everything German the best in the world; and long before the war the million members of the German Navy League had been persuading the people to vote most of the money the Kaiser wanted for his fleet. The Kiel Canal let the German High Sea Fleet play hide-and-seek between the North Sea and the Baltic without the slightest risk on the way. The British, on the other hand, could only get into the Baltic by going round between Denmark and Sweden, both being neutrals whose territories could not be touched. The way through is so narrow that the water is all "territorial," that is, it belongs to the countries beside it, and was, therefore, as neutral as they were. But even if Denmark and Sweden had let the Grand Fleet go through, it would have gone to certain defeat; for a weaker navy inside the Baltic could have crushed the British as they came through one by one—the only possible way.
Now look at the North Sea, which was the real battleground. The area is about a hundred and twenty-five thousand square miles. But the average distance you can see clearly, taking one day with another all the year round, is only five miles. This was very nice for lurking mines, sneaking submarines, and sudden cruiser raids against the British coasts. The coastline of the British Isles is more than twenty times as long as the North Sea coast of Germany, much easier to navigate and very much harder to defend—another advantage for the Germans. The Grand Fleet could not attack the German coast, which has only three good seaways into it, which has a string of islands off it, and which, difficult for foreign ships in time of peace, is impossible in time of war. The whole of the shore and off-shore islands were full of big guns in strong forts—and remember that you can sink a fleet, though you can't sink a coast—while the waters were full of mines and submarines.
Moreover, in destroyers, which are as dangerous out at sea as they are round a base, the German "High Sea Fleet" began with no less than eighty-eight against the forty-two in the British "Grand Fleet." The British had so many narrow seaways to defend that they could not spare Jellicoe nearly enough light cruisers or destroyers. It was only after Jutland that the Grand Fleet became so very much stronger than the High Sea Fleet. Before Jutland the odds in favour of the British battle squadrons were only about four to three; and the Germans had special advantages in searchlights that showed up everything except the position of the ships that carried them, in wonderfully bright and bewildering star-shells, in the gear for bringing all the quick-firing guns of the big ships to bear at once on light craft trying to torpedo them, and in very cleverly made delay-shells, which could go through all but the thickest armour and then burst inside the vitals of a ship. It was one of these shells that blew up the Queen Mary, the finest of all the British battle cruisers.
Then, as we have seen already, another German advantage, and a very great advantage, was that, while most British men-of-war had to be built for general service all round the world, the German High Sea Fleet (which meant nine-tenths of all the German Navy) could be built specially for one great battle close at home. Not nearly so much room was needed for the men to live in, because they were always near the naval barracks at Wilhelmshaven; and not nearly so much space was required for fuel. The weight and space saved in these two ways could all be used for extra shells, thicker armour, and other kinds of special strength. Thus the Germans were even stronger than the number of their men-of-war would lead you to think; and they were strongest of all for battles at night or in misty weather near their own base. The battle of Jutland seemed to have been made on purpose to suit them.
In 1914 the Germans had been very much encouraged by the sinking of the three British cruisers, Hague, Cressy, and Aboukir in the North Sea, by the Emden's famous raid in the Indian Ocean, by von Spee's victory at Coronel in the Pacific, and by the way the Kaiser and all the German papers boasted. In 1915 they were encouraged by the French and British failure against the Turks and Germans at the Dardanelles. In 1916, however, they began to feel the pinch of the British blockade so badly that they were eager for a sea-fight that would ease it off. If they had the finest navy in the world, why didn't it wipe the Grand Fleet off the North Sea altogether? At the same time the British public and the Allies wanted to know why the Grand Fleet didn't wipe the Germans off.
We have just seen why the Grand Fleet could not force on a battle round the German base. But the reason why the Germans could not try to snatch a victory out of some lucky chance at the beginning of the war, when the odds were least against them, was of quite a different kind. The fact was that thousands of their trained seamen were hopelessly cut off from Germany by the British Navy. Nearly every German merchant ship outside of the North Sea or the Baltic was either taken by the British or chased into some neutral port from which it never got out. The crews were mostly reservists in the German Navy. They were ready for the call to arms. But they could not answer it. So new men had to be trained. Meanwhile the one good chance slipped away; for by the time these recruits had been trained the Grand Fleet had grown much stronger than before.
On the 31st of May, 1916, Jellicoe's whole force was making one of its regular "drives" across the North Sea in two huge but handy fleets. The Battle Cruiser Fleet under Beatty was fifty miles south of the Battle Fleet, which was under Jellicoe himself. Jellicoe and Beatty, the chosen leaders of the greatest fleet of the greatest navy in the greatest war in the world, had long been marked men. They were old friends, having fought side by side against the Boxer rebellion in China in 1900, the year the German Navy Bill was passed by the German Parliament on purpose to endanger the "mightiest" of foreign navies—that is, the British. They had both been wonderfully keen students of every branch of naval warfare, from the handling of a single gun or ship to the supreme art of handling this "mightiest" of fleets; and both they and Sir Charles Madden, the Chief of Staff, were looked upon as being the very fittest of the fit.
But even the best of men and ships will not make the best fleet unless trained and "tuned up" to act together; and here, in its combined manuoeuvres, lay the crowning glory of the vast Grand Fleet. One day a visitor was watching it fight a sham battle against an enemy firing big guns at long range, when up came a real enemy, in the form of a German submarine, much closer than the sham. Of course the visitor turned his glasses on the "sub" and on the destroyers racing after it, like greyhounds slipped from the leash. But when, a few minutes later, he looked round at the fleet, he could hardly believe his eyes; for there it was, moving, mile upon mile of it, in a completely new formation, after a sort of magic "general post" that had made light craft and battle-line entirely change places, over an area of a hundred square miles, without a moment's slackening of speed. Hundreds of vessels had been in the best formation to fight each other on the surface. Now they were in the best formation to fight submarines. Then came four of those "sea-quakes" that make you feel as if your own ship had been torpedoed, but which really were depth-charges dropped round the submarine. Then an anxious pause, quickly followed by "all clear," and that by another fleet order which changed the whole formation back again as easily as if the lines of wheeling ships had been a single piece of clockwork and their two million tons of steel had simply answered to the touching of a single spring.
First Round of the Great Fight: 2.30 to 4.38 P.M.
Beatty and Hipper with their Battle Cruisers.
At noon on the fateful 31st the Grand Fleet turned north and the German Fleet turned south, each having come to the end of its "drive," and neither knowing that the other one was there. The weather had been very warm and fine; but the North Sea mists had risen in time to veil the fleets from Zeppelins and other aircraft. Jellicoe's Battle Fleet was going north within a hundred miles of southern Norway, and von Scheer's Battle Fleet was going south within a hundred miles of the Jutland coast of Denmark, when the two Battle Cruiser Fleets under Beatty and von Hipper suddenly saw each other's smoke, half way between Jellicoe and Scheer, and a hundred miles west of the Skager Rack. Jellicoe and Scheer were then more than a hundred miles apart. But the Galatea's wireless report to Beatty, that there was smoke to the eastward, was caught by the wireless receivers aboard the Iron Duke, Jellicoe's flagship; whereupon Jellicoe ordered steam to be raised for full speed.
Beatty at once turned east and made straight for Hipper, to cut him off from his base, force him to fight, and lure Scheer back to save him. This would give Jellicoe time to come up and get in the knock-out blow for which he prepared by ordering the Battle Fleet to clear for action at 3.10. At 3.30 a British seaplane, sent up by Beatty, and flying within two miles of the nearest German craft, reported five battle cruisers steaming south. At the same moment Jellicoe thrilled his own command by signalling that a battle was expected. Hipper was hurrying to join Scheer's battle fleet, which now was racing north as Jellicoe's was racing south. Beatty then formed his six battle cruisers in line-ahead ("follow-my-leader") while his four fast Queen Elisabeth battleships followed as hard as they could. He thus had ten dreadnoughts to fight Hipper's five. But he and Hipper were racing south toward Scheer and away from Jellicoe. Yet that could not be helped. Hipper must not be allowed to escape; and Scheer must first be found and then lured on toward Jellicoe.
At twelve minutes to four both sides began firing at a range of eight miles and a speed of nearly thirty (land) miles an hour. Jutland was a gunner's battle, just as the naval experts had foretold; though torpedoes played their part. It was much too fast and furious for submarines; and the thickening mist made aircraft useless. Hipper's five ships hit hard at Beatty's six; and one big German shell reached the vitals of the Indefatigable, which blew up like a mine. There was a shattering crash, an enormous spurt of flame, a horrid "flurry" on the water; and ship and crew went down. That left five all. But, after the battle cruisers had been at it for twenty minutes, the four Queen Elizabeths (that is, battleships of the same kind as the "Q.E.") began heaving shells from eleven miles astern. Ten minutes later the central German dreadnought turned out of line a mass of seething fire. But, after five minutes more, the magnificent Queen Mary, Beatty's champion shooting battle cruiser, was simply torn in two by the explosion of her magazine. This left four all in battle cruisers, with the four fast British battleships straining their last turn of speed to come up.
Meanwhile fifteen German and twelve British destroyers charged out together to try their torpedoes, met in the middle, and had a fierce fight. Two Germans went down; but the British formation was broken, and only three closed the German battle cruisers, which received them with a perfect hurricane of shells from their quick-firing guns, sinking one, disabling another, and forcing the third to retire. Commander Bingham, who won the V.C. by leading this skilful and gallant attack, had his destroyer, the Nestor, sunk under him. But he was saved, as if by a miracle, and taken prisoner aboard a German man-of-war.
Second Round: Beatty luring Scheer and Hipper
on towards Jellicoe: 4.38 to 5.50 P.M.
