§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Balfour)
Only once before in the history of this House have we met together to discuss the Naval Estimates under anything like present conditions, and that solitary precedent I need hardly say was the precedent set last year by my right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Churchill), then in the position of First Lord of the Admiralty. The peculiarity of the situation is that, whereas, in normal years of peace, we meet with preoccupations of finance in our minds, with questions as to the particular class of ships which ought to be built, and with discussions as to the precise number of men that are required, and the Committee of the House, when the House goes into Committee on the Naval Estimates, is largely occupied with dealing with the details of the Estimate on those questions, at a time of war that is impossible, and its impossibility could not be more clearly demonstrated than by the shape in which the Estimates have been laid before the House. I have copied the precise form adopted by my predecessor. The House will find no details of expenditure under the various heads; we work solely with token Votes, and the discussion to-day will, I am sure, by common consent, refrain from touching all details which are not only permissible in time of peace, but are of the first necessity. Now we have to deal with more general considerations, and the House will neither ask me to go into details, nor will it tolerate my doing so. It would, I am confident, feel that I was, in endeavouring to explain the course the Government have taken, far exceeding the duties which fall to the First Lord of the Admiralty in the time of a great war.
The task, as I conceive it, which I have to pursue to-day is of quite a different character. My business is rather to give the House, as far as it is consistent with 1402 the public interest so to do, a general impression of the course which the Admiralty have pursued, and are pursuing, to enable us to carry effectively the vast responsibilities which at the present moment rest upon the British Fleet; responsibilities which extend far beyond the needs of defending our shores, or even of protecting our commerce, needs which are in no sense of less extent than the whole of that great Alliance which is now carrying on war against the Central Powers of Europe. Our Fleet is now an International Fleet, and not merely a British Fleet. It is carrying on international duties, and many nations depend upon it. In this survey, which will in no sense be a detailed survey, I shall not think of going farther back than the beginning of the War. I am aware that, in some of our Debates, hon. Gentlemen are rather fond of asking why was not this or that done before the War in order to prepare the country for the eventualities which actually occurred. I think that while the War is going on all such criticisms arc wholly thrown away, and I may say so, perhaps, all the better, as in no sense, as far as I can see, could they possibly be directed against myself. But whoever they are directed against, I think they are out of place.
The earliest stage we have to consider or deal with on the present occasion is the outbreak of War. Perhaps some hon. Gentlemen may think that that date is too early, and that I should not refer to anything that took place before I myself became responsible for the office I now hold. But that would be to assume that the present Board of Admiralty are carrying on a policy which is in some respects a discontinuance of or different from that of their predecessors. Let me disabuse hon. Gentlemen of that view. The policy of the Admiralty, so far as I understand it—I do not say it never suffers any change from changing circumstances—it ought to suffer change from changing circumstances—but as far as I understand the policy of the Admiralty under the present Board is directly continuous of the policy of its predecessors. I have, indeed, heard suggestions that when the present Board came into office there was a sudden stoppage of naval activities under the head of shipbuilding, that the new Board were content to rest on the labours of their predecessors, that it was supposed that all that ought to be done had been done, 1403 and nothing more was required, and that we should reap where they had sown. There never was a more singular misstatement of fact, never was there a more curious invention even in these days when every morning brings its own particular lie with it. Who it is that set themselves to work to disseminate such fictions, to feed them, to water them, to cultivate them, to spread them, I do not know, but whoever it may be, let me here say quite distinctly there is absolutely no truth in that suggestion, and that so far as activities in the direction of adding to our Naval Force are concerned, we have pursued to the utmost of our ability the broad general lines—I am not now speaking of details—marked out for us by the distinguished Board which went before us.
I have indicated that the circumstances of the War are not necessarily unchanging. We all know, in fact, that they have changed greatly during the nineteen months in which hostilities have continued. When my right hon. and gallant Friend first had to deal with the situation, what were the great problems that met him? The first of those problems is one which is common to every Admiralty. It is the problem of maintaining what we now know as the Grand Fleet in adequate superiority over every force that can be brought against it, in other words, the problem of maintaining the command of the sea. That problem is common to all Boards of Admiralty, and, in my opinion, my right hon. and gallant Friend was amply justified in saying, when he reviewed the circumstances which accompanied the outbreak of hostilities in August, 1914, that the Fleet which had been prepared by the Board of which he was the head and his predecessors was adequate for this great task of maintaining the command of the sea. But, in addition to that, the common task of all Admiralties, the greatest responsibility thrown on my right hon. Friend, I conceive, was probably that of dealing with the German cruisers who were preying upon our commerce in various parts of the world. That was a very difficult, a very anxious, a very laborious task, and it was carried out with complete success. "The final act in the drama, which went on from the very day on which hostilities began, was the destruction of the "Koenigsberg," which had taken refuge 1404 in an East African river. That fell after the time when my right hon. Friend had ceased to be First Lord of the Admiralty, but all the really important work, without exception, connected with this destruction of the German cruisers was done in what I suppose we must now call the early months of the War. It was done with complete success, and at this moment there is no German cruiser—I do not speak of a German raider like the "Moewe"—belonging to the German Fleet which is in a position to menace British commerce on any of the oceans of the world.
That may be described as the first phase of the War. About a year ago, early in 1915, which is about the time when the last Navy Estimates were presented to the House, a wholly new set of problems began to rise into paramount importance. In the early days of the War the sea had to be kept open for the transport of the Expeditionary Force to France—the 150,000 or 160,000 men who constituted the first instalment of the great forces that we have subsequently sent there. The task of carrying 160,000 men and supplying them with stores and ammunition, although it would have seemed a very difficult and laborious task to our forefathers, is absolutely insignificant compared with the task which we have taken upon ourselves in an ever-increasing magnitude since the operations in the Mediterranean began. In addition to the enormously augmented supplies of men we have sent to France, we have had to maintain and transport the Army in Gallipoli, the large force connected with Egypt, and the large force connected with Salonika. We had not merely to transport them, but to supply them and to feed them. In addition to that, the blockade of Germany and the blockade of Turkey were tasks which were thrown upon the British Fleet; the increasing importance of the northern ports of Russia was day by day being forced upon our notice; and last, but not least, the appearance of the submarine in the Mediterranean as well as in Home waters added greatly to the responsibilities and the anxieties of those who had undertaken this colossal task of transporting and provisioning great armies in different theatres of operations. All that began not in the first months of the War, but, roughly speaking, you may say it began in the early part of last year. If you take the distance between Archangel in the North and Alexandria in the 1405 Eastern base of the Mediterranean, you will find that distance to be about 5,000 miles, and that 5,000 miles had in a large part to be guarded solely by the British fleets, and in another part had to be guarded by British fleets combined with those of our Allies, but in a manner which necessarily threw an immense strain upon the British Fleet.
I find that about 4,000,000 combatants have been transported under the guardianship of the British Fleet, 1,000,000 horses and other animals for transport, 2,500,000 tons of stores, and, in addition, 22,000,000 gallons of oil for us and for our Allies. That that colossal operation threw an immense strain upon the British Mercantile Marine is obvious, and is known to all. That, however, is not the aspect of the question to which I wish to refer now. The aspect of the question to which I wish to refer now is that this, in the presence, not of German cruisers, but of German submarines, threw an enormous task upon the British Navy which could hardly be foreseen, still less provided against, in the first days of the War. Those responsibilities were borne partly by the late Board and partly by the present Board of Admiralty, and those responsibilities we have been, I think, not unsuccessful in carrying out. If you laid before some professor of the theory of warfare or some student of military and naval history, I do not believe he would for a moment have admitted the possibility—in the face of the special difficulties with which we have to deal, of maintaining these enormous armies in Egypt, the Dardanelles, Salonika, to say nothing of Mesopotamia or of the Colonial operations in East Africa or in the Cameroons—of carrying out such an operation as that without suffering immense losses even if the operations could be carried out at all in any circumstances, with the resources at the disposal even of the greatest naval Power in the world. I think we may look back with satisfaction upon the manner in which this vast task has been carried through. It is novel in character, unexampled in magnitude. The dangers to be met with were relatively new dangers; they had never been experienced in practice; and on the whole, I think, everybody who has been connected with these transactions in the Admiralty and in the Navy has reason to be pleased—I do not say to be satisfied—with the result. 1406 That, very broadly, represents one of the great changes that have taken place in the tasks thrown upon the Admiralty, the task of maintaining command of the seas being common to every month that has passed since the War began. These operations to which I have now called attention relate to the later rather than to the earlier period of the War. The question arises—it is strictly relevant to this Vote—what has the country done to deal with the situation that thus arises? My right hon. and gallant Friend, when he was making his statement on the Navy Estimates last year, used these words:On the declaration of war we were able to count upon a Meet of sufficient superiority for all our needs, with a good margin for safety in vital matters, fully mobilised, placed at its war stations, supplied and equipped with every requirement down to the smallest detail that could be foreseen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th February, 1915, col. 920, Vol. LXIX.]In my opinion that was a very great boast to make. I think it was a boast that was amply justified. I do not think justice has yet been done either to the pre parations made by the Committee of Imperial Defence or to the preparations made by the Admiralty for such a sudden and unforeseen emergency as had to be dealt with in the first week in August. When the time comes for an impartial survey of the history of this War, when people cease to occupy their time in detecting errors here and deficiences there, it will be admitted that the Navy and the Committee of Imperial Defence, and the Army, so far as the Expeditionary Force is concerned, did all, and more than all, that any prophet could have expected. What they professed to themselves and the world that they were able to do, that they did, and they did it in a manner that reflects the greatest credit upon those who were responsible for seeing the kind of emergency that might occur, and in devising the methods by which that emergency could be met. Then it may be said, if when the War broke out we were, in the words of my right hon. Friend (Colonel Churchill), able to count upon a Fleet of sufficient superiority for all our needs, and with a good margin of safety in vital matters, was it necessary thereafter to make any great or sustained effort to increase the strength of the Fleet thus adequate, and more than adequate, for immediate necessities at the outbreak of hostilities? That is a view that might be plausibly argued, but, fortunately for the country, it has never been the view of the Board of Admiralty. They have never 1407 been content with the weapon with which they found themselves possessed. The three Boards of Admiralty which have been in existence since the War broke out have never relaxed their desire to increase the strength of that weapon. They have never been content to rest upon the work which they or their predecessors have done, but they have made every effort to increase the value of that mighty maritime weapon, on which the liberties of the world have in the past depended and now more than ever depend.
