« ZurückWeiter »
composed of Militiamen, who, in return for a slightly increased bounty, volunteered to serve with the line in case of war.
The new law had the best effect upon recruiting; and during the ten years which followed, the time of the Afghan and Zulu wars, there was no lack of numbers. Still, the army was in a transition state. The Reserve did not take shape till 1878, when the first batch of short-service soldiers left the colours, and even as late as 1882 the ranks were largely filled with immature and half-trained boys. In the Egyptian campaign of that year the Army Reserve was called out for the first time for active service. The experiment was entirely satisfactory, and the short-service system was now firmly established as the basis of our military strength. Of the adjuncts of the system, such as the territorial organisation of the infantry, the depôts, the method of providing the Indian and colonial drafts, the different terms of service in the Guards, it is unnecessary to speak. All that need be said is that when Lord Wolseley took over command from H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge in 1896 he found, over and above the men actually with the colours, a Reserve of 100,000 soldiers, including 30,000 Militiamen. Such a Reserve, had it existed in 1854, would have enabled us to land in the Crimea an army as large as the whole of the allied contingents, French, Turkish, and British together, and to maintain it at full strength until Sebastopol fell. Such a Reserve would have made short work of the mutinous Sepoys. Furthermore, the system of administration had sensibly improved. After many experiments, the auxiliary services—the Army Service Corps, the Ordnance, and the Medical departments-had been placed on a sound footing. The Intelligence branch of the Headquarters Staff, controlled by a succession of able chiefs, had become yearly more efficient. The complicated process of mobilisation had received due attention. The uniform had been made more serviceable. The armament and equipment were at least abreast of those of Continental Powers, and the troops in every single respect far better prepared for war than at any other period in our history.
It still, however, remained to be determined whether the short-service system was equal to the strain of a serious war; and notwithstanding the undoubted gallantry displayed by our young soldiers in Egypt and Tirah, there were many who predicted failure against more formidable foes. The constitution of our home battalions has been the target of incessant criticism. As feeders of the sister battalions in India and the Colonies, not only are they continually depleted of their best men, but in case of war beyond the seas the young soldiers under twenty years of age are left at home, and the ranks are filled from the Reserve. Under these conditions, it has been vehemently asserted, real efficiency is impossible. In peace, it is said, the training of the rank and file is beset with difficulties; the officers take no interest in their men, and the men lack esprit de corps. In war, a unit more than half composed of men recalled from civil life, who must necessarily, to a certain extent, have lost the habits of discipline and forgotten the use of arms, cannot be considered as wholly trustworthy. Corroboration is sought in instances of misbehaviour, although not under fire, on the part of the Reserves called out in 1882; and there can be no question but that among regimental officers the task of training successive drafts has been generally regarded as irksome and unsatisfactory. The method, too, of providing the horses and mules required for a campaign has been denounced. Roughly speaking, the necessary proportion between men and animals in war is about two and a half to one. A much smaller proportion, however, is sufficient in peace, and a reserve of 14,500 registered horses was constituted in 1888. None of these are required for the cavalry, to whom wellbroken and drilled chargers are a prime necessity, but it has been alleged that the system would detract from the mancuvring power of the field artillery.
Again, numbers, armament, training, and equipment do not of themselves make an effective army.
Much more is required before it becomes a mobile force, and in the case of the British Army much more than by any other, except, perhaps, the Russian. In Germany and France, for instance, mobility is comparatively easy of attainment. So limited is the scope of their campaigns that only one set of conditions need be contemplated. Wherever they may be engaged they will meet the same climate, the same tactics, the same facilities of supply, the same facilities for marching, the same topographical characteristics. Readiness for war is there a fairly simple and inexpensive matter, for everything, down to the last gaiter-button, can be prepared beforehand. With England it is vastly different. It is as useless to anticipate in what quarter of the globe our troops may be next employed as to guess at the tactics, the armament, and even the colour, white, yellow, black, or brown, of our next enemy. Each new expedition demands special equipment, special methods of supply, and special tactical devices, anil sometimes special armament. The stores required by one expedition may be absolutely useless for the next. The transport may be camel, wheeled vehicles, oxen, coolie, packanimals, railway, or river-steamers. Perhaps only mountain batteries may be of use. All scouting may have to be done by infantry on foot. Thick clothing and tents may be indispensable. Nor is it possible, as a general rule, to predict the strength of the expedition. It is impracticable, then, to keep in store the whole of the equipment necessary to make the army immediately effective for service at any particular point on our enormous frontier. Except for the defence of the United Kingdom and of India, much remains to be provided when the Cabinet declares that war is imminent. Thus the greater part of those preparations which, in the case of Continental Powers, are the work of years of peace, are crowded into a few weeks of bustle and excitement. Continental armies, moreover, have the means of concentration on the frontier ready at their hand, A few hours' notice and the whole railway system of the country is placed at their disposal. But the transport of the British Army is dispersed over the seven seas; and the vessels have not only to be collected, but to be overhauled, refitted, and coaled, before embarkation can begin. Again, the base of a Continental army--that is, its own country, from which it draws its stores and reinforcements of men, guns, and horses - is always close to the theatre of war. The magazines, sheltered in great fortresses, are already in existence. The reserves of ammunition, of clothing, armament, equipment, and even food, stand where they are; there is no need to shift them. A British army, on the other hand, has to establish a base on possibly a far distant coast, to construct earthworks for its protection, to improvise storehouses, and to carry its reserves of material over thousands of miles of ocean.