Commodore Goodenough's splendid light cruisers went scouting ahead till they met Scheer racing north. Then they turned north themselves, under a tremendous outburst of fire, to rejoin Beatty, who now, changing from pursuer to pursued, also turned north to join Jellicoe. The Germans, with their twenty-two dreadnoughts, now hoped Der Tag had really come for Beatty's eight. But Beatty hit hard and drove a German battle cruiser out of the line very badly mauled. Shortly afterwards the destroyer Moresby fired a torpedo which hit a German battleship. There was a tremendous burst of steam and smoke; and, when this had cleared off, the German was seen to be on fire. But Beatty's strong point was speed. His battle cruisers and four fast Queen Elizabeth battleships could do a good bit more than the slowest Germans; and as the Germans now had to keep together, in case Jellicoe came up, their whole line could go no faster than its slowest ship. Starting with a lead and putting on a spurt Beatty turned gradually more to the eastward, that is, toward the German line, which then had to turn and keep parallel or else let him cross its T. If you will separate the crosspiece from the upright of a T—for big ships fight some miles apart—you will see quite plainly that ships in a line like the upright of the T have no chance at all against ships in a line like the crosspiece of the T. The crosspiece line can converge all its broadsides on the leading ship of the upright, smash it utterly, and then do the same to the next, and the next. So the Germans, having to keep together and having to keep parallel to Beatty, were gradually forced eastwards, which would give Jellicoe the best chance to come into line against them.
The Third and Greatest Round: Jellicoe forms his
Victorious Line of Battle: 5.50 to 6.38 P.M.
For three hours and a half Jellicoe, with his twenty-four dreadnought battleships, had been racing south to reach the scene of action. He had gained at first, when Beatty was going east to find von Hipper. He had lost when Hipper and Beatty were racing south to meet von Scheer. But now the whole battle was coming north to meet him. As the battlefield kept shifting about, and the fortunes of the fight kept changing, he shaped his course accordingly. But he never slackened speed, racing along under every pound of steam the straining ships could carry, thanks to the skill of those quiet heroes of the engine-room, who, seeing nothing of either friend or foe, never know anything of either defeat or victory, life or death, till all is over either with the battle or themselves.
As the great Battle Fleet came rushing from the north every eye was strained to catch the first sight of Beatty and the Germans. The thunder of a thousand guns rolled far across that summer sea. It was heard along the coast of Jutland a hundred miles away; and the main body of the Grand Fleet knew The Day had come long before they reached the battlefield. Presently the flashes began sparkling into view; and then the ships themselves loomed up, dimly made out through mist and smoke.
Jellicoe did not yet know exactly where the Germans were, and Beatty could not tell what they would do now Jellicoe had come. But Beatty turned sharp east immediately he sighted Jellicoe, and the Germans soon turned too, fearing to have him cross their T while Jellicoe was rounding on them. They wanted to escape, seeing the fight was hopeless. But they could not take the quickest way, that of turning all together—each ship turning right round where she was and making off as hard as she could—because this would have changed the places of the admirals and put the battle cruisers in the rear as well. Nor could they safely turn right back on their course, while keeping the same line-ahead, because some ships would then be masking the fire of others till the whole line had been reversed; and they sorely needed every gun they had. So the only way left was to keep parallel with Beatty till a chance came to turn sharply enough to get away, but not sharply enough to mask any of their own fire.
Imagine the whole enormous battlefield as something like a target, with the Germans circling round the bull's-eye, Beatty round the inner, and Jellicoe just coming into the outer. From Beatty's reports and his own observation Jellicoe could not know even that before six. So he sent out his own battle cruiser squadron under Admiral Hood to lengthen Beatty's line and overlap the Germans. Hood then sent one of his light cruisers, the Chester, speeding ahead to scout. But three German light cruisers held her up in a furious fight of twenty minutes. The Chester fought desperately, losing more than half her men, but getting her scout work done in spite of the fearful odds against her. How well she fought may be found out from the story of Jack Cornwell; for he was only one of her many heroes. Ship's boy, first class, and sixteen years of age, Jack Cornwell would have been the youngest V.C. in the world had he lived to wear it. With every man in the gun's crew round him dead or dying, and with the gun-shield shot away, he stood there, under a terrific fire, mortally wounded, with the receivers at his ears, reporting exactly what had happened to everyone except himself, and calmly waiting for orders how to carry on.
When the battered Chester told Hood he was too far south-east he turned back north-west till he sighted Beatty coming toward him at full speed. On Beatty's orders he then carried out Jellicoe's plan by turning back so as to lengthen Beatty's line of battle cruisers at the forward end, thus overlapping the Germans. This splendidly skilful and most daring move so alarmed the Germans that they trained every gun they could on him in a furious effort to wipe out the deadly overlap. He led the gallant line, "bringing his squadron into action ahead in a most inspiring manner, worthy of his great naval ancestors." (He was the great-great-grandson of the Lord Hood whom Nelson always called the best of naval officers.) His flagship, the Invincible, hit back with all her might, helped by the ships astern. "Keep it up," called Hood to his gunnery officer, Commander Dannreuther, one of the six survivors, "every shot is hitting them." But the converging fire of a hundred giant guns simply smashed the Invincible from stem to stern. At last a huge shell reached her magazine, and she blew up like a volcano; sheets of flame leaping higher than her masts, boats and loose gear whirling higher still, like leaves in an autumn gale, and then one sickening belch of steamy smoke to tell that all was over. After this Hood's two remaining battle cruisers took station astern of Beatty's four.
Meanwhile another light cruiser of Hood's, the Canterbury, was trying to protect three destroyers, led by the Shark, that were fighting German light cruisers and destroyers. Hipper and Scheer were doing their very utmost to keep Beatty and Jellicoe at arm's length till they could complete the German turn round the bull's-eye and make an effort to get off the deadly target altogether. For if Jellicoe could range round the inner, at higher speed and with an overlap, they would certainly be rounded up and crushed to death. The German light cruisers and destroyers therefore attacked the British light craft with the greatest fury, hoping to destroy the screen behind which Jellicoe would form his line of battle in safety from torpedoes. As the Shark charged down at the head of her line she suddenly found two lines of German destroyers charging towards her. Nothing daunted, she went straight on, her pulsing engines making her quiver with the thrilling race for life or death between them. Once abreast of them she fired her guns and torpedoes right and left, sinking two German destroyers, one on each side, and giving the rest as good as she got, till, hit by torpedoes on both sides together, she sank like a stone. Her commander, Loftus Jones, was awarded the second posthumous V.C. for the wonderfully gallant way he fought her till she went down with colours flying. Her last torpedo, when just on the point of being fired, was hit by a German shell and exploded, killing and wounding everybody near. Then another shell took Jones's leg off. But he still fought the one gun left in action, firing its last round as the waters closed above him.
About the same time the destroyer Onslow made for a German light cruiser that was trying to torpedo Beatty's flagship, Lion. Hitting the light cruiser with every gun at short range she then passed on to try her own torpedoes on the German battle cruisers, when a big shell scooped out most of her midships above the water-line. Retiring slowly she again met the light cruiser and this time finished her with a torpedo. Finding he had two torpedoes left Commander Tovey then made for the German battle line with the last ounce of steam the Onslow's engines could work off. He fired them both, and probably hit the dreadnought that was seen to reel out of line about three minutes later. The Defender, though herself half wrecked by several hits, then limped up and took the Onslow in tow till one o'clock the next afternoon, when tugs had come to the rescue.
The strongest of all the lighter ships that cleared the way for Jellicoe's battle fleet were the armoured cruisers, which are about half way between the light and battle cruisers. Sir Robert Arbuthnot's First Armoured Cruiser Squadron, speeding ahead of Jellicoe, swooped down on the German light cruisers in grand style, sank one, lamed two, and was driving the rest before it, helter-skelter, when, without a moment's warning, the huge hulls of the German battle line loomed out of the mist at almost point-blank range! In his eagerness to make short work of all the German light craft in the way Sir Robert had lost his bearings in the baffling mist and run right in between the two great battle lines. Quick as a flash he fought the German giants with every gun that he could bring to bear while turning back to take his proper station on the flank. But he was doomed and knew it. Yet, even at that fatal moment, his first thought was for the men whom, through no fault of his own, he had led into this appalling death-trap; and besides the order to turn back he signalled the noble apology to all hands under his command: "I beg your pardon." The end came soon. A perfect tornado of gigantic shells had struck his flagship, the Defence, at the very first salvo. She reeled under the terrific shock and had hardly begun to right herself before her sides were smashed in by another. At the third she crumpled up and sank with every soul aboard of her. Her next astern and second, the Black Prince, and the Warrior, managed to crawl away under cover of the mist. But both went down; though the battered Black Prince survived to be sunk by German battleships during the night.
About this time, just after six, the fight was at its very fiercest, especially between the opposing light craft. It was a question of life or death for the Germans to keep the British light craft away and use their own to the utmost while their battle line was turning toward the west in a desperate effort to keep ahead of Jellicoe. This was not cowardice, but a desire to save the German fleet from utter ruin once victory was seen to be impossible. Not all the brave deeds were on one side. How much the Grand Fleet's honour would be dimmed if its opponents had been cowards or if its own commander had failed to give the enemy his due! "The enemy," said Jellicoe in his dispatch, "fought with the gallantry that was expected of him, and showed humanity in rescuing officers and men from the water. I particularly admired the conduct of those on board a disabled German light cruiser which passed down the British line under a heavy fire that was returned by the only gun still left in action." But of course this was well matched by many a vessel on the British side, in a fight so fierce and a turmoil so appalling that only men of iron training and steel nerves could face it. Light craft of all kinds were darting to and fro, attacking, defending, firing guns and torpedoes, smashing and being smashed, sinking and being sunk, and trying to help or hinder the mighty lines of battle whose own gigantic guns flashed and thundered without a moment's pause.
As Jellicoe closed in to get the strangle-hold his mighty battle fleet had, in very truth, to go through fire and water: the racing ships, their slashing bows and seething wakes; the pall of smoke, stabbed by ten thousand points of fire, together making the devil's colours—yellow, red, and black; the leaping waterspouts thrown up by shells that missed; the awful crashings when the shells struck home; the vessels reeling under well-aimed, relentless salvoes; the ships on fire beyond the reach of human aid; the weirdness of the mist that veiled these dreadful horrors, or made them ghastlier still, or suddenly brought friend and foe together either to sink or swim; the summer sea torn into the maddest storm by ships and shells; while, through and round the whole of this inferno, there swelled and thundered the stunning roar of such a giant fight as other navies had never seen or even dreamt of. So deafening was this roar, and so absorbing were the changes of the fight, that when a ton-weight shell swept overboard every atom of the bridge aboard the leading ship of a flotilla—with compass, chart-house, engine-room-telegraph, steering wheel, and every soul on duty there—the men on "monkey's island," just above the bridge, never knew their ship was even hit till she began to run amuck and rammed another British vessel!