We rightly boast, I think, of the prodigious effort which the nation has made to create out of an Expeditionary Force a vast national Army, and certainly it is a most notable performance; but let us not, through interest in the Army, forget that the Navy also has enormously expanded since the outbreak of hostilities. The Navy as described by my right hon. Friend, deserved all the eulogies he passed upon it, but that Navy has been entirely surpassed by the Navy which this country and its Allies now find at their disposal. I do not propose to go into details about the size of the Fleet, but, after all, it is a very fair measure of the growth of the Navy to say that the personnel required by the Navy has, broadly speaking, doubled since the War began. If I remember rightly, in the Navy Estimates of 1914 I think, there were about 140,000 on Vote A, without Reserves. I suppose now, excluding the Naval Division, we shall have about 300,000. We have taken power to raise the total number to 350,000, including the Naval Division, but if I say, broadly speaking, at this moment there arc 300,000 men engaged in strictly naval work, I shall be about the mark. That is an enormous growth and it may be taken as a kind of rough measure of the growth of the Navy. Including auxiliary cruisers and all ships under the white ensign—all ships which arc actually used as ships of war—I find that the Navy has increased by well over a million tons since the War broke out. These are enormous increases, and when I said no Board of Admiralty was content with the Fleet, however superior, which it found at the outbreak, and until the enemy were finally defeated would always insist on augmenting its naval power, I think that broad proposition is one which the figures I have just given amply prove.
Let me say a little more upon some details of these preparations—not details 1408 in the sense we are accustomed to on Navy Estimates, but rather more detailed than any of the generalities which I have just given. Let me begin with the Air Service. The Air Service in the Navy entirely owes its origin to my right hon. Friend (Colonel Churchill). Do not let us look back upon the past with all the fruits of our present experience and say this is what clearly ought to have been done or ought not to have been done. It is enough for me to point out that long before the usefulness of aircraft had been proved by experience my right hon Friend foresaw the important part it was going to play, and set himself to work to lay deep the foundations of a Naval Air Service. Anyone who has had the opportunity, which I have had, of examining the work which has been done in this connection in the Admiralty is aware how much that Service owes to the unremitting labour and unceasing personal attention which my right hon-Friend gave to this particular branch of his duties. He was not content to leave it to others to do, and indeed I suspect that if in an old-established and traditional office like the Admiralty this question had been left entirely to what I may call the traditional routine of the office, the Air Service would have made nothing like the progress it did under the fostering care of my right hon. Friend But the growth which I have just indicated as regards the ships of the Navy has been at least as noticeable in regard to aircraft. Since August, 1914, I think I am not wrong in saying that the strength of the air forces of the Navy have grown tenfold, and, of course, that necessarily involved some alteration of organisation. That which was suited to the infancy of this branch of the work becomes quite unsuitable when it reaches a certain expansion. Although nothing essential has been changed, I think I may say without fear of contradiction that some modifications suited to the enormous growth of the Service have been introduced with considerable advantage. Among other things, we found that the means of educating airmen were necessarily inadequate when you had to deal with a growth of such immense rapidity, and a growth which was taking place not merely in the Navy but in the Army. At one time the Navy and the Army more or less pooled their efforts in the matter of education. I need not trace the various modifications which have taken place 1409 on the original system. It is enough to say that, with the sanction of the Treasury, the Admiralty purchased some months ago a large tract of land very suitably situated—I will not say where it is—for purposes of training in flying, and that we have secured the services of Commodore Paine, who has done such admirable work in this connection for the Army. I do not doubt for a moment that under his supervision, and with all the facilities which to the best of our ability we are placing at his disposal, an immense growth in education in air matters will be the result of our efforts.
It has been said by many people why, after all, should the Navy have an Air Service at all? I do not mean to touch even remotely upon the vexed question of whether there should or should not be a separate Minister for Air. I content myself with saying what I think is indisputable, that whether there be a separate Minister for Air or not, the Navy will always require a special service for its own purposes, however it be provided and whoever may superintend it. Its work is largely different from that of the Army. I do not deny that the Navy often does things which could be done by the Army, had the Army been at the moment provided with the necessary materials, but undoubtedly the Navy must have its share in air work when the operations are partly or wholly naval. The training of a naval airman is the same indeed as that of an Army airman in its early stages, but differentiates as time goes on. He has not to learn all the same things. He has to learn things which are perfectly useless to an Army airman during the ordinary course of his duties. No Army airman, for example, is required ever to use a seaplane. No Army airman need learn how to distinguish the various types of shipping, enemy and friendly, which have to be discriminated if he is to be a good scout over the sea. There are these and many other functions in which the training must be different for the two branches of the Service, and whether you put them ultimately under one Minister or not, that difference in my opinion never will be obliterated. If I have been fortunate enough to convince any sceptic that there must, therefore, be a separate Air Service under any circumstances, the next question is, have these Services been so organised as entirely to prevent what is called overlapping? Is there any overlapping in the work of 1410 the Army and the Navy? It would be a very strong order to say that there never has been any overlapping, but of one thing I am absolutely convinced, and it is that whatever may be true of the future, in the past it has been an immense gain that there has been two separate Departments dealing with all the nascent and early problems of this growing branch of warefare. It is all in its infancy. No one could tell you on the 5th March, 1916, what the developments will be on the 5th March, 1917. Nobody could have told you when war broke out in August, 1914, how in a year the type of the machine, the work of the machine, and the capabilities of the machine would have altered, and the very views we took on the whole Air Service would have suffered profound modification. Speaking for myself, I am quite certain that had the whole of this been left, for example, to the Army, immense developments in engine power and matters connected with the size and lifting power of the machines would have been undeveloped, and that not because the gentlemen connected with the Army Air Service were less competent than those connected with the Navy, but because the problem of dealing with heavy aeroplanes came before the Navy in a shape earlier and more insistent than it could come before the Army, in the very fact that you have to use a seaplane, which is always heavier than the lighter type of aeroplane. The question of developing engine power, the question of developing economy of petrol, and the problems connected with the rapid improvement of the internal combustion engine for flying purposes have gained beyond doubt from the fact that the Navy threw themselves into this task from their own point of view and with their own objects, to the immense advantage, in the end, both of the Navy and the Army. That is the conclusion to which I have arrived from such studies as I have been able to give to the matter. I need hardly say that this does not in any sense suggest that we ought not to establish such a Committee as the Prime Minister has in fact appointed, by which the question of supply as between the two Services can be properly arranged. I am dealing with far deeper questions than that, and in a sense with far more interesting questions. There may be rapid development, in the face of an active enemy, of various types of flying machines which the Navy and the Army alike require. 1411 There is one branch of the Air Service which the Army have deliberately handed over to the exclusive patronage of the Navy. I mean the lighter-than-air craft. Here also there has been a great development since the War began. As the House knows, it was decided, rightly or wrongly, in years gone by—I think myself wrongly, though I certainly do not blame the people who came to that decision—that it was not worth our while to pursue the question of Zeppelins, and to deal with the complicated and costly question of Zeppelins. I do not believe that any prophet now living could say with confidence what the future relations between the Zeppelin and the heavier-than-air machine is going to be. Both are improving, and perhaps the improvement in the heavier-than-air machine is more rapid and more certain than the improvement of the Zeppelin. It may conceivably be that ten years hence people will refer to the Zeppelin as an antiquated instrument, and say, "You ought to entirely rely upon increasing the magnitude and the power of your heavier-than-air machines." On that I make no prophecy, and I venture no forecast. All I say is that at this moment it is extremely desirable that we should have lighter-than-air machines, from the naval point of view—I only speak from the naval point of view—in order to supplement the efforts of our Fleet by machines for scouting, which, in many respects, and in favourable weather, are far more effective than the swiftest destroyer or the most powerful cruiser. Therefore we have done and we are doing our best to develop the lighter-than-air machine. The difficulty, to me rather an unexpected one—I am not talking of Zeppelins now, but of non-rigid types—is not so much in constructing the instrument as in housing it. In the present condition of labour throughout the country the length of time taken to build an adequate shed and shelter for these instruments is what is really checking their use. We find it easier to provide these lighter-than-air craft than to lodge them suitably. One further matter I must bring before the notice of the House, and that is the kite balloon. That also, I think, has been handed over by the Army to the Admiralty. It has undergone great and growing development. I do not know what the ultimate limits of its utility may be, but I am persuaded that we shall find more and more use for it at 1412 sea, and that the extraordinary change which has gone on in the last twelve months in the use of the kite balloon is symptomatic of the value which it will have, not merely in land operations, but in sea operations also.
