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THE SECOND ARMADA.
A CHAPTER OF FUTURE HISTORY.1
(FROM THE TIMES, JUNE, 1871.)
'Thou speak'st a woman's! hear a warrior's wish!
"Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,
SHORTLY after the close of the war between France and Germany in 1871, the English alarmists seemed
1 I need hardly say that this jeu-d'esprit (if it may be so termed) was suggested by 'The Battle of Dorking;' the extraordinary popularity of which (fully admitting its originality and ingenuity) was owing in no slight degree to the existence of a widespread feeling of dissatisfaction and alarm. The author (like the author of 'The Fight at Dame Europa's School') struck a responsive chord. Actuated, no doubt, by the most patriotic motives, he assumed the entire destruction of the British fleet in mid ocean by torpedoes: the unopposed landing of a large army with its equipment: an utter want of preparation on the part of our Government; and the hopeless incapacity (almost amounting to imbecility) of our military chiefs. I maintain the exactly opposite hypothesis; and it is for the calm and impartial reader to judge which was and is the more probable of the two. It is a curious indication of the state of the public mind at the time that a noble lord, indignant at the bare notion of a successful resistance by his countrymen, denounced my Chapter of Future History' in the House of Commons as 'feeble and melancholy trash.' Feeble,' if you like, my lord; but why 'melancholy?' But pray, Mr. Wild, why B-ch?
As some slight comfort and compensation, a copy was returned to me
unreasonable to an extent that verged on foolishness Never was there a period when, to all outward seeming, an invasion of England was less probable or feasible. France was stricken down and disabled. We had amicably arranged our differences with the United States, and the greatest military nation of the Continent had apparently neither the disposition nor the power to become a formidable assailant of our independence. If ever there was a country whose interests and constitution pointed to a pacific policy, it was United Germany. She required peace to consolidate her empire, and she could not make war without calling the mercantile man from his desk, the professional or literary man from his study, the shopkeeper from his counter, and the agriculturist from the plough.
with these words written across the title-page:-'Well meant: indeed, remarkably so. And so poetical, too! But one little element has been overlooked; to wit-England has repudiated the godly policy of Elizabeth, who, with her people, made a covenant with God against Rome.' This is not the first time that a popular writer has endeavoured to frighten us for our good, and much in the same manner. Peter Plymley, after enumerating the nations that had been overrun by the French, proceeds:
'But the English are brave: so were all these nations. You might get together an hundred thousand men individually brave; but without generals capable of commanding such a machine, it would be as useless as a first-rate man-of-war manned by Oxford clergymen or Parisian shopkeepers. I do not say this to the disparagement of English officers: they have no means of acquiring experience: but I do say it to create alarm; for we do not appear to me to be half alarmed enough, or to entertain that sense of our danger which leads to the most obvious means of self-defence. As for the spirit of the peasantry, in making a gallant defence behind hedgerows, and through plate-racks and hencoops, highly as I think of their bravery, I do not know any nation in Europe so likely to be struck with panic as the English; and this from their total unacquaintance with the science of war. Old wheat and beans blazing for twenty miles round; cart mares shot; sows of Lord Somerville's breed running wild over the country; the minister of the parish wounded sorely in his hinder parts; Mrs. Plymley in fits-all these scenes of war an Austrian or a Russian has seen three or four times over; but it is now three centuries since an English pig has fallen in a fair battle upon English ground, or a farmhouse been rifled, or a clergyman's wife been subjected to any other proposals of love than the connubial endearments of her sleek and orthodox mate.'
Then, all-powerful on land, she was powerless on the seas. A contest between her and the maritime population of an island must resemble a contest between a dog and a fish. Neither could quit its proper element for aggressive purposes without imminent risk of discomfiture or destruction. Germany would no more think of sending an armament across the North Sea to invade England, than England would think of landing an army at Hamburg, to advance on Berlin. Nor was the navy of the United States sufficiently strong in seagoing ironclads to cross the Atlantic and encounter the English in their own waters.