This was the battle into which Jellicoe had to fit his own vast force of twenty-four dreadnoughts without checking Beatty, without letting the Germans get a clear run home, and without risking the loss of his own best battleships by making one false move. At four minutes to six Jellicoe sighted Beatty. Five minutes later he asked him for the position of the German line. Nine minutes later he asked again. The smoke and mist were so bad at first that it was not till 6.14 that Beatty could say exactly. At 6.16—just two minutes later—Jellicoe's plan was made and his orders had gone out. There, in the conning tower of the Iron Duke, within those two short minutes, he had calmly thought out every chance and change and way of going into action under conditions which could not have been worse for him or better for the Germans.
His twenty-four battleships were in six divisions, side by side, each division in line ahead, and all numbered off from port (left) to starboard (right). The leading ship of the 1st, or port wing, division was the King George V. The leading ship of the 6th, or starboard wing division, was the Marlborough. His own flagship, the Iron Duke, led the 3rd division.
The supreme moment had now arrived. There was not a second to lose; for the fleets were covering more miles in an hour than armies do in a whole day. But if he formed line on the starboard wing, the nearer to the Germans, he would have had to wait some time till Beatty's battle cruisers had drawn clear. During this dangerous pause, while his own fire would have to be blanketed by Beatty, the German battle line would have had a double British target to make hits on, and the German light craft would have had the best chance of catching him with their torpedoes while he was in the act of forming line. Moreover, the German line might have concentrated on the starboard wing before the port had taken station, and might have overlapped the whole line afterwards. Jellicoe therefore decided to form on the port wing, giving his own line the chances of the overlap, and then fit in astern of Beatty. But, being ready by the time Beatty's battle cruisers were drawing ahead, he fitted in his own line between these and the four fast Queen Elizabeths that formed the rear of Beatty's line. Thus, in the very worst of this gigantic battle, the twelve miles of the final British line were formed. Three battle cruisers had been sunk: the Indefatigable, Invincible, and Queen Mary. One fast battleship, the Warspite, had fallen astern with a damaged helm. But six battle cruisers still led the van. Twenty-four fresh battleships followed. And three fast Queen Elizabeths brought up the rear. Jellicoe then personally commanded a single line-ahead twelve miles long and dreadnoughts all. Every part of every change was made as perfectly as if at the King's review. You could not have made the line straighter with a ruler, nor placed it better if the Germans had been standing still. For as Beatty's overlap kept turning them from north to east and east to south, to save their T from being crossed, Jellicoe's whole line had now worked to the landward side of them, that is, between them and their great home base on the German coast.
Fourth Round: Jellicoe Victorious: 6.50 to 9.00 P.M.
Driven to desperation by being overlapped and turned away from Germany, the Germans made a supreme effort to escape toward the south-west, thus completing their circle round the bull's-eye, as Jellicoe began to round them up from the inner. Their destroyers spouted forth an immense grey smoke screen; the mist helped them to hide; and the sun went into a bank of clouds. As they ran they fired shoals of torpedoes, which are much deadlier for the chasers, who go toward them, than for the chased, who go from them. The battleship Marlborough, flagship of Sir Cecil Burney, Jellicoe's Second-in-Command, was hit and began to list over. But she was so strong and so well handled that within ten minutes she was at it again. She had already fought two battleships and a cruiser while the British line was forming. Now she caught another German battleship with fourteen salvoes running and drove her out of line.
The Germans fired every torpedo they could bring to bear; and nothing but Jellicoe's supreme skill, backed by the skill of all his captains, saved his battleships from losing at least a third of their number. Observers aloft watched the enemy manoeuvring to fire and then reported to Jellicoe, who, keeping in line as long as possible for the sake of the guns, turned the fleet end-on, away from Scheer, just in time to prevent the torpedoes catching it broadside on, and then left each captain free to work his own ship till that shoal of torpedoes had passed. The torpedoes arrived at about thirty miles an hour, shoals of them together, and showing no sign but the little line of bubbles from their screws. But most of them were spotted and not one got home. The Revenge worked her perilous way between a couple, one just missing her rudder and the other almost grazing her bows.
During the whole of this fourth round the fight went on by fits and starts. Whenever any part of the enemy's line showed up through the thickening mist the British guns turned on it with shattering salvoes. The Iron Duke, whose gunnery was simply perfect, caught a big German battleship for a few minutes only. But by the time the mist had shut down again the German was like a furnace, seething with a mass of flame. Meanwhile the battle cruisers were crumpling up their opposite numbers in the German line, which thus became shorter and more overlapped than ever. The Lion and Princess Royal each set their opponent on fire, while the New Zealand and Indomitable drove another clean out of line, heeling over, and burning furiously fore and aft. (The Indomitable was King George's Flagship at the Quebec Tercentenary in 1908, and the New Zealand was Jellicoe's flagship on his tour of advice round the oversea Empire in 1919.)
At 8.20, somewhere behind the mist which then veiled the German line, there was a volcanic roar that shook every keel for miles around. Scheer was losing heavily, running for his life, and doing his best to hold Jellicoe back by desperate light craft attacks with hundreds of torpedoes. But Jellicoe countered this with his own light craft, which sank four enemy destroyers before the night closed in.
Fifth and Last round: The Germans in Full Flight:
9.00 P.M. 31st of May, to 4 P.M. 1st of June, 1916.
Jellicoe now had another hard question to answer, a question, indeed, to which there could not be a perfect answer. The Germans were broken and flying. But they still had many light craft with hundreds of torpedoes; they were not far from home and near a swarm of their best submarines; and their whole coast was full of mines for many miles off shore, while the shore itself and the string of off-shore islands were defended by a regular chain of gigantic forts armed with enormous guns. Following them home was therefore out of the question altogether; for you can sink a fleet, while you can't sink a coast. But even trying to run them down at night was out of the question too; for their strongest point was night fighting, which is much fuller of risks and chances than day battles are. Besides, there was the chance of missing them and losing the best position between them and their base. So Jellicoe and Beatty separated again and steamed, parallel to each other, south-south-east to within a hundred miles of the German coast. They could not possibly cover more than a quarter of the whole way into the Danish and German coasts; and so most of the Germans managed to slip in behind them, round by the north.
The night fighting was done by the light craft; and it was here that Jellicoe had so much need of Tyrwhitt's flotillas from Harwich. Harwich was very handy to the battlefield and Tyrwhitt's light craft were as keen and ready as any one could be. But the Government were afraid to let them go, for fear lest some Germans might raid the English coast. There was very little chance of a raid at all. It could not have been a bad one in any case. No mere raid can change the course of a war. The best way to stop raids is to win the war by destroying the enemy's means of destroying you. The best way to do this is to smash his main force wherever it happens to be. And the best way to smash it is to throw all your own forces against it once you get a hold on it. But people who are scared in one place will not think about the war as a whole, though that is the way to save these very people as well as all the rest. So they ask for some defence they can actually see. It was much the same as in the days of the Spanish Armada. Drake and Jellicoe wanted to do the right thing. But Queen Elizabeth's Council and King George's Government wanted to humour the people concerned. The only comfort is that, with all our faults, we of the British Empire make fewer naval mistakes than other people do.
The light craft that did reach that famous battlefield could not have done more to guard the British battle lines and harass the flying Germans. There was many a weird sight as scurrying cruisers and destroyers suddenly showed up, ominously black, against the ghastly whiteness of the searchlit sea. Hunters and hunted raced, turned, and twisted without a moment's pause. "We couldn't tell what was happening," said the commander of a dashing destroyer. "Every now and then out of the silence would come Bang! bang!! boom!!! as hard as it could for ten minutes on end. The flash of the guns lit up the whole sky for miles and miles, and the noise was far more penetrating than by day. Then you would see a great burst of flame from some poor devil, as the searchlights switched on and off, and then perfect silence once more."
Next Day. Dawn comes early on the 1st of June at 55 degrees North. But the mist veiled everything more than three or four miles off. At 3.30 A.M. a huge Zeppelin flew across the British battle line, wirelessing down to any Germans still to the westward the best way to get home. By nine the light craft had all come in after scouring the sea for Germans. At a quarter past one it was plain that not a German ship remained to challenge the Grand Fleet. So Jellicoe made for his base; took in fuel, stores, and ammunition; and at half-past nine next evening was ready for another battle.
The News. Very different was the plight of the flying Germans, who lost more ships than the British (eighteen, and perhaps six more, to fourteen British) and who left the field for good and all. But Germany sorely needed a victory just then. So the Kaiser proclaimed one, and all the German papers echoed his words. The German lie got two days start of the British truth, and was eagerly repeated by every one who hated the British or Allies. On the other hand, the British Government simply said that there had been a battle and that fourteen British ships were down. They shrank from proclaiming the victory, because they thought that most people, knowing nothing of modern naval war and making no allowance for the weather and other German advantages, would not believe in a victory which let any of the German ships escape. And so the lie went round the world much faster than the truth. Yet it was only believed by those who wanted to believe it. Even some Italian mountaineers who had never seen a ship said, "That's a lie," when Italian traitors told them the Grand Fleet had been sunk.
After waiting a month to examine the whole case thoroughly the Board of Admiralty, which has always been most sparing in its praise, wrote Jellicoe an official letter, saying that "the Grand Fleet has known both how to study the new problems and how to turn the knowledge to account. The expectations of the country were high. They have been well fulfilled. My Lords (the Members of the Board) desire to convey to you their full approval of your proceedings in this action."
What Jellicoe himself thought of those who fought so well under his inspiring leadership cannot be said better than in his own words. "The conduct of officers and men throughout the day and night actions was entirely beyond praise. No words of mine could do them justice. On all sides it is reported to me that the glorious traditions of the past were worthily upheld. Officers and men were cool and determined, with a cheeriness that would have carried them through anything. The heroism of the wounded was the admiration of all. I cannot express the pride with which the spirit of the Grand Fleet filled me."