I leave the Air Service and come to what is more familiarly germane to this Vote, namely, the question of ships. I do not mean to say anything about details of types. I mean simply to lay down certain general propositions. At no time in our history has so great an amount of the shipbuilding capacity of the country been used for the production of ships of war as during the nineteen months that have elapsed since hostilities broke out. Not only is the amount unprecedented, but the proportion is unprecedented. Practically we may almost say that during most of these nineteen months very little was built in our shipbuilding yards for the merchant service—relatively hardly anything—and the building resources of the naval yards, and the shipbuilding yards, both of those devoted habitually to ships of war and those devoted habitually to merchant ships, have been used to the utmost of their capacity for producing what are in one sense or another ships that are absolutely necessary for naval purposes. In the second place, I would like to say that there never has been a time when so many ships have been turned out, or when the speed of turning them out has been equalled. We may say this ship might have been turned out sooner, or that ship might have been turned out sooner, but if you look at the various classes of ships and take them in turn you will find that there never has been a period when ships were so quickly completed, from the moment when the materials were collected and when their keel was laid, to the moment they were put into commission. The whole process of making ships of war has been speeded up, and never has it run at such a speed as it is running at the present moment. Never has there been a greater desire on the part of the Admiralty to vary the types of ships, not merely according to tradition, habit, or usage, but what appear to be the new and pressing necessities of the moment. The problems, as I have already indicated, that faced the Admiralty since the War broke out are to a large extent the problems which, in their proportion at all events, were not foreseen. The new necessities have to be provided for as 1413 rapidly as possible, and they have been provided for and are being provided for as rapidly as possible.
Quite early in the War the necessity of building smaller craft and increasing the number of our destroyers and of our light cruisers, and so forth, was foreseen by the Admiralty. They set to work at once on that, as on many other points connected with shipbuilding, and that policy, begun many months ago, has continued without rest or intermission ever since. The shipbuilding resources of the country are not only being used to an absolutely unexampled extent in making ships of war, but they are also being used to an absolutely unexampled extent in carrying out the necessary repairs for the Fleet. That does not depend solely and merely upon the fact that a very much bigger Fleet requires very many more repairs. That is a fairly obvious proposition, but it is not the only proposition. Repairs depend very much, especially in the case of more delicate and fast-running vessels, upon the use and speed to which you put your ships. In peacetime you may run vessels of war at what is called economic speeds, but in wartime you do not run at economic speed; you run at very uneconomic speed. Not only do you run very uneconomic speeds, but the amount of steaming done is much greater in wartime, and the result is that your growing Fleet nót only requires more repairs—because it is a growing Fleet—but it requires more repairs because the Fleet undergoes a strain in wartime which it neither can nor ought to undergo in times of peace. The result of all this effort is that, with one exception, the Fleet is far stronger than it was when War broke out. That exception is armoured cruisers. We have lost some armoured cruisers and we have not replaced them. But in armoured cruisers our superiority is enormous and is uncontested. In every other branch of ships of war, in "Dreadnought" battleships, in "Dreadnought" cruisers, in light cruisers, in flotilla leaders, in destroyers, in submarines, in sloops, and the vast and growing class of patrol boats, there has been a most notable augmentation since the beginning of the War, and that augmentation has suffered, and is suffering, no check.
I believe that what I have said about ships I can say about guns. The number of naval guns has greatly grown, and the ammunition for those guns has greatly 1414 grown, both absolutely and relatively to the guns which they have to serve. In all warlike stores, necessary for success in naval operations, we are much better off now than we were at the beginning of the War, and as our ships have increased and are increasing, so our stores, our ammunition, and our guns have increased, are increasing, and will increase. I trust that that communication will not be unsatisfactory to the House. But they may ask whether, if this vast growth has gone on, we have got enough. They may say: "Are you satisfied, are your professional advisers satisfied, with the ships of war at their disposal?" The answer to that is in the negative. The very fact that we are pressing on building, the very fact that we are finishing vessels that are on the stocks and laying down new vessels, shows that we are not satisfied, and that, infinitely stronger as we are than at the date when my right hon. and gallant Friend made the statement, which I have read to the House, with reference to the first week of the War, there are still deficiencies in certain kinds of ships, which the Board of Admiralty are most anxious to fill up, and are filling up, as rapidly as they possibly can.
But there are limits not to our will, but to our power. The limit is the limit of labour. It is not the limit of empty ships, not the limit of machinery, not even the limit of material, though material infinite in quantity is not available. No; the real limit is put upon us by labour. I do not believe that until, either by bringing men from the front or by what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions calls dilution—a very expressive phrase—or by inducing such of the men who are prepared at present to earn less and work less, than to work to the full limit of their capacity, whatever pecuniary advantage to themselves may result, to work more, until in one of those three ways—that is to say, by getting new skilled labour, by somewhat diluting existing skilled labour, or by inducing those who are now working to work more, except in one of those three ways it is not possible to hope that the efficiency of labour will be increased. That we have to accept. But up to the limits which labour offers us we are doing all that can be done in the way of shipbuilding for national necessities.
Occasional remarks reach my ears to the effect that contractors say—they say it privately, as it were unofficially—"It is all very well for the Government to say 1415 that they are using the yards up to the utmost of their power. My firm would like to take on another ship." I have examined such cases, where such rumour has reached me, and I find that it always resolves itself into one of two things. Either they mean that if the Government will procure them more labour they can build more ships—that is one form which it takes—or that the actual ships ordered are not the ships which—I am not sure that I can explain it very easily to the House, but that the actual ships which the Government order are not ordered with a view of getting the greatest final results out of the shipbuilding yards of the country. It is quite true that in peace time the Admiralty necessarily and rightly think a great deal of so arranging their orders as to suit the convenience of the great contractors, not merely for the sake of the contractors, but because it is a matter of vital national necessity that the armament trade and the great shipbuilding contract yards should be prosperous and effective. And successive controllers and First Sea Lords always desire to arrange their orders so that the maximum efficiency can be obtained. In time of war we cannot think of that in the main. Very often we cannot think of it at all.
It might suit a particular shipbuilder, quite probably, to lay down a "Dreadnought" say in his yard. But the Government do mot at the moment want a "Dreadnought" in his yard. They want something else. They want flotilla leaders, or destroyers, or submarines, or any of the countless kinds of craft that are finding their use in this War. Therefore it is impossible to reconcile absolutely the full and best output of the yard, considered over a stretch of years, and in peace conditions, with the present necessities of the War when the one thing that is needed is not to have the maximum of ships that would be at some time or other useful, but the maximum of ships that will be useful before the War comes to an end. Those are two quite different propositions. At any rate, I have found in discussing this matter with those who are responsible that when they say that more could be done in the yards they mean one of the two things which I have said: "Give us more labour and we will give you more ships," or "Alter the character of your orders and the shipyards will be more productive." I believe that both those propositions are true, but they do not 1416 militate against my statement, which is that we are getting in a given time in warships out of the yards all that the yards can give us. I come here to the very fringe or the frontier of another question of the deepest moment, which is not relevant to this Debate—the provision of merchant tonnage. I do not wish to touch on that, but this I may say, that the very fact that the Admiralty since 1914 have been going to all kinds of yards, those which build merchant ships as well as those which build warships, and saying to them "produce ships for us," has cut at the root of the normal working resources for the turning out of merchant tonnage. The problem is one of great difficulty. It is occupying the most earnest and serious attention of the Government, but it is not relevant to Vote A of the Navy and I do not propose at this moment to say another word upon it.
If I pass now from these generalities—and I do not pretend that they are more than generalities, but they are very important generalities—about shipbuilding to the question of men, which is the last of the topics that I have to bring before the House, I have not much of novelty perhaps to lay before the House. As regards the Naval Division, I ought perhaps to say something. The Naval Division was the creation of my right hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Colonel Churchill), and it has covered itself with glory in the fighting which took place in Gallipoli and elsewhere. It was raised at a time when the problem for the country was how most rapidly and most effectively to increase our land forces, and, of course, it is a land force in all essentials. It is under naval discipline and is paid at naval rates of pay, and there are naval rates of separation allowance, and it is under the Board of Admiralty. The wastage, of course, has been great because the wastage of war is always great, and because the very splendour and gallantry of the operations which the Naval Division has performed have very sadly thinned its numbers. The present basis on which the Admiralty propose to deal with this force is this. I think, if I remember rightly, that there are about 27,000 men altogether in it at the present moment. We propose to keep a full strength of six battalions. It will be seen, therefore, that for the present no recruiting is required. We are in excess of the numbers necessary to keep up the force to six battalions. Gradually there will be a balance reached between 1417 the battalions that have to be kept up and the reserves upon which they are kept up. And when that time is reached then, unless some change of policy occurs, recruiting will have to be resumed. At present we are keeping these battalions up to their full strength, and no recruiting is necessary.
I turn now to the more strictly naval question of the Grand Fleet. I have already told the House what the numbers are. I need not repeat the information which has been given. As regards the Grand Fleet, the reports which I have received leave absolutely no doubt that the condition of health of the men and their discipline need absolutely nothing to be desired. I believe that, in spite of eighteen or nineteen months of war, of hardship, and of long hours of duty, the health of the Fleet was never so good as it is at the present time, and there is not a single independent observer who does not confirm the view presented to me by responsible naval officers, that the discipline is in every respect admirable. The Grand Fleet have not as yet had great opportunity, opportunity in conformity with the great organisation of which they form a part, of showing in the face of the enemy how good they are. There have been actions, and so far as those actions give us means of judging we can say with perfect confidence that in knowledge of their profession, in enterprise, courage, and skill, they are as eminent as they are in discipline. They have, in all the relatively small actions which have taken place, always given promise of what I doubt not for one instant they will be when greater trial comes upon them. We have had more opportunity of judging what I might call the independent work of officers and men—the submarines in the Sea of Marmora and the Baltic, the mine-sweepers, the armed trawlers, the vast numbers of men who, alone and unsupported in circumstances of great difficulty, often of great peril, have done work of incalculable value for the country. I am afraid I cannot do justice to all that I feel about the work of these men. Necessarily it it little known to the public. They do not work in the presence of great bodies of men, who can admire and applaud them for their gallantry. Small crews, in stormy seas, suddenly face to face with unexpected peril, they never seem to me to fail. No danger, no difficulty, is too great for them to overcome. To them the debt of 1418 this country is almost incalculabe. There is, outside the limits of this Vote, another class of seamen whom I cannot leave unmentioned on the present occasion—I mean the members of the mercantile marine I do not refer only to those who are working within the scope of and practically under the White Ensign, in the cordon of blockade vessels or elsewhere, and who are doing day and night service to their country. I refer, also, to another class who are serving their country, but who are not under the White Ensign—the captains and crews of transports, the captains and crews of ordinary merchant and cargo vessels, who, too, through the action of a ruthless and unscrupulous enemy, have their dangers to undergo. I am not aware that any of them trouble their heads about peril until they meet it, and when they meet it they know how to deal with it. To them, also, I would, on behalf of the Admiralty, and, if I may venture to do so, on behalf of the House, tender my hearty thanks. The country is not ignorant of their services, it is not ungrateful to them. On them we depend, not less than on our armed Forces, for maintaining the necessary economic basis upon which all war must ultimately be waged.