It is evident, then, that a long period must elapse before an English expeditionary force becomes really mobile. It is true that, as a general rule, the loss of time is not of supreme importance. Our enemies are seldom so formidable that the troops already on the spot cannot be trusted to hold their own until the arrival of reinforcements, and the delay of a day or two is not so likely to be disastrous as it would be to France or Germany.
Yet for all that, if daugerous and humiliating situations are to be avoided, it is essential that our mobilisation should be speedy. As we have already said, the provision of equipment and transport must to a considerable extent be left to the last moment. Yet preparation is not necessarily precluded. Time may be economised, and time in war is a most precious commodity. In many respects all great emergencies are alike. Men, horses, food, forage, and ammunition will certainly be required, and it is of the first importance they should be assembled in sufficient quantity at the shortest notice. If the equipment is not ready for the men, the men can be ready for the equipment. If the ships cannot be collected as soon as the army is equipped, the army need lose no time in embarking. Nor is the money wasted, even if hostilities are averted, which provides sufficient land transport, suitable to the peculiar character of the theatre of war, at the first prospect of an appeal to arms. But time cannot be economised, nor the wheels run smoothly, except at the cost of infinite labour, the inost searching forethought, and the most minute arrangements. Unless there is supervision, a thorough familiarity with individual responsibilities, complete decentralisation, and much experience, even in the best-disciplined armies friction and confusion are absolutely certain to ensue. A glance at the regulations for mobilisation and embarkation would probably astonish those civilians who, accustomed to the conduct of large undertakings, consider the despatch of an army corps to South Africa a comparatively simple operation ; and if proof were needed how easily it might be mismanaged, even in a pre-eminently business-like community, it is to be found in the story of the invasion of Caba, told by no prejudiced critics, but by American officers and the American press.
The main features of General Shafter's expedition were as follows :-On May 30, the day the order was issued for the capture of Santiago, thirty-six transport vessels had been collected for nearly a month at Tampa and other southern ports. But it was not until June 8, although only 17,000 men and 2,300 animals were embarked, that the fleet was ready to sail. Yet invasion had been contemplated since the end of April. Both men and animals had been assembled for several weeks. The facilities for rapid embarkation were great. Ample time had been available for the accumulation of stores, and a great part of the more bulky articles had already been put on board. But this was not the worst. The general arrangements were so defective that the whole of the cavalry horses had to be left behind. The accommodation for the troops was insufficient. Sanitary considerations were totally disregarded. On some of the transports the water supply was inadequate; on many others the rations were uneatable. Regiments were not told off to particular vessels, but marched on to those which happened to be handiest. The gun-carriages of the siege-train were lost in the confusion, and the different units were separated from their stores, horses, and baggage. Moreover, not only was the amount of stores insufficient, so that during the greater part of the campaign, which lasted for five-and twenty days, the troops were on half-rations and deprived of proper medical assistance, but the transports had been so carelessly loaded that neither tents, baggage, camp kettles, extra clothing or hospital comforts arrived at the front until some days after the surrender; while the heavy guns of the siege-train, reposing at the bottom of the hold, under tons of material, were never disembarked at all. It is little wonder that the army was almost annihilated by exposure and disease.
In England, on the other hand, the Reserves were called out on October 7. On October 14 they reported themselves at the depôts. On October 16 they rejoined the colours. On October 20 the first transport was ready to receive her freight. The same evening she sailed. As fast as the remainder could be fitted and coaled the stores and troops, at the rate of 3,500 men per dien, were put on board ; and by November 17, 48,500 men, 132 field-pieces, 47 machine-guns, 942 vehicles, and 4,644 animals had started on their voyage of 7,000 miles. The Indian authorities, less heavily taxed, were even more expeditious. A contingent was asked for, on September 9. By the 25th 5,600 men, 18 guns, 2,950 animals, 330 vehicles, and 1,070 camp followers had been embarked. On October 10 the advanced guard landed at Durban, 3,400 miles from Bombay.
Even those who ridiculed Lord Wolseley's statement that two army corps could be made ready for service before the transports were ready to receive them must now be convinced that he said no more than the bare truth. The brigades and divisions sailed for Table Bay complete in men, regimental in transport and in equipment. Not a battalion-cart nor an ambulance was wanting. The strength of every unit was identical. Each squadron of cavalry was composed of 150 rank and file; each company of infantry counted 102 rifles, each battery of artillery 150 gunners and drivers ; and there were no horses under five years old. Not a single volunteer, except a subaltern or two, had