Results. Jutland taught the German Navy what every one should have known before: that whenever tyrants have tried to lord it over all the world they have always had to reckon with the British Navy first, and that this Navy has never failed to lay them low. More things were wrought by Jutland than the British Empire thinks, and more, far more, than other people, for lack of knowledge, can imagine. There was a regular, unbreakable chain of cause and effect, and Jutland was the central link.
To conquer their bully's "place in the sun" of the white man's empire overseas the Germans built their Navy. But the Grand Fleet blockaded it so well that the Germans clamoured for a fight to wipe the British off the sea and to let the German merchant ships get out. Jutland settled that. From Jutland on to the end of the war the German bluejackets could never again be led against the British on the surface of the sea. So the murderous German submarine campaign was tried instead. This forced even the American Peace Party to change their minds and save their country's honour by joining the War Party in armed defence both of American rights and of the freedom of the world.
After another two years the Germans failed under water as they had upon the surface; and when, in wild despair, the Kaiser ordered the whole of his High Sea Fleet to try another fight, the final mutiny began. This broke out at 5 A.M. on the 3rd of November, 1918, eight days before the Armistice. It was not the German Army, nor yet the German people, that began the Revolution, but the German Fleet, which knew that a second Jutland could only mean the death of every German there. In its own turn the Revolution brought on the great surrender, a thing unheard-of in the story of the sea.
Thus, like the immortal Battle of the Marne on land, Jutland was not only itself a mighty feat of arms but one on which the whole war turned.
Jutland proved to all hands in the German Navy that they had no chance whatever against Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. But the great mass of the German people never heard this truth; and even their navy hoped to win under the water a victory it had found impossible on top. So, for the last two years of the war, the Germans worked their hardest at what they called the "Submarine Blockade." As this "Blockade" forced the United States into war, and as its failure showed the Germans that, in the end, they had no more chance under water than on top, we can all see now that Jutland turned the scale.
The British fleets blockading Germany of course seized and kept for the Government, as spoils of war, whatever warlike stores (guns, shells, and so on) they could lay their hands on. But all the other goods the Navy stopped the Government bought, paying fair market prices. So the American and other neutrals trying to trade with the enemy had really nothing to complain of; for a blockade at sea is very like a siege on land, and nobody has ever pretended that a besieging army has not a perfect right to stop any supplies of any kind from reaching the besieged. Moreover, the crews of the ships trying to break the British blockade were always very kindly treated, though their ships were trying to help the enemy and make fortunes for their owners at the expense of freedom.
But when we turn to the German "Submarine Blockade" of the British Isles we find something quite different; for the German submarines sank every ship they could, and they generally were as utterly careless about the lives of the crews as they were about the cargo, no matter what the cargo was. In short, Germany tried everything, no matter how wrong, that could possibly hurt the hated British. She did let some neutral ships go by without attacking them. But that was only because she did not want to turn all the neutrals into enemies; and nothing proves better what a fiendish crime her "Submarine Blockade" really was than the fact that it forced even the Peace Party in the United States to change its mind about the war.
For thirty-two months this Peace Party kept the United States out of a war waged by Germany against the freedom of the world. There were a good many reasons why. Most Americans knew next to nothing about the affairs of Europe; and Germans had long been busy poisoning their minds against the French and British. Then, Washington and other Presidents had often advised them not to meddle with anything outside of America; and President Wilson had even said there was such a thing as being "too proud to fight."
Of course the Pacifists were against all war, even when their refusing to fight on the side of right forced them to help the side of wrong. They had plenty of money, some of it German, and they made almost as much trouble as the Germans and pro-Germans themselves. Then, the Germans, pro-Germans, and Pacifists raised the bogey of trouble for the United States at home, while there did not seem to be much danger of getting hurt from abroad. Finally, business was booming as it had never boomed before. The Americans made twelve-and-a-half thousands of millions of dollars out of the war, clear net profit up to the end of 1918.
The War Party said the whole war was about a question of right and wrong, and that the French and British were right, while the Germans were wrong. They said that Americans were safe because the British Navy barred the way, that all the British oversea Dominions had fought from the first, though not obliged to send a ship, a dollar, or a man except of their own free will. They said that every American patriot should be very proud to fight for the freedom of the world and very much ashamed to let the French and British uphold the cause of right alone. They said that the German submarines had already murdered many Americans, that many other Americans, ashamed to see their country hanging back, were already enlisting in Canada, England, and France, and that although business was certainly booming, beyond the wildest dreams of the keenest money-makers before the war, yet this vast wealth was too much like blood-money, since the French and British were suffering immense losses in lives and money and in everything but honour, while the Americans, losing nothing in lives, were making vast hoards of money out of a cause that really was their own—the cause of right and freedom.
Slowly but surely the War Party gained, as more and more members of the Peace Party began to see the truth. But still, after twenty-seven months, the most popular cry among those who voted President Wilson in for a second term was "he kept us out of war." Three months later the German "Submarine Blockade" began (February 1917). Then, two months later still, most of the Peace Party, seeing that their own ships would be sunk just as readily as French or British ships, gave their vote for war.
It was a glorious moment in world-history when British, French, and Americans at last stood side by side. The American Navy led the way, joining the hunt for German submarines with a keenness whetted by having been held back so long. The Army followed, bit by bit, until two million men had gone to Europe, thanks chiefly to the British ships that took them there. The Nation backed both Army and Navy with vast sums of money, which it could so easily afford, and with patriotic work of every splendid kind.
But the war lasted only nineteen months longer; and in that time the Americans were not able to do anything like what the Allies had done before and still were doing. The entire American loss in men (killed, wounded, and prisoners) was over one-quarter million. But Canada's loss of over two hundred thousand was ten times as great in proportion; for there are twelve-and-a-half times as many people in the United States as there are in Canada. In the same way the losses of France and Great Britain were each more than twenty times greater than that of the United States. In ships and money the difference is far more striking still. The British alone lost one-and-a-half times as many ships as all the rest of the world put together. But the Americans have actually gained, owing to the number of interned German vessels they seized in their ports. As for money: the British, the French, and all the Allies have spent so much in fighting for the freedom of the world that neither they nor their children, nor their children's children, can ever pay the vast debt off; while the United States have made, on their own showing, the twelve-and-a-half "billions" mentioned already.
These few facts (there are hundreds more) will show you a little of what the Great War means to the world, what the British Navy meant to the war, and what Jutland meant to both the war and the world, by sweeping the German Navy off the surface of the sea, and so bringing on the "Submarine Blockade" that itself forced the American Government to fight in self-defence.
The Germans, wishing to kill off their victims one at a time, were ready for the French and Russian Navies, but not for the British. They had less than forty sea-going submarines when the war began. But nearly four hundred took part, or were ready to take part, before the war was over, while many more were building.
We have already noted the weak points of submarines. They are "tender" because they must be thin. An old collier that couldn't steam faster than you could walk sank a submarine by barging into it, end-on—one can hardly call it ramming. Submarines are slower on the surface than dreadnoughts, cruisers, and destroyers; and, after doing a total of ten or twelve hours under water, they have to recharge their batteries; for they run by oil engines on the surface and by electricity submerged, and the crew would be smothered if the oil engines tried to charge batteries without coming up.
Then, firing torpedoes is not at all like firing big guns. At a range of five miles a shell will still be making 2000 feet a second or 1400 miles an hour. At the same range a torpedo like those used at Jutland would be making only 50 feet a second or 35 miles an hour. Thus shells whizz through the air forty times faster than torpedoes sneak through the water. A torpedo, in fact, is itself very like a submarine, more or less cigar-shaped, and with its own engine, screw, and rudder. Hitting with a torpedo really means arranging a collision between it and the ship you are aiming at. When you and the ship and your torpedo and the water are all moving in different ways you can see that hitting is not so easy. The shorter the range the better. But you cannot see at all unless your periscope, with its little mirror, is high and dry out of the water; and periscopes are soon spotted by a sharp look-out at very short range. The best torpedoes are over twenty feet long and as many inches through, and they will go ten miles. But the longer the range the slower the pace and the less the chance of hitting. The engine is driven by air, which is compressed so hard into the middle of the torpedo that it actually bulges out the steel a tiny fraction of an inch. You may set the air-valve fast or slow, and the torpedo will go accordingly. But if you want to make pretty sure you must get within less than a mile, with the ship's broadside toward you, set the torpedo for the right depth, the right pace to keep it going as fast as possible just long enough to hit, and of course the right aim. Then, if all goes well, the cap, or "war head" of the torpedo, on hitting the ship, will set off the fuse that sets off the tremendous charge of high explosive; and this may knock a hole in the side big enough to drive a street car through. But there are many more misses than hits.
Yet the German and Austrian raiders, mines, and submarines sank fifteen million tons of shipping, which is not far short of a third of all the merchant tonnage in the world; and the submarines sank more than the mines and raiders sank together. (Ships are measured by finding out how many cubic feet of space they contain and counting so many feet to the ton. Thus you get a much better idea of how much shipping a country has by counting in tons rather than by the number of ships; for twenty-five ships of one thousand tons each have only half as much sea-power as one ship of fifty thousand tons.) The British loss was nine millions, half as much again as was lost by all the rest of the world put together. Raiders like the cruiser Emden, or the armed and disguised merchant vessel Möwe, did a great deal of harm at the beginning of the war, as we have seen already. Mines did even more harm, and did it all through. But submarines did most.
Our title "Submarining" means any kind of underwater attack, by mines as well as by torpedoes, so we must take a glance at the mines before coming to the submarines.
Most mines are somewhat like big buoys with little horns all over the top. Each horn ends in a cap which, when hit, sets off the charge. Mines coupled together by a steel rope are more dangerous than two separate mines would be, as they are bound to be drawn in against any ship that strikes any part of the rope. The only safeguard a ship could carry was a paravane. A paravane is made up of a strong steel hawser (rope) that serves as a fender, and of two razor-edged blades that serve to cut the mine-moorings free. It is altogether under water and is shaped like a V, with the point jutting out on the end of steel struts ahead of the bows, the two strokes running clear of the sides, and their ends well winged out astern, where the two sharp blades stand straight up, one from each end. The lines by which mines are anchored were thus guided clear of the ship till they reached the blades, where they were cut. The mines then rose to the surface, where they could be set off at a safe distance. Dragging a paravane through the water made the ship go slow. But that was better than being blown up.