Before leaving the subject of personnel, may I say something about the higher command? Let me tell the House what they do not require to be told, namely, that the higher command are showing themselves worthy of the immense responsibility which has been thrown upon them, and that in the Commander-in-Chief, and in the other admirals having commands attached to them, the country finds itself possessed of servants admirably qualified to carry out their work, and to whom we may with easy hearts and consciences, entrust the great responsibility of controlling the vast fleets which they have under their command. It is to me a great consolation to think that the relations of the Admiralty with those high officers is now, and has ever been since I have had any knowledge of the subject, of the most intimate and cordial description. There is the freest exchange of ideas, and, so far as the strategy or tactics of the forces at their command are concerned, I do not believe there ever has been the smallest difference of opinion between the Board of Admiralty and the Admirals in command in the different parts of the world. Smooth working of the machine is invaluable in times of stress and difficulty, and I do not think I am going beyond my 1419 province when I say that just as the Admiralty feel supreme confidence in the capacty, devotion, and public spirit of these various commanders, so my naval colleagues at the Board possess the confidence of the Fleet. I believe that if this House had the opportunity, which they cannot have, from the nature of the case, of really gauging professional opinion upon the point, they would say not merely that my naval colleagues deserve the confidence of the Fleet, but that they possess it in the fullest measure.
I have surveyed, as far as it is perhaps possible under the conditions in which I am speaking, the topics dealt with in Vote A and Vote 1. I think I have sketched the general naval position. What conclusion ought to be drawn? How ought one to feel in this House and in the country in regard to our naval position in this great struggle? There is a kind of Teutonic swagger which I would not go within a thousand miles of imitating, and I hope nothing I have said or propose to say will approach anything in the nature of over-confidence. I do not quite understand the German point of view. I see by the ordinary sources of information that Berlin has been beflagged for two or three days to celebrate the return of the "Moewe." The "Moewe," a tramp steamer disguised and armed, and which eluded our patrol going out, sank a certain number of unarmed merchant ships, and succeeded in getting back. I have no doubt both the captain and the crew of the "Moewe" showed seamanlike qualities and enterprise, but I am not sure whether we ought not to congratulate ourselves if the return of the "Moewe," after these triumphs, is a subject on which the capital of a great Empire is to beflag itself for some days; I am not sure that we may not draw the conclusion that their standard of achievements at the present moment is not a very high one. But I do not wish to place upon faint indications of this kind any too confident notion as to our superiority; still, I do not think that there is the smallest justification for a certain kind of sub-acid pessimism which now and then reaches my ears from various unexpected quarters. I acknowledge, of course, that new methods of warfare make certain naval operations more or less incalculable. I grant, fully grant, that the utmost foresight, the utmost care, the most anxious prevision will not preclude the occurrence of accidents 1420 and disasters now and then. I further grant that the discovery, or let me say the fuller recognition by our Allies of the absolutely essential part which the British Fleet is playing in the present military operation, is a recognition that must increase our own anxiety as to the efficiency of that Fleet. No longer, as the world now understands, does the British Fleet exist merely to protect British shores or even British commerce. The world has begun to recognise that it is on the basis of the British Fleet that the whole of the Alliance depends and all military successes are founded, and the very fact that this prodigious responsibility rests upon the Navy, and in the main upon the British Navy, cannot but increase the natural anxiety which anybody connected with that Service would be inclined to feel. But when I reflect that in 1914, in August, we rightly felt, in the words of my right hon. Friend (Colonel Churchill), that we could "count upon a Fleet of sufficient superiority for all our needs, with a good margin of safety in vital matters," when I reflect that that was true in 1914, as it certainly was; when I reflect that in every department of naval strength the growth, since then, under my right hon. Friend (Colonel Churchill), and under the Board which succeeded him, has been absolutely prodigious; when I reflect that its organisation has been so great in the essentials of material strength, and also that every evidence we can get from such actions as have already taken place shows that the men of the Fleet, from the highest to the lowest, are competent to carry out their duties—when I reflect upon all these things it seems to me that this sub-acid pessimism has but little justification. I can understand a man at all events being anxious about the Fleet, so much depending upon it, and war at its best being so uncertain a game; but that any man could be confident in August, September, October, and November of 1914, and anxious at the beginning of 1916 is what I cannot understand. Surely he must be of poor spirit, somewhat poor spirit, who, after he has surveyed the opposing forces, after he has measured the greatness of the Fleet which Great Britain has at its disposal, and the character of its enemies, cannot face the future in a spirit of cheerful serenity.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
The House is indebted to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty for the calm broad survey he has taken of the vast activities of his Department in all quarters of the 1421 Sea, and for the felicitous language in which he has referred to the various branches of the naval and semi-naval personnel. I am myself much indebted to him for the courtesy and consideration of his references to the work of the previous Board, but I am the more sorry from that cause that here and there in my remarks this afternoon, which shall be as brief as they can possibly be made, I shall have to strike a jarring note, a note not of reproach, nor of censure nor of panic, but a note in some respects of warning. There is one part of my right hon. Friend's speech which above all other parts, certainly first among all other parts, carried with it the enthusiastic support of the House. In Sir John Jellicoe we have a naval leader of the first qualities. The command of a battle fleet is far more intimate and personal than any function discharged by generals on land. The Commander-in-Chief leads or guides his squadrons into action and disposes of their array almost by his personal gesture. For this not only the highest qualities, exceptional qualities and special aptitudes of mind and body are required and also immense practice, and of all the naval chiefs in the world there is none whose practice and habit of handling and manœuvring large fleets of armoured ships at sea can for one moment be compared with the opportunities which Sir John Jellicoe has so fully and so long enjoyed. As long as his flag is flying and his brilliant lieutenants, Sir Doveton Sturdee and Sir David Beatty, both of whom have naval actions of memorable character associated with their name, we may be absolutely sure that all our ships at sea will be manœuvred and handled in the presence of the enemy or in the difficult and dangerous waters through which they have to pass with the utmost professional skill and with unflinching resolution. It is, however, the forces at their disposal at any given period and the relation of those forces to the forces of the enemy that must of course to a very large extent govern the course of affairs at sea.
Every First Lord and every Board of Admiralty are the heirs of their predecessors. I have, I think, reminded the House that, although I had been for three years at the Admiralty, when War broke out not a single one of the battleships I had obtained from Parliament had yet taken its place in the line of battle. Just as I was the heir of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and his admirable provision, so 1422 my right hon. Friend is my heir, but it is an inheritance not entirely of blessing. A great programme of new construction in time of peace imposes upon the heir the need to fight Parliament for his money during many years, and in time of war casts a burden and strain upon all connected with the Department, and particularly upon the head, which can scarcely be measured by those who are not acquainted with him. I think my right hon. Friend has recognised that he has succeeded to a large estate, both in respect of labours and of property. Whether you look at battleships or cruisers or light cruisers or submarines or destroyers, or all the types which are now coming into view, he certainly succeeded to an immense provision bound to tax to the utmost the energies of his Department. If those programmes have been executed fully, punctually, there is no reason whatever for even the remotest forms of anxiety. On the contrary, I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that our position, which was sufficient to be assured at the outbreak of war, has improved and will improve actually and relatively. I am, of course, thoroughly acquainted with the details of this programme, for which, with Prince Louis and Lord Fisher, I was responsible, but the point about them of substance that we must keep in our mind to-day is, How are they being executed? Are they being executed at full blast—are they being executed punctually? I rather wish that the First Lord had found it possible to give an assurance to the House that the dates to which Lord Fisher and I were working would be substantially and with inconsiderable exceptions maintained throughout the great new field of new construction. I am certain that under those circumstances we could have felt that the situation was thoroughly sound.
I sympathise, of course, very much with the right hon. Gentleman when he finds the ridiculous statement made to the effect that new construction had been stopped and that there was a great reversal of the previous policy, and which appeared to indicate that the Board of Admiralty were not carrying out an immense gigantic programme of new construction. But that does not quite dispose of the point that I am going to make with some iteration during my remarks. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that he and his advisers were not wholly satisfied with the progress that was being made.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I am bound to say that since I returned to this country I have received from sources, on which I must to some extent rely, impressions of a less completely satisfactory and reassuring kind than would naturally be derived from the annual statement of the Minister responsible. These matters touch the life of the State, they must be spoken of with the utmost restraint, and I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that detail must necessarily be avoided. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the period at the beginning of the War, our position then, our anxieties then, and, as he considered, the much less anxious period in which we are at present. That is not a line of argument which I think should be pursued too far. We have now reached a period in the War when new naval developments are possible. First of all we can be sure that every capital ship which had been begun before the declaration of War, by us or by Germany, can, if it has been so desired, be ready for battle. Any ship that is not ready can only be delayed through accident or through some decision of policy. I admit that this is a wide field, because there are many good reasons which might lead to the delay or postponement of vessels. For instance, when war begins the first thing to do would probably be to concentrate on the ships you would have the use of soonest; or, again, improvements or new developments may be suggested by the progress of the War which imposed delay; but it was within the power of both Admiralties to complete all their vessels if in their good judgment they had thought it necessary to do so.