So thought and argued the wise men of England in 1871. They thought and argued well, but wise men, however well they argue, will sometimes turn out wrong, and they turned out wrong (we will assume that they did) in this instance-as wrong as the late lamented Cobden when he made the tour of Europe to announce that, for all time to come, Free Trade had rendered war a moral impossibility. Unluckily, mankind are more swayed by their passions, their prejudices, their caprices, and their vanity, than by their well-understood interests. The love of military glory, the lust of conquest, supposed to be confined to the Junker class of Prussia, had proved catching and become the ruling passion of the German nation. Their weaker neighbours were subjugated or annexed: their stronger (Russia amongst the first) found it more prudent to co-operate and cry halves, than resist : England alone indignantly protested against proceedings which recalled the partition of Poland; and so it fell out that, in the year 1874, umbrage having been taken at her tone and attitude, a League, including the most powerful States, was formed for the avowed purpose of reducing the British Isles to the condition of conquered provinces to be divided among the conquerors.
The best mode of invading England had been so
often the subject of competitive examination at the military schools, that an eager desire to test theory by practice was felt by every young officer of promise, and a saying of the greatest of modern strategists had got abroad to the effect that the capture of London, as compared with that of Paris, would be child's play (Kinderspiel). The time was opportune; for the longsmouldering hostility of the United States to Great Britain, through a series of untoward accidents, was again kindled into flame. Accordingly, all the shipping of the Baltic, all the naval resources of the League, were put under requisition, and a number of vessels were built especially adapted for the landing of troops, including cavalry and artillery. In particular, a large provision was made of flat-bottomed boats carrying from 100 to 150 men, the sides of which could be let down when they were in shallow water or had been run on shore. A formidable force of men-of-war was to precede the transports and engage any opposing force while the landing was effected, which, it was calculated, could be easily accomplished in six hours. As the Army of Invasion was computed at not less than 100,000 men, the allotted time seemed short to those who had witnessed the landing of the French and English army in the Crimea, which occupied two days, although that army did not exceed 56,000 men, and the landing was unopposed.2 But the great strategist
1 Something very like this was certainly said by Count Moltke. He is not a greater strategist than Napoleon, nor has he had more experience of naval expeditions. Is he more likely to form a correct estimate of the possibility of an invasion than Napoleon? He admits, I have heard, that, to create a diversion, one army must be sacrificed at starting. But does he suppose we shall not have ships enough to give an equally good account of the second?
2 The whole of the cavalry and artillery was not landed till the fourth day. The great difficulty was with the horses. No sailors are handier than the English; and the disembarcation must be effected by sailors. The German soldiers would be probably sea-sick, and certainly helpless for the work.
had pronounced six hours sufficient, and the great strategist could not possibly have miscalculated such a problem.
In recent histories, claiming to be as trustworthy as this, it has been confidently assumed that we thickskulled islanders would wait quietly to be knocked on the head like the birds called boobies, or caught, like sparrows, by putting salt upon our tails. But although we are constantly running into extremes, although we are by turns profuse from groundless alarm and niggardly from undue confidence, although representative institutions are by no means favourable to the production of good administrators, we are not altogether wanting in an emergency, and we had profited somewhat by the errors of our neighbours in 1870-71. Our army had been placed on a respectable footing in point of numbers: it was well officered under the new system of selection; both Regulars and Irregulars had been supplied with the most improved pattern of breechloaders: our artillery, as regards quality, was (what Bugeaud said of our infantry) the best in the world: the coast had been carefully surveyed, earthworks thrown up in some places, rifle-pits and trenches dug in others, and railway communication rendered so complete that a large force might be concentrated at the shortest notice on a point.
It need hardly be added that our diplomatic agents were on the alert, or that an enormous armament could not be got together in any quarter of Europe without creating an alarm. In point of fact, our Government were opportunely advised that the invasion was seriously meditated, and that they must be simultaneously on their guard against an American squadron which was to co-operate in a Fenian insurrection of Ireland. The bulk of the English navy was, as usual, scattered abroad, but the Channel Fleet, complete in numbers and equipment, was in the Downs,