Minefields cannot, of course, be crossed at all. You might as well try to walk over armies of porcupines in your bare feet. Some minefields were very big. One British field ran from the Orkneys right across to Norway, to stop the German submarines from getting out round the north of Scotland. The American Navy did magnificent work at this field, the greater part of which was laid by American, not by British, vessels at the latter end of 1917 and earlier part of 1918. Other minefields blocked the Channel. But here the Germans once played a very clever trick which might have cost the British dear. A British minefield had been laid, some fifty feet deep, to catch submarines without being in the way of vessels on the surface. Two days after it had been secretly laid at night the Nubian, a British destroyer, had her bows blown off on the very same spot. The German submarine mine-layers had crept in by night and laid a shallow German minefield, exactly over the deep British minefield, to catch those who were trying to catch them. That, however, is not the end of the story. Just after the Nubian had been towed into Portsmouth with her bows blown off, the Zulu, a destroyer of the same class, was towed in with her stern blown off. So perfectly were both these vessels built that, when they had each been cut in half, the good halves made an absolutely perfect new destroyer, which, under her compound name of Zubian, did excellent work against the Germans during the famous fights at Zeebrugge and Ostend.
A mine laid by a German submarine blew up the cruiser Hampshire that was taking Kitchener to Russia by way of the Orkneys on the 5th of June, 1916. Kitchener was drowned and only twelve men, who floated in on a raft, were saved. Submarines lurking about at night would sometimes put mines right in the track of vessels. And sometimes swift mine-laying ships on the surface would do even more deadly harm, rolling a hundred mines off a little railway on deck. At other times mines would be loosed from the shore or from ships at anchor, so as to float in among vessels with the tide or down the current of a stream. One of these was tried against the British in West Africa by a German missionary. Others were sent against the French and British vessels in the Dardanelles, sometimes blowing them up.
But the enemy never had it all his own way. British submarines did wonderful work in spite of the mines. Commander Holbrook won the V.C. by feeling his perilous way through five lines of Turkish mines, though the currents were very tricky, and more than once the side of his "sub" actually touched the steel ropes holding the mines to their anchors. When he reached Constantinople he torpedoed and sank the Turkish battleship that was supposed to be guarding these very mines! Then he dived back through the five rows of mines and rejoined the fleet without a scratch.
Another British submarine stole into the Sea of Marmora with a couple of land mines to blow up the railway near Constantinople. Lieutenant D'Oyley-Hughes then swam ashore, pushing a little raft to which the mines were lashed. He was quite alone, but armed with a bayonet ground like a razor and an automatic seven-shooter. He also carried a flash-light and whistle. He shouldered first one mine and then the other, each the weight of a big man, took them up the hill, and put them under a little brickwork bridge within a hundred and fifty yards of the Turkish sentries, who were talking round their fire. Though he muffled the fuse pistol it was heard by the Turks, who came running toward him, firing as hard as they could. He let them have his first clip of seven shots slap in the face and then raced a mile along the line, doubled back a bit down the cliff, and swam off toward the submarine. His whistle was not heard at first, as the submarine was in the next bay; and he had to swim a mile before he came across her backing out under fire from the Turks. But he slipped into her conning tower safely, and no one on the British side was hurt.
So great is the danger from mines, unless they are watched and tackled the whole time, that thousands of mine-sweeping vessels were always at work, manned by British fishermen who had been handling gigantic nets and mile-long steel hawsers (ropes) ever since they had gone afloat as boys. These North Sea fishermen, in whom the Viking blood runs strong, had always put in eleven months sea time every year of their lives. So storm and fog and clammy numbing cold had no terrors for them as they worked their "sweepers" to and fro, fishing for the deadly mines. Sometimes, for all their skill and care, a mine would foul their tackle and blow them to pieces. But usually they could "gentle" a mine to the surface and set it off by rifle shots at a safe distance. Sometimes, however, a hitch would happen and the mine would come close alongside. Once a mine actually came aboard, caught fast in the tackle. The skipper (captain) ordered all hands into the boats, and then himself cut it clear after a whole hour's work, during which one false touch or even the slightest jolt would have blown his ship to smithereens. The wonder of it is that more men were not killed in keeping the seaways so carefully swept, night and day, all the year round, for tens of thousands of miles, during the fifty-one months of the war.
Still more dangerous was the fishing for those vilest of devil-fish, the German submarines. The fishermen "shot" enormous steel nets just as you shoot a fishing net, letting them hang a bit slack so as to be the more entangling. Then, just as you feel your rod quiver when a fish takes your fly, so these anglers for Germans would feel the quiver from a nosing submarine caught in the toils. Very few submarines ever escaped; for the slack of the waving net was apt to foul the screw, and there they were held till the last struggle ceased and the last man was smothered inside.
The fishermen would sometimes have rescued their ruthless enemies if they could have disentangled them in time. But this could rarely be done; and the Germans met a just fate. One day a submarine came up alongside a British trawler which was engaged in its regular fishing, was quite unarmed, and had a crew of old men and young boys. The Germans took all the fresh fish they wanted, sank the trawler, smashed up her boats, and put the fishermen on the submarine's deck. Then they slammed-to the hatch of the conning tower and sank very slowly, washing the fishermen off. Then they rose again to laugh at them drowning. An avenging destroyer came racing along and picked up the sole survivor. But the German jokers, seeing it coming, had gone. No wonder the seafaring British sometimes "saw red" to such a degree that they would do anything to get in a blow! And sometimes they did get it in, when the Germans least thought it was coming. When a skipper suddenly found a German U-boat (Unterseeboot or under-sea-boat) rising beside him, just as his engine-room mechanic had come up with a hammer in his hand, he called out, "look sharp and blind her!" Without a moment's hesitation the mechanic jumped on her deck and smashed her periscope to pieces, thus leaving her the blinded prey of gathering destroyers.
The Germans put their wits to work with hellish cunning. They wanted to surround Great Britain with a sea of death so full of mines and submarines that no ship could live. The mines were not placed at random, but where they would either kill their victims best or make them try another way where the lurking submarines could kill them. The sea-roads into great ports like London and Liverpool converge, just as railway tracks converge toward some great central junction. So submarines lying in wait near these crowded waters had a great advantage in the earlier part of the war, when people still believed that the Germans would not sink unarmed merchantmen on purpose, especially when women and children were known to be on board.
On the 7th of May, 1915, the Lusitania, from New York for Liverpool, was rounding the south of Ireland, when the starboard (right-hand) look-out in the crow's nest (away up the mast) called to his mate on the port side, "Good God, Frank, here's a torpedo!" The next minute it struck and exploded, fifteen feet under water, with a noise like the slamming of a big heavy door. Another minute and a second torpedo struck and exploded. Meanwhile the crew had dashed to their danger posts and begun duties for which they had been carefully drilled, though very few people ever thought the Germans would torpedo a passenger steamer known to be full of women and children, carrying many Americans, and completely unarmed. The ship at once took a list to starboard (tilt to the right) so that the deck soon became as steep as a railway embankment. This made it impossible to lower boats on the up side, as they would have swung inboard, slithered across the steeply sloping deck, and upset. The captain, cool and ready as British captains always are, gave his orders from the up end of the bridge, while the other officers were helping the passengers into the boats. The sea soon came lapping over the down side of the deck, and people began slipping into it. The full boats shoved off; but not half of them on the down side were clear before the gigantic ship, with an appalling plunge, sank head first. It all happened so quickly that many had not been able to get on deck before this final plunge. They must have been crushed by the hurtling of all loose gear when the ship stood on her bows going down, then smothered and drowned, if not smashed dead at the first. The captain stood on the bridge to the last, went down with the ship, came up again among the wreckage, and was saved after hours in the water. He will never forget the long, piercing wail of despair from hundreds of victims as the gallant ship went down.
This made it clear to all but those who did not want to understand that Germany was going to defy the laws of the sea, at least as far as she could without changing President Wilson's Government into an enemy. So things went on, getting worse and worse, for another two years. The British, French, and Italians had never prepared for a war like this. They were ready to fight submarines that fought their own men-of-war, as well as those that tried to sink transports carrying soldiers and arms to the many different fronts. But who would have thought that even the Germans would sink every merchantman without the least care for the lives of the crew? The rest of the world thought the days of pirates and cut-throats were over among all civilized nations. But the Germans did not. So the Allies, the British especially, built more and more destroyers to fight the German submarines. The Germans, of course, built more and more submarines; and so the fight went on, growing ever fiercer.
It was up-hill work for the British to guard thousands of ships over millions of miles against the hidden foe, who sometimes struck without being seen at all. A ship is a small thing on millions of square miles. A slinking submarine is very much lower and harder to see on the surface. A periscope is far harder still. The ordinary periscope is simply a tube, a few inches in diameter, with a mirror in the upper end reflecting the outside view on the corresponding mirror at the lower end, where the captain watches his chance for a shot. No wonder the Germans got on well for so long. It was over two years before British merchantmen were armed. There was a shortage of guns; and the neutral American Government would not allow any armed merchantmen into their ports, though many and many a life was lost because a vessel was unarmed. But, bit by bit, the merchantmen were forced to arm or die like sheep before the German wolves; and once they had a gun they soon learnt how to use it.
One gun over the stern was all that most ships had. It was mounted astern because the best chance of escape was to turn away and go full speed, zig-zagging every which way as you went, firing at the chasing submarine; This made vessels harder for submarines to hit, not only on account of the zig-zags, but because the ship, going the same way as the torpedo, made fast and short shots harder to get; also because the backwash of the screw helped to put torpedoes off their course; and finally because the target was itself firing back at the submarine. Even so, however, it was often touch-and-go; and very few people ever enjoyed the fun of being fired at as much as that little Canadian girl of six, who, seeing a torpedo shimmering past the ship's side, called out, "Oh, Mummy, look at the pretty fish!" Once a fast torpedo was hit and exploded by a shell from the vessel its submarine was chasing. But this was a perfect fluke.