We do not know what Germany has done, an impenetrable veil, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, has fallen for eighteen months over the German dockyards, naval and commercial. The right hon. Gentleman says he does not know what progress is being made there. That is a serious statement—not one in connection with which I make any reproach, but it is a grave fact which we must bear in mind that we do not know what is going on there. But let us be sure of this: something is in progress there. The great German Navy has been built up under the special care of the Emperor through many years of vast expense, effort, toil, and scheming. Can we conceive that the German Government, as we know it to our 1424 cost, would be content to allow that Navy to lie impotent and derided in the Kiel Canal without any hope of action? If there were any possibility within the range of their extraordinary military intelligences by which it could be rendered a really effective factor in the course of the struggle, is it likely that they would have acquiesced in the total loss of utility and of all the efforts, organisation, and resources which have made them the second naval Power? We should be most imprudent if we were to act on such an assumption. We are bound to assume that Germany has completed every vessel begun before the War. It may not be so—I dare say it is not so—but we must assume it. We ought to assume it. If, therefore, the German ships have been completed and ours have not been so completed, then I say that serious and solid reasons must be required in the case of each vessel to justify and explain its postponement or delay. I do not say that those reasons are not forthcoming, but certainly the utmost energies must be employed to complete the ships at the earliest moment.
I must ask the House to remember that these latest vessels are the ones upon which we relied to meet and overmatch any new developments in German heavy guns. I am only discussing ships whose dimensions figure in the Naval Annuals and Almanacks which are now published; I am not touching on any matter which is not known or published to the world; I am very careful to avoid doing that. These are the ships armed with 15-inch guns. We secured that gun for the "Queen Elizabeth" class by running a risk and taking a responsibility in time of peace rarely taken by a Board of Admiralty. We actually constructed the whole of a class and ordered the whole of the guns for a class of five great ships without ever making a trial gun. We thus saved a whole year, and armed a whole batch of ships with that very powerful weapon, which has turned out to be as good a gun as the 13.5—which was the best we had ever had—and, of course, far more powerful. Such an event is like winning a victory, and its fruits must be fully reaped. Naval opinion was very divided at the time on the question of this advance to a higher calibre, but there is no division in opinion now. We obtained the sanction of Parliament for fourteen ships armed with 15-inch guns, of which, if I remember rightly, eleven or twelve had been actually begun before the 1425 outbreak of war. If those ships are completed as arranged, the margin will be sufficient for all contingencies which are foreseeable. But there is another fact to be borne in mind, which should lead us to approach all these matters with caution. We have not only reached a period in the War when all the capital ships begun before the War can certainly be completed, but we are just entering upon a period when new capital ships begun since the War may be ready on either side. Here, again, I know of course what we have done, and that secret is jealously guarded; but we cannot tell what Germany has done. We have left the region of the known, of the declared or defined; we have left the region of naval annuals and almanacks; and we have entered the sphere of the uncertain. We have entered a sphere which is within certain limits not merely uncertain but incalculable. For this reason we cannot afford to allow any delay to creep into the execution of our programme, because we must from now on provide, not only against the known and against the declared ships, but against what will be a continually increasing element of the unknown. I must also just point out another argument which shows that, great as were the anxieties with which we were faced in the first four months of the War, they have not by any means been removed, or, indeed, sensibly diminished by the course of events. The House will remember the old argument I used to feed them with, that of the average moment and the selected moment.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
I agree with the hon. Member. It was a very foolish phrase, and I regret that it slipped out.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
On the outbreak of War we were fortunate in being able to place every single ship ready in its proper war station, so it was not our average moment at all. For a certain time that position held. Then came the need for refits, making a steady reduction from every squadron and every flotilla. But by that time new ships purchased, and others, had come in, and so the general progress was maintained. The principle of the average moment as against the selected moment still operates, because when the German fleet comes to sea, if 1426 comes it ever does, it will come with its maximum strength, and it will be faced by a cruising Fleet always at sea, which will always have a portion deducted from it. The War is full of surprises to all of us; but so far the Admiralty has kept ahead. But that has not been done—I am very anxious to couch my argument in language which will not be offensive or vexing to my right hon. Friend, whose courtesy I have always experienced, but I must say that it has not been done by easy methods. It was done by rough and harsh and even violent methods, and by a tireless daily struggle. Remember, everything else is in movement too. We see our own great expansion, but remember, everything else around us is expanding and developing at the same time. You cannot afford to indulge even for the shortest period of time in resting on your oars. You must continually drive the vast machine forward at its utmost speed. To lose momentum is not merely to stop, but to fall. We have survived, and we are recovering from a shortage of munitions for the Army. At a hideous cost in life and treasure we have regained control, and ascendency lies before us at no great distance. A shortage in naval material, if it were to occur from any cause, would give no chance of future recovery. Blood and money, however lavishly poured out, would never repair the consequences of what might be even an unconscious relaxation of effort.
I have come down here this afternoon to say these things with the deepest sense of responsibility. I say them because I am sure there is time to avoid all these dangers, because I am sure that it is not too late. If it were too late, silence would be vital. It is not; there is time; and I am anxious that the words of warning and exhortation which I am going to use, and am using, which may possibly excite resentment, but which must, nevertheless, be said, should be spoken while it is quite certain they may produce a useful effect. But I say advisedly that, though there is time, the Admiralty must not think the battle over. They must forthwith hurl themselves with renewed energy into their task, and press it forward without the loss of a day. What I have said of the great vessels applies with undiminished force to the flotillas of every description, but most especially to destroyers. Before the War we had slightly reduced the number of destroyers in the 1913–14 programme, in order to build bigger and more powerful destroyers for the same money, and also 1427 in order to develop our light cruiser programme of the "Arethusa" class. The War showed immediately that light cruisers, although necessary and admirable, were no substitute for destroyers, and a large number of destroyers, in dealing with submarines. Hence in the days of Prince Louis we set to work on a new programme. Then came Lord Fisher with his new impulse, and during the autumn of 1914, when we worked together, things were not only planned, but done on a scale beyond anything ever thought possible. If the programmes of small craft of all kinds on which we then embarked have been and are being carried through with punctuality, they will suffice for all immediate eventualities.
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
No doubt others are coming on behind them, but other dangers are coming on as well. I am dealing only with this limited aspect. If, how ever, they have been allowed to fall into arrears, if their delivery has been allowed to slide back from month to month, then I say the Navy and the Grand Fleet might find themselves deprived of securities and advantages which we had prepared for them, and which we deemed it indispensible they should receive. I am very sorry I have to trouble the House after they have listened to a most comprehensive statement from the responsible Minister, but the matter is of supreme importance. It is no use saying, "We are doing our best." You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the limit of labour. There is no limit of labour where the British Navy is concerned. The vital units of the Fleet and of the flotillas which are being constructed must be a first charge on all our naval resources. There are no competing needs with paramount needs. I do not think the House thought it was satisfactory that the right hon. Gentleman should at this late stage tell us that he has not, in regard to Admiralty labour, approached or dealt with the question of dilution—
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
If he did not say so, I misunderstood him. The right hon. Gentleman spoke both of the dilution of labour and of bringing men back from the front as if that would be a remedy, and I understood a remedy which has not yet been adopted. I do not think that that leaves the subject in an absolutely satisfactory condition. I know my right hon. Friend's difficulties, and the toils and burdens upon him, but he must overcome them. The resources of British shipyards are incomparable, and fully equal, if used at the highest possible speed and power—
§ Colonel CHURCHILL
How do you suppose that, for instance, the "Monitor" Fleet, with all its details, which have been so improvidently scattered to the world—this great fleet of vessels, some of them I carrying the largest guns in the world—was brought into existence in the course of six months? No one can form any conception of the achievements which can be produced from the British yards if they are really driven to their fullest capacity.
I pass from the programmes of material for which the Board were responsible, to the possibility of novel dangers, requiring novel expedients. In a naval war particularly, you must always be asking about the enemy—what now, what next? You must always be seeking to penetrate, and your measures must always be governed and framed on the basis that he would do what you would least like him to do. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) showed that the late Board had surmounted some of the very serious and difficult dangers at the beginning of the War, but one he did not mention, the menace of the submarine attack on merchantmen was overcome by measures taken this time last year of an extraordinary scale and complexity. But although the German submarine campaign has up to date been a great failure, and although it will probably continue to be a failure—here again you cannot afford to assume that it will not present itself in new and more difficult forms, and that new exertions and new inventions will not be demanded, and you must be ready with your new devices before the enemy is ready with his, and your resourcefulness and developments must continually proceed upon a scale 1429 which exceeds the maximum you expect from him. I find it necessary to utter this word of warning, which for obvious reasons I should not proceed to elaborate.
There is another matter which I cannot avoid mentioning, though I shall do so in language of the utmost precaution. A strategic policy for the Navy, purely negative in character, by no means necessarily implies that the path of greatest prudence is being followed. I wish to place on record that the late Board would certainly not have been content with an attitude of pure passivity during the whole of the year 1916. That is all I say upon a matter of that kind. But there is one smaller matter which illustrates what I mean. We hear a great deal about air raids. A great remedy against Zeppelin raids is to destroy the Zeppelins in their sheds. I cannot understand myself why all these many months, with resources far greater than those which Lord Fisher and I ever possessed, it has not been found possible to carry on the policy of raiding which, in the early days even, carried a handful of naval pilots to Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Friedrichshafen, and even to Cuxhaven itself. But I have not spoken to-day without intending to lead up to a conclusion. I have not used words of warning without being sure first that they are spoken in time to be fruitful, and secondly, without having a definite and practical proposal to make. When in November, 1914, Prince Louis of Battenberg told me he felt it his duty to retire and lay down the charge he had executed so faithfully, I was certain that there was only one man who could succeed him. I knew personally all the high officers of the Navy, and I was sure that there was no one who possessed the power, the insight, and energy of Lord Fisher. I therefore made it plain that I would work with no other Sea Lord. In this way the oppositions, naval and otherwise, which have always, perhaps not unnaturally, obstructed Lord Fisher's faithful footsteps, were overcome. He returned to his old place, and the six months of war administration which followed will, I believe, rank as one of the remarkable periods in the history of the Royal Navy.
I did not believe it possible that our very cordial and intimate association would be ruptured, but the stress and shocks of this War are tremendous, and the situations into which men are plunged expose them to strain beyond any that 1430 this generation have had experience of. We parted on a great enterprise upon which the Government had decided and to which they were committed and in which the fortunes of a struggling and ill-supported Army were already involved; it stood between us as a barrier. I therefore should have resisted, on public grounds, the return of Lord Fisher to the Admiralty—and I have on several occasions expressed this opinion in the strongest terms to the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty. We have now reached an entirely different situation, and I have no doubt whatever what it is my duty to say now. There was a time when I did not think that I could have brought myself to say it, but I have been away for some months, and my mind is now clear. The times are crucial. The issues are momentous. The great War deepens and widens and expands around us. The existence of our country and of our cause depend upon the Fleet. We cannot afford to deprive ourselves or the Navy of the strongest and most vigorous forces that are available. No personal consideration must stand between the country and those who can serve her best. I feel that there is in the present Admiralty administration, for all their competence, loyalty, and zeal, a lack of driving force and mental energy which cannot be allowed to continue, which must be rectified while time remains and before evil results, and can only be rectified in one way. I am sure the nation and the Navy expect that the necessary step will be taken. I agree with my right hon. Friend here (Mr. G. Lambert) in the proposals which he made to the Navy when he last spoke, and I urge the First Lord of the Admiralty without delay to fortify himself, to vitalise and animate his Board of Admiralty by recalling Lord Fisher to his post as First Sea Lord.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I have listened to very high praise indeed of the Navy, and no one doubts that that praise is fully deserved. The Navy will welcome what has been said both by the First Lord of the Admiralty and the expert of the Admiralty, but what the Navy will feel, I am sure, is this, that its task is not yet complete, and it will look to receive the thanks of this House when that task has been completed by the defeat of the German Navy. The First Lord of the Admiralty showed you that the whole of the Grand Alliance of the different Powers depends upon the British Fleet under Sir John 1431 Jellicoe, and as he said that there occurred to my mind a paraphrase of what was once said by Douglas Jerrold, namely, that "the best thing between ourselves and Germany was the sea." The only regret we can feel is that there is not enough of it. There is a difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) and the Member for Dundee, but there is no difference of opinion as to what depends upon the Navy, and we have travelled far from the days when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee said that the Navy exists for the defence of this island. We now realise that it exists for the defence of Europe and the whole world. For my part, in the controversy between the First Lord of the Admiralty and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee I, on the whole, agree with the First Lord in his criticism of sub-acid pessimists. So long as the First Lord of the Admiralty is prepared to assure the House, as he has done, that everything possible is being done in the way of shipbuilding, I do not think the House could go beyond that assurance, and so far as the evidence is concerned such evidence as we do possess is that we are building at a much greater rate than Germany.
I will, for the purpose of this argument, give to the House certain figures dealing with the rate of shipbuilding. I am not going to deal with the number of ships, but I will take two ships of which we have the known facts. The Admiralty at the beginning of this War told us the "Caroline" cruiser had been laid down on 28th January, 1914. That ship was completed, with everything satisfactory, including the gun trials and everything else, and was in full commission by 14th December, 1914, or less than a year from the time she was begun. On the other hand, we know that it is a different type of vessel to that upon which the Member for Dundee laid the greatest stress. The battle-cruiser "Hindenberg" we know was laid down on 9th June, 1913, and she was not launched till July, 1915. It would take another year probably to complete her for sea. That, I think, is a fair indication that the rate of building in Germany instead of being accelerated has, owing to the conditions of our blockade and the conditions of labour, been rather lessened. I do not wish to say anything which would cause us to make one effort less than is being made, but I do strongly object to a man who was a responsible 1432 Cabinet Minister coming forward and trying to alarm the old women of both sexes in this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee was himself the inventor of that phrase "the blue funk school." He applied it on one occasion to myself in the House of Commons when I was endeavouring to get the House to increase the annual provision for the Navy beyond that laid down. If anyone reads the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) to-morrow, I think that they will class him as more belonging to "the blue funk school" than those who endeavoured to get the Navy prepared in the old days of peace. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, in opening his speech, said that he was going to strike a slightly jarring note—a note of warning. I think that he succeeded. When he spoke in the House in February last year, he spoke of the Navy as being the child of the House of Commons The House of Commons, he said, in language rivalling Macaulay's, had always granted the provisions which were required for the Navy. On this occasion he spoke of fighting Parliament for the money. The speeches are certainly contradictory. My experience of the past—and the First Lord of the Admiralty may forgive me for referring to the past for one moment—was that Parliament was willing, but that the Government did not make the necessary provision for the Navy, and that we had continually to goad them into doing more by means of agitation throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee said that his Board would not have been content with an attitude of passivity during 1915-16. What does he mean by an attitude of passivity? If the Admiralty is successfully blockading; if only one wretched cruiser succeeds in breaking through, is that to be called an attitude of passivity? Does he mean by an attitude of activity the thing we have been accustomed to in the past, with ship after ship knocking at the Dardanelles, warning the Turks we were coming, when we had embarked on that project without any central scheme of action—is that the sort of activity he means? Does he mean we are to go and bombard Heligoland, and thereby knock out more of those capital ships he considers so necessary? Is not the Navy accomplishing at the present moment every single purpose for which it was devised? I have no doubt about the matter. 1433 The right hon. Gentleman immediately after that took a line which I must say I deplored. After all many of us who were in this House, or outside of it, when Lord Fisher was appointed, did not think it was the best appointment that could have been made. We never said a word, and nobody in his senses who respects himself would dream of criticising the appointments which the responsible Government choose to make, but now a right hon. Gentleman, who has occupied the position of a Cabinet Minister for many years past, who has himself been First Lord of the Admiralty, on the floor of the House and outside the House urges the Prime Minister, over the head of the First Lord of the Admiralty, to discard his present naval advisers, to whom he gave such high praise, and bring Lord Fisher back. I think it is an intolerable situation—[Mr. BALFOUR: "Hear, hear!"]—that anybody in a responsible position should try to interfere with the Government of the day in that way, and one is bound to point out one thing in connection with this matter, that the ostensible reason for which Lord Fisher, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded the House, resigned his position at the Board of Admiralty, and absented himself from the Admiralty, was the question of the Dardanelles. I have before me the actual dates in connection with that great event. The first proposal to go to the Dardanelles was in December, 1914. There were, I believe, various desultory bombardments calculated to alarm the Turks. In January various telegrams passed to naval officers outside the Board, and finally the matter came before the War Council, I believe about the middle of January. Now the last people whose advice was sought were the gunnery officers of the Navy; but at no stage of these proceedings were the real experts consulted—the Royal Engineer officers and the Royal Artillery officers of the Army who know the effect of naval guns on shore works. There was nothing in the nature of proper War Staff thinking in connection with that, and both the right hon. Gentleman and Lord Fisher were then in charge of the Admiralty.
My main point is this: that the War Council, having approved in January, we next proceed to various small bombardments up to 18th March. Lord Fisher was still at the Admiralty. The landing took place on the 25th April, considerably more than a month later. Lord Fisher was still 1434 at the Admiralty, and he resigned on the 2nd of May. The only comment I have to make is that there was a period of three and a half months from the time the decision was taken, and I will only read what the greatest general, perhaps, the world has seen, Napoleon, said in connection with such a matter:—Every general who undertakes to carry out a plan he thinks bad is a criminal. He should represent his objections, insist upon the plan being changed, and in the end resign rather than be the instrument of the ruin of his army.Napoleon himself in 1796 acted upon that, and he never in any case imposed his will on a distant general, because the distant general could not see what was passing in his mind. The obvious criticism to make is that whoever occupies the position of First Sea Lord is not one who waits until results are obtained if he disapproves of a plan, but who acts on the spot, and I believe the present First Lord of the Admiralty is advised by naval officers who, as he said, had the implicit trust of men afloat, and if they disapproved of an intended plan which was in any way likely to compromise the safety of this country, or the capital ships on which it depends, they would resign instantly.
The right hon. Gentleman made an appeal to us that we should not travel backwards beyond the outbreak of war. He must, I think, recognise that if one surveys the whole situation he has to travel back to the period of the crisis before the War, because that was when the Navy was mobilised and prepared, and one also has to take into consideration, in view of the praise lavished by the right hon. Gentleman himself, on the degree of preparation we made, the warnings we received beforehand. The Prime Minister has told the country in a great speech that the German Government approached our Government in 1912 and tried to obtain a pledge of unconditional neutrality. We know from the speech of the Belgian Minister of War, which was made in 1912 in a secret session, and was only revealed in 1914, that the allied Governments knew that Germany meditated war, and that she intended to invade through Belgium, and they knew the plan more or less. We also know the same facts from the French Yellow Book. Therefore, there was every reason why the Government of that day should obtain from Parliament all the ships that could possibly be required. There were various economic warnings. I shall not recapitulate them all, but when the German Government was obtaining coal in a variety of ways, 1435 and out of the normal, and was sending German ships, which had never carried coal cargoes before, to Cardiff, it was obvious some step of the character we all expected was meditated. Most of all in importance to remember, they had a period of a fortnight of crisis, in which the Navy might have been fully prepared.