More to the point was the readiness of the merchantman Valeria and of Commander Stockwell's destroyer to turn happy accidents to the best account on the spur of the moment. The Valeria bumped over a rising submarine at three o 'clock one summer morning off the coast of Ireland. Instantly all hands ran to "action stations," when the gunner saw, to his delight, that the periscope had been broken off and so the submarine was blind. His first shot hit the hull. His second was a miss. But his third struck the base of the conning tower; on which the submarine sank, nothing but bubbles and oil remaining to mark the spot where she went down. Stockwell's adventure was rather different. He had marked a submarine slinking round in the early dawn, and, knowing the spot the Germans liked best outside of Liverpool, watched his chance over it. Suddenly he felt his destroyer being lifted up, tilted over, and slid aside. The "sub" had risen right under it! Swinging clear in a moment he let go a depth charge; and the sea-quake that followed had plenty of signs to show that the "sub" had gone down.
1917 was the great year of submarine war: the Germans straining every nerve to kill off all the ships that went to or from the Allied ports, the Allies trying their best to kill off all the submarines. The Mediterranean was bad, the North Atlantic was worse, the west coasts of the British Islands worst of all. The American Navy came in and did splendid service off the south coast of Ireland, in the Bay of Biscay, and along the North Atlantic seaways between French and British and American ports. More and more destroyers were put into service, aided by "chasers"—very much smaller vessels with only one gun and a few men, but so cheap and easily built that they could be turned out in swarms to help in worrying the submarines to death. The "scooters" and "Porte's babies," as we saw in Chapter XXIV, were, however, even better than these swarming "chasers."
The enormous steel nets were also used more than ever. You can fancy what they were like by thinking of a gigantic fishing-net many miles long, with armed steamers instead of floats. In the entrances to some harbours there were sea-gates made by swinging open a bit of the net by means of its steamers to let traffic go through, and then swinging it back again. The mine-fields were made bigger than ever; it was then that the vast one, mostly laid by the Americans, was begun from the Orkneys to Norway. Mines were also laid by British submarines and by daring fast surface mine-layers round Heligoland and other places off the German coast. In this way the waters in which submarines could work were made narrower and narrower and were better and better guarded.
But more and more submarines were launched, and they still sneaked out to sea along the Dutch and Norwegian coasts where the Navy could not stop them because they used to slink through "territorial waters," that is, within three miles of the coast, where the sea belonged to the nearest country, just the same as the land. The Navy, however, had lines of patrols always on the watch from the Orkneys to the Shetlands, on to Iceland, over to Norway, and north to the Arctic ice. The narrow waters of the English Channel were watched by the famous Dover Patrol under Sir Roger Keyes. From Folkestone to Cap Griz Nez in France there was an unbroken line of the strongest searchlights on vessels anchored to ride out the biggest gales. Seven miles west was another line. Between were hundreds of patrol boats always ready, night or day, to fire at anything on the surface or to drop depth charges on anything that dived. A depth charge is a sort of mine that can be set to go off at a certain depth, say thirty to sixty feet down, when it makes a sea-quake that knocks the submarine out of gear and sinks it, even if it does not actually hit it. Besides all these guards on the surface there were nets and mines underneath. That is why the British army in France never had its line of communication with England cut for one single day all through the war.
Now and then the Germans tried a destroyer raid from their ports on the Belgian coast, or even from their own coast; for they would sneak through Dutch waters within the three-mile limit as well as through the Danish or Norwegian. They played a game of tip-and-run, their gunners firing at any surface craft they saw (for they knew no Germans could be anywhere but underneath) and their captains streaking back home at the first sign of the British Navy. On the night of the 20th of April, 1917, they were racing back, after sinking some small craft, when an avenging flotilla of British destroyers began to overhaul them. Seeing that one of the Germans might escape in the dark, the Broke (named after Captain Broke of the Shannon in the War of 1812) turned and rammed her amidships. The Germans fought well, swarming aboard the Broke and fighting hand to hand, as in the days of boarding. But Midshipman Giles stood up to the first of them, who was soon killed by a bluejacket's cutlass; and then, after a tremendous tussle with swords and pistols and anything else that was handy, every German was either driven overboard or killed on the spot, except two that surrendered.
A year later (on St. George's Day) the Vindictive led the famous raid on Zeebrugge under Captain Carpenter, V.C. The idea was to destroy the principal German base in Belgium from which aircraft and submarines were always starting. For weeks beforehand the crews that had volunteered to go on this desperate adventure were carefully trained in secret. The plan was to block the mouth of the Bruges Canal, by sinking three vessels filled with concrete, while the Vindictive smashed up the batteries on the mole (long solid wharf) guarding the entrance, and an old submarine, loaded like a gigantic torpedo, blew up the supports for the bridge that connected the mole with the land. Twice the little expedition sailed and had to put back because the wind had shifted; for the smoke screen would not hide the block ships, unless the wind had just the proper slant. At last it started for the real thing; a great night of aircraft going ahead to bomb the defences and a squadron of monitors staying some miles astern to pour in shells at the same time. The crash of air bombs and the thudding of the distant monitors were quite familiar sounds to the German garrison, whose "archies" (anti-aircraft guns) barked hoarsely back, while the bigger guns roared at where they thought the monitors might be. (Monitors are slow, strong, heavy, and very "bargy" craft, useful only as platforms for big guns against land defences.)
Suddenly, to the Germans' wild astonishment, Zeebrugge harbour was full of a smoke screen, of concrete-loaded block-ships, and of darting motor boats; while the old cruiser Vindictive made straight for the mole. Instantly the monitors and aircraft were left alone, while every German gun that could be brought to bear was turned on to this new and far more dangerous enemy at hand. But the British won through. The three block-ships were sunk. The submarine used as a torpedo blew up the bridge joining the mole to the land; and the smoke screen worked fairly well. Still, the tornado of German shells was almost more than flesh and blood could stand. Meanwhile the old Vindictive ran alongside the mole and dropped her eighteen special gangways bang against it. In a moment her forlorn hope—her whole crew was one great forlorn hope—swarmed on to the mole, over the splintering gangways, while her guns roared defiance at the huge German batteries. The ground swell made the Vindictive roll and racked her breaking gangways terribly. The storm of German shells and the hail of machine-gun bullets seemed almost to be sweeping everything before them. An officer awaiting his turn on deck asked, "What are all those men lying down for?" and was answered, "All dead, Sir"; killed before they had started. Several gangways were smashed to pieces, the men on them falling between the Vindictive and the mole. The Germans on the mole fired furiously to keep the storming party back. But, with an eager courage no Viking could have beaten, and with a trained skill no Viking could have equalled, every seaman and Marine in that heroic party who was not killed or disabled pressed on till the flaming battery was silenced. Then the survivors swarmed back with all the wounded they could find, climbed over the few broken gangways still holding together, and turned to the work of getting clear. At last the Vindictive, though a mere mangled wreck, got off and limped home victorious with all that was left of the equally daring flotilla of small craft.
Zeebrugge was the bigger base on the Belgian coast. But Ostend remained; and both were connected by canals with Bruges, which stood several miles inland. The whole formed a triple base shaped like the letter V, with Bruges at the bottom, Zeebrugge (sea-Bruges) to the right, and Ostend to the left. To close only Zeebrugge was to leave the back door open. So Ostend was raided, and smashed later on, the old Vindictive, now past her fighting days, being sunk full of concrete. From all that remained of her still above water the hero-king, Albert, was cheered into Ostend after the Armistice by the Belgian Boy Scouts, as he steamed past with Sir Roger Keyes to land, with his heroine-queen, on the soil so long fouled by German pirates.
These raids spoilt German chances from the nearest ports to Britain. But they did not stop the submarine campaign; and there was still plenty of work for camouflage, convoys, and "Q" ships.
Camouflage at sea is a very different thing from camouflage on land. On land camouflage is meant to make one thing look like something else or to hide it altogether. But no kind of camouflage will hide a ship. Nor is there any point in making a boat look like anything else; for everybody knows that ships are the only things at sea. Camouflage afloat was therefore meant to confuse the submarine commander's aim by deceiving his eye as to his target's speed and course. By painting cunning arrangements of stripes and splashes of different colours a ship's course and speed could be so disguised that the torpedoist was puzzled in getting his sights on her and in working out the range and speed. If an old-fashioned sailor could have suddenly been dropped on to the deck of a transport in the midst of a convoy of camouflaged ships he would have thought all their helmsmen were drunk or stark, staring mad; for they would have seemed to be steering every which way at large and not one on any proper course at all.
When this was added to their other troubles the submarines thought twice before risking an attack on a convoy of ships guarded by cruisers, as well as by destroyers ahead and on both sides, zig-zagging about on the hunt for submarines, much as a good sporting dog quarters likely ground for game. A "mothering" cruiser would keep station astern, where she could have her weather eye on every one. In narrow waters like the English Channel there would also be an airship overhead, a little in advance, with seaplanes on the flanks. These aircraft could spot a submarine almost a hundred feet down in fair weather, just as seabirds spot fish. If a submarine did show up, it was kept in sight till the destroyers charged near enough to ram, shell, or torpedo it on the surface, or sea-quake it to death with a depth bomb if submerged. Three hundred and seven ships brought wheat from different parts of America to Britain, France, and Italy under special convoy in the summer of 1918, and only one was lost.
"Q" ships, those ships of mystery and such strange romance as former navies never dreamt of, were meant to lure the German devils to their doom. One Q ship was a dirty old collier so well disguised as a common tramp (steamer belonging to no regular line) that she completely took in a British cruiser, whose boarding officer was intensely surprised to find her skipper was one of his own former shipmates. After five months of thrashing to and fro in the wintry North Atlantic a torpedo sped across her bows and she knew her chance had come. Instantly her alarm signals, quietly given, brought all hands to action stations, some in deck-houses, others in hen-coops, but each with his finger on the trigger or his hand on a ready spare shell. Presently the submarine broke surface and fired a shot across the Q ship's bow. On this the well-trained crew ran about in panic, while the captain screeched at them and waved his arms about like mad. Then the submarine came up within three cables (ten to the nautical mile of 2000 yards); whereupon the captain blew his whistle, just as Drake did long ago, the Navy's White Ensign fluttered up to the masthead, the hen-coops and deck-houses fell flat, and a hurricane of shells and Maxim bullets knocked the "sub" out in three minutes' firing.