Now, what I complain of is that the Navy was not mobilised—mobilised as apart from maintaining together the First and Second Fleets—until the day before War. The mobilisation was then completed. The second point is this: The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs saw the Austrian Minister on 27th July, after he had received the complaints of the French and Russian Governments that, unless England unmistakably ranged herself on the side of the Allies, there would be war and rivers of blood would flow. He then assured the Austrian Minister that the First Fleet was at Portland, and was not at its war base in the North. He also assured him we did not contemplate calling out our Reserves. That is in the White Paper. To Germany, as a nation governed by military diplomacy, that was a plain indication that we did not contemplate going to war. I myself, however, complain that the Navy was unfairly handicapped, first by not being mobilised soon enough in view of the crisis. The Grand Fleet was not got to the war station until after the European War had broken out—I do not say we had declared war. It was still further handicapped. The Commander-in-Chief, who has done so splendidly, was not appointed with the Chief of the Staff until after the War had broken out. If it had only been anticipated, as it should have been, that war would break out some time about the period of the opening of the Kiel Canal and the completion of Germany's strategical railways and other factors, which all fructified together, I think that they should have followed the precedent adopted in the case of Lord Beresford, and in previous cases, of terminating the Commander-in-Chief's term of office at the end of two years. In that case Sir John Jellicoe would have arrived at his post in December, 1913, and would have had seven or eight months in which to have worked with his officers and men, which would have been of great advantage to him and to the British Fleet. As matters have turned out, no harm has been done. 1436 There is a further criticism I make. There was no attempt to hunt through the North Sea to prevent the laying of mines, and I complain also that we laid no mines. I believe, owing to the economy campaign which had been in progress some years previously, our mines were totally unsuited for laying in high seas. The Germans adopted a mine costing £250. We had chosen our mine simply from the ruling point of view of cost, and laid down the principle that it must not cost more than £60. The result was that our early minefields, laid several months after war broke out, were washed up at once on the Belgian and Dutch coasts. The next point I would make is, it does seem to me that, if there had been a proper War Staff, it would have been anticipated that arrangements should have been made for our submarines to have been in the Baltic, and yet not one single submarine had been sent to the Baltic until after the War had been on several months. Had a proper plan of campaign been framed, the submarines would have gone to the Baltic before the War broke out. If we had hunted through the North Sea before the War broke out to prevent the Germans laying mines, and we had ourselves had mines to lay in the Heligoland Bight, which would have been justified if we found any acts of hostility commenced by Germany, I think our position in the North Sea in regard to working there, and in regard to intercepting Zeppelins that come over, would have been a very much more favourable one.
Now let us turn to the foreign stations. These stations had been very much reduced, and a boast had been made of it. The whole of the West Coast of North and South America at that time had not a British cruiser within several hundred miles. The East Coast of South America had one British cruiser. Then came the ships that had been mobilised and largely manned by crews which I have noticed, in connection with the operations in the Dardanelles, were described by Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett as crews of "grandfathers" who ought to have been by their firesides with their children playing around their knees. The "Good Hope" was one instance. It was manned from the Royal Fleet Reserve. A number of those vessels had been largely neglected and had not been kept up to date, as they were reckoned to belong to that column of the veterans which was on its way to the shipbreakers' yards. The "Good Hope" was an instance of this, and, although she dates from 1902, her guns have never been retubed, and every 1437 naval officer knows that if guns are not retubed they fall off very considerably in efficiency. The upshot was that this vessel went out to a station which she was not familiar with and was pitted against two of the crack gunnery ships of the German Navy, with results that were inevitable and lamentable.
The next point with which I wish to deal is the unpreparedness of many of the other ships. The moment war broke out the foreign stations had a totally inadequate time to prepare for war owing to the telegrams from the Admiralty being sent out too late. Owing to the centralised system the Admiralty instructions ordered the various squadrons to assemble at certain centres with Hong-Kong and Malta. They had to coal at once, and they had to coal again when they got there. The "Hampshire," on the China station, within nine days of war breaking out had to be sent back because her bottom was in a foul condition; and there were a number of instances of that kind. Another point is that there was not a single German ship on foreign stations that was shadowed. In all our crises with Russia in the past every single Russian ship on the high seas was shadowed and dogged for thousands of miles in order to bring them to action if war broke out. That was an important means of causing war not to break out, but in this case not one single German ship was shadowed although some of them coaled at British ports or from British ships under charter, and the "Dresden" coaled only the day before war broke out at Jamaica. One or two German raiders also came out of New York harbour, which was an obvious place to watch. I think these facts show that the situation is not quite so favourable as the present First Lord of the Admiralty, in his desire to do justice to his predecessor, made out in his speech. There were also other instances of the bad use which was made of ships. There was the "Australia," a battle-cruiser of "Invincible" class, which should have been searching for enemy vessels. We find this ship in the first month of the War convoying an expedition of 1,300 men to Samoa. With our sea power Samoa could be had any time for the asking. The obvious use of the "Australia" was to search for the ships which were doing so much harm to our commerce.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee referred to Sir Doveton Sturdee's great action in the Falklands. 1438 Those ships which accounted for the German cruisers were the ships which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee boasted in the House of Commons in 1912 that he had withdrawn from the Pacific, and we had a distinct pledge in 1909, which was reaffirmed in 1911, that at least one ship of the "Invincible" type and the "New Zealand" would be stationed in the Pacific. The right hon. Gentleman boasted that in this way he would be able to save two vessels from his programme by getting these two vessels for the home station. He tried to get the "Australia" also for the home station. I think it is worth while pointing out to the House that those very ships, under Sir Doveton Sturdee, were the ships which in December cleared up the German cruisers, and my point is that had they been on the Pacific station when War broke out they would have cleared them up in August. There is another criticism which I should like to make with regard to the commissioning of all these ships on the outbreak of war. I think all our standards should certainly be more than the German standards, not only in regard to building but in the training of the crews. It was obvious that some of our crews could not be so well trained, and this was the case with the "Good Hope." The criticism I would make is that we should have had many more ships on foreign stations, and we should have had as many as we used to have in former days. It is necessary to make these criticisms now because the lesson to be drawn from what has happened will not be learned unless they are rubbed in during the War. The next point I wish to deal with is a statement which was made by the ex-First Lord of the Admiralty in the Debate last year on the occasion when the Motion was made for moving that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dnndee said:We have more than adequate stores of all kinds.If the right hon. Gentleman had been present I would have asked him if he still adheres to that statement. I wish to make another criticism about what was said as to the large number of ships that were being used for colliers. The right hon. Gentleman said perfectly truly thatIt is necessary that there should be sufficient colliers to enable all the Fleet units at a particular base to coal simultaneously with a maximum rapidity twice over within a short interval … after two such coalings there must still be sufficient coal available for unforeseen contingencies, including delays in bringing further supplies through storm or foggy weather.1439 I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is true that we had adequate coal stores of every kind, how can he justify the fact that in the week before War broke out the Mediterranean squadron, small as it was, when it arrived at Malta harbour exhausted the whole coal supply at Malta and the destroyers had to coal from the cruisers? It will be remembered that Lord Beresford spoke with considerable alarm years ago on this subject, and he said that we ought to have more adequate supplies of coal and warned the House that this was necessary. The next point with which I wish to deal is that we have not had from the Admiralty sufficient information on many other points. I think the First Lord of the Admiralty will agree with me when I say that we have never had published the Dardanelles dispatches on the action of 18th March, and we have only had a statement from the Admiralty. We all remember the fuss that was made about Sir Ian Hamilton's dispatches, and therefore I think it is a fair criticism to make that we do not get all the information we should have. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have always made a strong point of giving to the House the guidance of our courts-martial. I think the right hon. Gentleman is carrying out courts-martial in the case of all ships lost. The Navy has a high standard in many matters. If the Board of Admiralty, when there is reason to believe that a naval officer has not done all he possibly could does not bring him to a court-martial and employs him in some other sphere, they must expect that there will be a tendency, which otherwise I would never indulge in, to criticise officers on the floor of this House. I will take a special case. We all know that in Sir David Beatty's action, owing to the crippling of his flag-ship, he had to transfer his flag. We have had various versions about that action. In the first place, the Admiralty issued a version that the action was abandoned because of danger from German submarines and mines which prevented us from pursuing. Admiral Beatty in a preliminary report said:The presence of the enemy's submarines subsequently necessitated the action being broken off.In his last report he merely says:He boarded the destroyer "Attack" and met the squadron at noon retiring N.N.W.My point is, that it appears that the German account in this respect was accurate, because the action was broken off seventy miles from Heligoland where there were 1440 no mines and there were a large number of destroyers with the Fleet, so that the danger from submarines was not to be apprehended. There is doubt in the public mind as to whether our second in command did all he possibly could to annihilate the enemy squadron. If the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues wish to avoid criticism in this House they must in common fairness, if they have doubts in their own mind, give this House the guidance of the verdicts of courts-martial, as was always done in the past. The right hon. Gentleman may have reasons against giving more information, and I only put it forward as a suggestion that we might have more dispatches, and whenever there is reason to believe that a naval officer has not done all he could, or it is said of him that he had not done all he could, he ought to have an opportunity of exculpating himself by the time-honoured tribunal of a court-martial, and I hope that will be done in the future as it was done in the past. In the old days we always had public courts-martial. I can quite see that for confidential reasons we cannot have public courts-martial now, but whenever the Admiralty carries out the policy of a court-martial in the case of a lost ship it ought, unless it is quite certain that the public interest will be endangered, to tell us the verdict. Both the Navy and the country have implicit reliance on the verdict of a court-martial, and I do not think there is any more trustworthy tribunal in this world. We did have a court-martial in one case, when Admiral Troubridge insisted upon one. We do not know why the "Goeben" and the "Breslau" escaped. I do not know, and I do not believe anybody knows, but this war has turned more upon that episode than upon any other. Turkey and Bulgaria are in the war because the "Goeben" and "Breslau" escaped. The Admiralty issued a memorandum entirely approving of the arrangements made by the Commander-in-Chief, Sir A. Berkeley Milne. That reflected on Admiral Troubridge, the Second-in-Command, and he, I think, very wisely insisted on a court-martial. The advantage of courts-martial is that evidence is taken on oath, the members of the Court also being on oath. They are very independent, and have even upon occasions brought responsibility home to the Admiralty itself. In the case of the "Cobra" the court-martial brought in a verdict, saying that the Admiralty ought not to have bought the ship into the Service. That is one instance showing 1441 the independence of courts-martial. Another is provided in the case of the "Captain," where a verdict was brought in that the vessel ought never to have been built in the form it was built, thereby virtually censuring the Admiralty. We should have these courts-martial wherever there is any doubt or wherever an officer thinks that his honour is involved, or whenever there is reason to believe that an officer has not done all he could to bring the enemy to action. That is not merely my desire. I am voicing the view of the Navy, which has a high standard of honour and skill, which desires to maintain that high standard of honour and skill, and which therefore desires on every proper occasion that a naval officer should be judged by a court-martial.
§ Admiral Sir HEDWORTH MEUX
I had not intended to interpose in this Debate until I had the pain of hearing the speech of the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Colonel Churchill). I think it is well the House should know that if the present First Lord is foolish enough to adopt his suggestion and bring Lord Fisher back to the Admiralty there will be general consternation throughout the Navy. Some week or ten days ago I had two or three officers in the Grand Fleet say to me, "For God's sake stop this intrigue which is going on," and I intend to do what I can. What is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—I was very sorry not to see him in uniform; he has often seen me in uniform, but I have never seen him—really asking the First Lord of the Admiralty to do? He is asking him to commit harikiri, and not only him, but the Government also. That is the meaning of this intrigue—to turn out the Government, nothing else. Let us put ourselves in the place of the Grand Fleet—Sir John Jellicoe, captains, and officers—when they read this Debate and see what the late First Lord has said. They will say, "Here is a nice state of things. What has our present First Sea Lord of the Admiralty done? What is the matter with Sir Henry Jackson? What is his fault?" Shall I tell you what is his fault in the eyes of the people who want to turn him out? It is that he does not advertise.
§ Admiral Sir HEDWORTH MEUX
He does not have correspondents and newspaper people in his place all day. That is really the reason this agitation has been 1442 got up. It is because the present Board of Admiralty are doing their work to the satisfaction of the Navy and not boasting about it. In the first few months of the War, whenever we had a success, or whenever the enemy had a slight failure, the whole of the Navy were pained by the vulgar boasting that went on. When we read boasting and foolish condemnation of our enemies—who, in spite of some of their brutalities, are a gallant enemy—a quiver goes through the whole of the Navy. Anybody in the Navy knows what an unlucky thing it is to boast. When the present First Lord's speech is read we shall say, "Thank heaven, at last we have got a ruler who does not grate upon our nerves!" The hon. and gallant Member is a very old friend of mine, and I have received many kindnesses from him, but there are limits to endurance. When the late First Lord (Colonel Churchill) and Lord Fisher were at the Admiralty they were at daggers drawn, and everybody at the Admiralty knew it. Are we to have all that over again? What did the late First Lord say about Lord Fisher when he made his exculpating speech in this House? Did he not say that he could not get proper guidance from Lord Fisher, and is that the man you want to bring back? Who has called for Lord Fisher? Has the House called for him? The Navy has not called for him. I am sorry to say this, because, although we have had a good many differences, Lord Fisher and I have been friends more or less for a great many years. But it cannot be helped.
I should like to make one or two remarks on some of the subjects referred to by the First Lord. I will say a few words about the Air Service. I say them with a good deal of diffidence. We are making a great deal too much fuss about these Zeppelin raids. I can say so with a good deal of confidence, because we are all in the same danger from Zeppelins. There is nobody safe, and they will do a certain amount of harm. I do not believe we are quite safe even in this House. I do not believe there is any truth in the rumour that any German airman who destroyed this House with all the Members in it would get penal servitude for life. The First Lord of the Admiralty does not blame our rulers for not having Zeppelins. Well, I do, but as that was before the War, it is no good pursuing the subject. They ought to have known their potential danger. I was told some time ago that we are practically 1443 turning out a ship of some description or another a day. Is that the case? We do not want to go into details, but I have no reason to suppose that there is any lack of activity at the Admiralty. I thank the House for having listened to my remarks, which I hope will not be described as "breezy remarks"—a most objectionable phrase. Whenever a naval officer talks we always say it is a "breezy" expression. I am sorry the late First Lord is not in his place, because, with all due humility, I would like to say to him, "Boiling stones gather no moss." I do not know how many posts he has had in his short and brilliant career. He has succeeded in them all. He might always have done better had he stuck to them, but he never has, and I believe what I say now will be approved by a very large number of Members in this House. We all wish him a great deal of success in France, and we hope that he will stay there.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
I certainly will not congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Sir Hedworth Meux) upon his breezy speech, but I will say, though I disagree with him, I thoroughly appreciate the manner in which he spoke his mind. I had proposed to reiterate my suggestion to the Government, made a fortnight ago, that Lord Fisher should be recalled to the councils of the nation with regard to the conduct of the War. My hon. and gallant Friend said something about an intrigue. I assure him that nothing is further from my mind than anything in the nature of an intrigue. I say what I absolutely and thoroughly believe. I have no personal interest to serve at all, but I do believe that the nation is the poorer and that the Navy is the poorer from not having the strategic experience of Lord Fisher at their disposal. I had proposed to develop this topic with much more fullness, but I feel that it would be rather painting the lily after the speech of the late First Lord. I do want, however, to correct a misapprehension which I think must have crept into the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). According to him, one would believe that Lord Fisher was an active supporter and a vigorous exponent of the Dardanelles Campaign.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Lord Fisher was responsible for the organisation and distribution of the Fleet, and therefore to that extent, he was responsible for the bombardment of the Dardanelles.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to wish to suggest that Lord Fisher was responsible for the Dardanelles campaign. [An HON. MEMBER: "So he was!"] I want to draw attention to a speech made by the late First Lord of the Admiralty on the 15th November last year. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman told the House of Commons on that occasion that the Dardanelles campaign was considered in November, 1914, and brought before the War Council on the 13th January, 1915. The right hon. Gentleman also said, and this seems to have escaped notice, that on the 25th January, twelve days afterwards, Lord Fisher gave him a memorandum on naval policy. This memorandum did not question the feasibility of the particular operation which was being considered, but it deprecated reducing our margin in Home waters by using fighting ships for bombarding purposes except in conjunction with military operation. It was a memorandum directed not only against the Dardanelles operation, but against others which were being very strongly pressed forward at the time. Does not that show that Lord Fisher, twelve days after this matter was brought before the War Council, prepared a memorandum which he sent to the First Lord protesting against the operation? Then how can my hon. Friend say that Lord Fisher was responsible for the Dardanelles campaign?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Really, I must ask hon. Members, in such matters as this, to remember that I cannot interpret Lord Fisher's mind. It is certain he was in this matter overruled; but he stayed on until the danger point came, and then he resigned. We should have had Lord Fisher as First Sea Lord to-day had he not objected to the Dardanelles campaign. Of course, the whole reason for Lord Fisher's resignation was that he disapproved of using ships for this operation, which we now know to have been the most costly and colossal blunder recorded in our naval or military history. We should have saved untold millions of treasure; we should have saved the lives of thousands of our finest countrymen, and we should have saved something more—which is very important at this moment—an enormous consumption of our shipping. That is one of the most important 1445 questions we have to face at this time, and our shipping scarcity is largely due, in my judgment, to the dissipation of our energy in all parts of the world. My hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last said he was more or less a friend of Lord Fisher. I am afraid he is less rather than more. But surely he will not contest this fact, that Lord Fisher concentrated our Fleet in Home waters. He made the future battlefield of the Fleet their drill-ground, and if we had him in the Councils of the nation at the present time—if we had had him there for the last nine months—I am perfectly certain we would never have had this dissipation of energy in all parts of the world. It is this dissipation of energy which is, I will not say jeopardising victory, but making the task of our country infinitely more hard than it would otherwise have been.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone has alluded to the Falkland Islands victory. To whom was that due more than to any other man? Of course, it was Lord Fisher. Let me give the House two or three dates which I extracted the other day. Lord Fisher returned to the Admiralty on the 31st October, 1914. On the 1st November he had the information that Sir Christopher Craddock's squadron had been sunk. What happened? This man, who we are told was an intriguer, and whose return it is suggested would not be welcome, received this information on the 1st November. By the 11th November he had a squadron despatched from Devonport with the utmost secrecy, and it arrived at Falkland Islands on the 7th December at 10.30 a.m. At eight o'clock the next morning Von Spee arrived there, and by six o'clock that afternoon Von Spee's squadron was sent to its doom. For the concentration of that force at that critical spot, at that critical moment, Lord Fisher was absolutely responsible. If he had been two days later the Falkland Islands victory would never have been won. Von Spee would probably have gone to the Cape or the Plate. I say nothing could justify the contention that Lord Fisher is the master strategist of the day more than the fact that within ten days of his arrival at the Admiralty he sent a squadron which was successful in winning the only complete naval victory of this War. I do not want to go further into these questions. I should not have intervened had it not been for the last two speeches. I am firmly convinced, look at 1446 it as you please and how you may, take the naval officers who have been and are in command of the Navy—and very able men they are—there is not one of them can touch Lord Fisher for genius, for resolution and for determination. I would add that, at this moment, which is a crisis in this nation's history, we have no right to deprive ourselves of the services of a man who is the greatest sailor strategist of the day.