But, as the war went on, still better Q dodges had to be invented. One day an old Q tramp, loaded chock-a-block with light-weight lumber, quietly let herself be torpedoed, just giving the wheel a knowing touch to take the torpedo well abaft the engine-room, where it would do least harm. The "panic-party" then left the ship quite crewless so far as anybody outside of her could see. But the "sub" was taking no risks that day. She circled the Q, almost grazing her, but keeping fifteen feet under. The Q captain, only ten yards off, was sorely tempted to fire. But shells striking water play queer tricks. So he held his fire; though the quarterdeck was awash instead of nearly twenty feet clear, and the ship's lucky black cat, blown overboard by the explosion, swam straight on to it out of the sea. Then the sub came up, little more than a cable's length away; and the Q captain at last sent a wireless call for help in case he should sink too soon. When the conning tower rose clear the German commander opened the hatch and smiled at his work. He was still cautious; for his gun crew began to appear. But the Q caught him; knocking his head off with the very first shot, and riddling the whole sub in no time.
The same Q captain, Gordon Campbell, V.C., went out again in another Q ship which was also disguised as a tramp. When a submarine attacked her she zig-zagged away in wild alarm, firing only her one merchantman's gun, and slowing down so as to get overhauled. Knowing the sub would catch his message Campbell wirelessed "Help! Come quick! Submarine chasing and shelling." Presently the Q stopped, done up, and the "panic-party" left her to her fate. This fate really did seem, and might have been, certain; for she was on fire from the shelling and her after magazine blew up with terrible force, killing the stern gun's crew and blowing the gun overboard. Moreover, the jar of this explosion set off the alarm; so down came all disguises and out came the guns. But Campbell, still determined to kill off that sub, wirelessed in the secret code to keep all vessels off the horizon, lest the sub should get scared and run away. Meanwhile she was diving, not liking the explosions; and she presently sent a torpedo straight home. Then the second "panic-party" left; and the Q ship lay wallowing in the trough of the sea, with two holes in her side, a big fire blazing, and ammunition boxes blowing up every few minutes. For nearly an hour the sub hovered round, a good distance off, and ended by rising astern to shell this obstinate Q ship to death. But even then the dauntless Q men still aboard never gave a sign of life. The wounded lay in their agonizing pain without making a sound, and stiff as soldiers at Attention! The rest stood by their guns and torpedoes, ready for anything. In the meantime another dangerous fire was blazing, more ammunition was blowing up, and the engulfing sea was creeping ever near and nearer yet. At last the submarine, quite satisfied, ceased firing. Then she closed, and Campbell fired two torpedoes, but missed with both. After this he wirelessed for help. But when British and American destroyers came tearing up they found him, cool as ever, arranging for a third "panic-party" to jump overboard and leave him alone with three men to try one more shot with the only gun left free by the fire. He failed this time. But two of his men earnt the V.C. as well as any men have ever earnt it; and his gallant Q herself went down with colours flying.
The news soon passed round the underworld of "sub-dom"; and the Germans swore they would never be caught again. So when another sub chased and shelled an old tub of a sailing ship her commander took good care to make sure he had not caught another Q. First and second panic parties, or what he thought were panic parties, did not satisfy him. But at last, when he had seen the ship's papers and had counted the crew, he laughed at his own mistake and came close alongside, ordering the boats away in spite of the skipper's entreaties to be allowed to go back and get his wife, who was crying her eyes out on deck with her baby in her arms. When the boats rowed off the poor woman went mad, rushing about wildly, with piercing shrieks, and finally, just as the German was coming on board, throwing her baby straight into his conning tower. What the Germans thought of this will never be known; for the baby was made of rubber filled with high explosive, and it blew the sub to smithereens.
As Jutland broke the spirit of the Germans who fought on the surface so minefields, netting, convoys, patrolling, and Q boats broke the spirit of those who fought in submarines. Drake's Sea-Dogs would take their chance of coming home alive when the insurance on their ships used to be made by men whom Shakespeare calls the "putters-out of five for one." As we say now, the chances were five to one against the Sea-Dog ship that went to foreign parts in time of war. But, when the odds reached four to one against the German subs, the German crews began to mutiny, refusing to go aboard of what they saw were fast becoming just new steel coffins of the sea. A Belgian maid, compelled to slave for officers of German submarines at Zeebrugge, kept count of those who returned alive. The same number, twenty, always boarded in the house. But, before the British came and drove the Germans out, no less than sixteen of her twenty masters had stepped into dead men's shoes.
Finally, in the early morning of November the 3rd, when, in wild despair, the Kaiser ordered the whole Fleet out for one last fight, the men of aircraft, surface craft, and submarines alike refused point blank to go; and the German Revolution then and there began. It was the German Navy that rose first, brought to its senses by the might of British sea-power. The Army followed. Then the people.
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (the 11th of November, 1918) the Cease fire! sounded on every front by sea and land and air; for that supremely skilful hero, Marshal Foch, had signed the Armistice as Commander-in-Chief of all the Allied Armies on the Western Front. One of the terms of this famous Armistice was that Germany should surrender her Fleet to the Allies in the Firth of Forth, where the British Grand Fleet was waiting with a few French and American men-of-war. Never in the whole world's history had such a surrender taken place. But never in the whole world's history had any navy broken the laws of war so shamefully as the German Navy had. And never in the whole world's history had any navy been more truly great or so gloriously strong as the British Navy had become.
On Friday the 15th of November the German cruiser Königsberg steamed into the Firth of Forth and anchored near Inchcape, which, aptly enough, is famous in Scottish song as the death-place of a murderer and pirate. "Beatty's destroyer," H.M.S. Oak, unlike all other craft in her gala coat of gleaming white, then took Admiral von Meurer aboard the British flagship, Queen Elizabeth, where Beatty sat waiting, with the model of a British lion on the table in front of him (as a souvenir of his former flagship, Lion) and a portrait of Nelson hanging on the wall behind.
The hundred and fifty surrendered submarines went slinking into Harwich, the great British North Sea base for submarines. But the seventy-four surface craft came into the Firth of Forth on the 21st of November: sixteen dreadnoughts, eight light cruisers, and fifty destroyers.
"09.40 Battle Fleet meet German Fleet" was the unique order posted up overnight in the Queen Elizabeth. But long before that hour the stately procession began filing out to sea. H.M. SS. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, were there to remind us that "United we stand, divided we fall." Admiral Grasset was there in the Aube to remind us that the French and British had been brothers-in-arms for fifty-one months of furious war. Admirals Rodman and Sims were there in the U.S.S. New York to remind us that during the last nineteen of these fifty-one months the three greatest self-governing peoples of the world had made common cause against the barbarous Hun. Finally, and clinchingly, the main body of the whole Grand Fleet was there, drawn up in two enormous lines-ahead, six miles apart, and sixteen miles from front to rear, with eighteen flagships leading its different squadrons, and scores of destroyers ahead, astern, and on the flanks, not one of which was counted in the thirty-two long miles of lines-ahead.
Before it had gone eight bells at four o'clock that morning, the Revenge, flagship of Sir Charles Madden, Second-in-Command of the Grand Fleet, led the way out to the appointed rendezvous: "X position, latitude 56, 11 North, longitude 1, 20 West." The present Revenge, a magnificent super-dreadnought, is the ninth of her name in the Navy; and, besides her name, has three curious links to recall the gallant days of Drake. In her cabin is a copy of the griffin which, being Grenville's crest, the first Revenge so proudly bore in the immortal fight of "The One and the Fifty-Three." Then, had the German Fleet come out again, Madden and this ninth Revenge would have taken exactly the same place in action as Drake and the First Revenge took just three hundred and thirty years before against the Great Armada. Thirdly (but this, alas, was too good to come true!) Sir Charles told his Canadian guest one day in Scapa Flow that he and Sir David Beatty had agreed to be caught playing a little game of bowls on the Grand Fleet clubhouse green the next time the German Fleet appeared. "And," he added, "we'll finish the game first, and the Germans after"—just what Drake had said about the Spaniards.
Nearing the rendezvous at nine the bugles sounded Action Stations! for though the German ships were to come unarmed and only manned by navigating crews it was rightly thought wiser not to trust them. You never catch the Navy napping. So, when the two fleets met, every British gun was manned, all ready to blow the Germans out of the water at the very first sign of treachery. Led captive by British cruisers, and watched by a hundred and fifty fast destroyers, as well as by a huge airship overhead, the vanquished Germans steamed in between the two victorious lines, which then reversed by squadrons, perfect as a piece of clockwork, and headed for the Firth of Forth. Thus the vast procession moved on, now in three lines-ahead, but filling the same area as before: a hundred square miles of sea. In all, there were over three hundred men-of-war belonging to the four greatest navies the world has ever known.
At eight bells that afternoon all hands were piped aft by the boatswains' whistles, the bugles rang out the Sunset call, and down came every German flag, never again to be flown aboard those vessels of the High Sea Fleet. For Germany Der Tag had gone. For the British The Day had come; and they hailed it with a roar of British-Lion cheers.
Most regrettably, the Allies, headed by President Wilson, decided that the German men-of-war should be interned, not surrendered, when sent to Scapa Flow. If these ships, after being surrendered to the Allies, had been put in charge of the British, or any other navy, as "surrenders," guards would have been put on board of them and all would have been well. But interned ships are left to their own crews, no foreign guards whatever being allowed to live on board. The result of this mistake, deliberately made against the advice of the British, was that, on the 21st of June, the Germans, with their usual treachery, opened the sea-cocks and sank the ships they had surrendered and the Allies had interned.
A week later, on the 28th of June, 1919, in the renowned historic palace of Versailles, the Allies and Germany signed the Treaty of Peace by which they ended the Great War exactly five years after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand had given the Austro-German empires the excuse they wanted to begin it.
Thomson's famous verses and Arne's famous air (in which Wagner said he could see the whole character of the English people) were sung for the first time during the Royal fête held at Clieveden, a celebrated country residence beside "the silver Thames." This was on the 1st of August, 1740. The 1st of August was the day on which Nelson won his first great victory just fifty-eight years later; and Clieveden is where the Duchess of Connaught's Canadian Hospital was established during the Great War.
When Britain first, at Heaven's command,
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sung this strain:
"Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves!
Britons never will be slaves."
The nations not so bless'd as thee
Must in their turn to tyrants fall;
While thou shall flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
"Rule, Britannia, &c."
Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies
Serves but to root thy native oak.
"Rule, Britannia, &c."
Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame;
All their attempts to bend thee down
Will but arouse thy generous flame,
And work their woe and thy renown.
"Rule, Britannia, &c."
To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine;
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.
"Rule, Britannia, &c."
The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Bless'd isle! with matchless beauty crown'd,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.
"Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves!
Britons never shall be slaves!"
The words we now sing with such hearty British loyalty all round the Seven Seas originated in the parole and countersign on board the famous Portsmouth Fleet of 1545, when the parole was God save the King! and the answering countersign was Long to reign over us! The National Anthems of all the other Empires, Kingdoms, and Republics in the world come from their armies and the land. Our own comes from the Royal Navy and the Sea.
God save our gracious King,
Long live our noble King,
God save the King.
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the King.
O Lord our God, arise,
Scatter his enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On him be pleased to pour;
Long may he reign.
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the King.
The day the Armistice was signed (the 11th of November, 1918) King George sent this Royal Message to the Navy:
Now that the last and most formidable of our enemies has acknowledged the triumph of the Allied arms on behalf of right and justice, I wish to express my praise and thankfulness to the officers, men, and women of the Royal Navy and Marines, with their comrades of the Fleet Auxiliaries and the Mercantile Marine, who, for more than four years have kept open the seas, protected our shores, and given us safety. Ever since that fateful Fourth of August, 1914, I have remained steadfast in my confidence that, whether fortune frowned or smiled, the Royal Navy would once more prove the sure shield of the British Empire in the hour of trial. Never in its history has the Royal Navy, with God's help, done greater things for us or better sustained its old glories and the chivalry of the sea. With full and grateful hearts the peoples of the British Empire salute the White, the Red, and the Blue Ensigns, and those who have given their lives for the Flag. I am proud to have served in the Navy. I am prouder still to be its Head upon this memorable Day.
(The "women" to whom the King referred were the famous "Wrens," so called because the initials of the Women's Royal Naval Service—W.R.N.S.—can easily be turned into "Wrens." Everything that women could do they did; and did it well.)
(The White Ensign is the flag of the Navy: white, divided into four by the red St. George's Cross, and with the Union Jack in the upper inside quarter. The Red Ensign is for the Mercantile Marine. The Blue Ensign is for any Government service except the Navy. The Red and Blue Ensigns have the Union Jack in their upper inside quarters, but no St. George's Cross.)
The Mercantile Marine lost nearly fifteen thousand men killed; we ought to say murdered; for while a blockader can take ships and cargoes that try to run contraband (that is, whatever the blockader can rightfully proclaim to be forbidden) he must not kill the crews. The British merchant seamen fought; and the Germans said that was why they had to kill them. But it was the Germans who forced them to fight in self-defence. And that makes all the difference. When our enemies, Germans or others, can prove one case of such murder against the British Navy we shall punish the murderer ourselves. But they have not found that one case yet, while we have found close on fifteen thousand, not counting soldiers, passengers, women, or children. The Germans aimed at scaring off the sea those merchant seamen whom they could not kill, disable, or make prisoners. But not a man refused to go to sea again, even when his last ship had been torpedoed and his chums been killed. That is the first glory of the Mercantile Marine. But there are many more. And not the least is the pluck with which the British, who did most and lost most, started the race for oversea trade again, though at an enormous disadvantage compared with those who did least and gained most.
All kinds of British sea-power did magnificent work in the war, whether building ships, sailing them with passengers and cargoes, or fighting them. The Navy and Mercantile Marine gained eleven million tons during the war, exactly half each. But as the Mercantile Marine lost nine millions sunk, it ended three-and-a-half to the bad, a terrible handicap in the race with the shipping of countries which, like the United States have made stupendous fortunes by the war, besides gaining enormously in shipping and oversea trade. Norway, Japan, and the States gained most. The States came out of the war three and three-quarter million tons to the good, thus gaining over seven millions as compared with the British.
The case of the Navy was one of life or death for us and all our Allies; so the merchant fleet, fishing fleet, and shipbuilding yards had to let the Navy come first, no matter what the cost might be. But we must never forget that the Navy is only one-half of our British sea-power, that the Mercantile Marine is the other half, and that all kinds of British sea-power must work together or be lost. So we cannot separate one kind from another here; and we would not if we could.
Nor should we forget that British sea-power was itself only one of the many kinds of war-power put forth by Britain in the cause of freedom. Britain raised by far the largest force of volunteers ever raised by any country in any age or for any war—five million and forty-one thousand men for the Army alone. This takes no account of conscripts, or of naval, air force, or civilian Services; nor does it include one man belonging to any part of the British Empire overseas.
Then she forced into the ranks those that could but would not go as long as they got others to do their fighting for them. In the meantime her whole population, except those slackers every country had, had put its strenuous hand to war work of one kind or another. So, whether by sea or land or air, whether as warriors or as civilians, the people of Great Britain gave their united all to the noblest cause on earth. And, when the war ended, Great Britain had the biggest army as well as the biggest navy in the world—biggest not only in absolute numbers but also biggest in proportion to the whole number of men fit to bear arms. Nor was this in any way due to her having lost less than others; for she had the greatest total loss in killed and wounded of all the Allies—greatest on land, greatest by sea, and greatest in the air.
Besides all we have seen before, in following the more purely naval fortunes of the war, the Navy did priceless work in October 1914, when the huge German armies, beaten by the heroic French at the immortal Battle of the Marne, tried to take the North-East coast of France with the ports of Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne. Held by Joffre further south, they found more than their match in the north, when French's little British army fought them to a standstill, while the Navy simply burnt them away from the coast by a perfect hurricane of fire.
Better still was the way the Navy finished off the submarine blockade. Of the 203 enemy submarines destroyed 151 were finished by the British Navy. The French, Americans, and Italians killed off the rest. All the 150 submarines surrendered came slinking into Harwich, the great British base for submarines. All the 170 submarines the Germans were building when the war was stopped were given up to the Allied Naval Commission headed by a British admiral and backed by a British fleet.
But even more wonderful than this was the oversea transport done by all kinds of British sea-power working together as one United Service. The British carried nearly half of all the imports into Italy and France. They repaired more than a thousand ships a month. They ferried nearly two-thirds of all the Americans that crossed the Atlantic. They took to the many different fronts more than half a million vehicles, from one-horse carts to the biggest locomotives; more than two million animals—horses, mules, and camels; and more than twenty-two millions of men. Add to this well over a couple of hundred million tons of oil, coal, and warlike stores; remember that this is by no means the whole story, and that it takes no account of the regular trade; and you may begin to understand what British sea-power meant in this war. In the mere transportation of armies alone it meant the same thing as taking the entire population of Canada, three times over, with all its baggage three times over, and with its very houses three times over, across thousands of miles of dangerous waters in the midst of the worst war ever known. And yet, out of the more than twenty-two millions of men, less than five thousand were killed on the way; and many of these were murdered in hospital ships marked with the sacred Red Cross. The chances of safety from murder and fair risks of war put together were nearly five thousand to one. The chances of safety from fair risks of war by themselves were nearly ten thousand to one.
No war, no navy, no sea-power since the world began, has any record to compare with this.
"Let us be backed with God and with the seas,
Which He hath given for fence impregnable,
And with their helps, only, defend ourselves:
In them, and in ourselves, our safety lies."
King Henry VI, Part III, Act IV, Scene I.
Landsmen are many while seamen are few. So the world thinks more of armies than of fleets. Our enemies hate all British sea-power, while our friends never know the half of what it means. So friend and foe alike are apt to side against us by making the laws against blockading fleets very much harder than those against besieging armies.
All we can do is to stand firmly on our perfect rights and show the world the five good reasons why:—
1. The sea and land have equal rights. Blockading fleets are like besieging armies. So if besieging armies have the right to stop supplies from reaching the places they besiege, why should blockading fleets be told to let supplies go through?
2. All parts of our great Empire are joined together, not by land, but sea. So if we lose our rights of self-defence at sea we lose the very breath of life.
3. We claim no rights we will not share with others. When the American blockade of the South during the Civil War (1861-5) ruined the British cotton trade we never interfered, though we had by far the stronger navy.
4. We have never used the British Navy to bully weak nations out of their oversea possessions. Who could have stopped our taking the Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese possessions in Africa and Asia?
5. British sea-power has always been on the side of freedom; and every time a tyrant has tried to fight his way to world-dominion the Royal Navy has been the backbone of all the forces that have laid him low.
I never saw the cliffs of snow,
The Channel billows tipped with cream,
The restless, eddying tides that flow
About the Island of my dream.
I never saw the English downs
Upon an April day,
The quiet, old Cathedral towns,
The hedgerows white with may.
And still the name of England,
Which tyrants laugh to scorn,
Can thrill my soul. It is to me
A very bugle-horn.
A thousand leagues from Plymouth shore,
In broader lands I saw the light.
I never heard the cannon roar,
Or saw a mark of England's might;
Save that my people lived in peace,
Bronzed in the harvest sun,
And thought that tyranny would cease,
That battle-days were done.
And still the flag of England
Streamed on a friendly breeze,
And twice two hundred ships of war
Went surging through the seas.
I heard Polonius declaim
About the new, the golden age,
When Force would be the mark of shame,
And men would curb their murderous rage.
"Beat out your swords to pruning-hooks,"
He shouted to the folk,
But I—I read my history books,
And marvelled as he spoke.
For it was glorious England,
The mother of the Free,
Who loosed that foolish tongue, but sent
Her Admirals to sea.
And liberty and love were ours,
Home, and a brood of lusty sons,
The long, North sunlight and the flow'rs,
How could we think about the guns,
The searchlights on a wintry cloud,
The seamen stern and bold,
Since we were hurrying with the crowd
To rake the hills for gold?
But it was glorious England
Who scanned the threatening morn.
To me the very name of her
Is like a bugle-horn.
—J. E. Middleton.
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