DISUNION IN THE NAVY.
IT is with the utmost reluctance that we approach the question of disunion in the Navy, which has been raised in the Press and in Parliament during the past week, and raised under conditions which not only make just and useful. criticism well-nigh impossible, but gravely imperil the well-being of the Navy, and therefore of the nation. It is on the Navy, we must never forget, that," under God, the safety and welfare of this realm cloth chiefly depend," and the efficiency of the Navy rests upon discipline. But discipline cannot be maintained if furious personal antagonisms are allowed to have free play in the Fleet, and if the combatants are to conduct Press campaigns against each other with the tacit consent of the Admiralty. In view of the opinion we hold as to the reticence which ought to be practised by the Press in such circumstances, it may seem at first sight as if we should have left the subject entirely alone. Matters, however, have gone so far that this is impossible, and, though unwilling, we are obliged to take notice of what has undoubtedly become a subject of urgent importance. In the abstract, nothing could be sounder than the principles laid down by Mr. Asquith in his answer to the questions which were put to him on Wednesday night. He had, he declared, no knowledge, apart from "unverified rumours," of the alleged dis- sensions. If, however, the Government found reason to believe that the state of things existing was in any way detrimental to the discipline or to the smooth working of the Fleet, they would not hesitate to take prompt and effective action. Mr. Asquith further insisted that the direction of naval policy lay with the Government of the day, and that it was the business of naval officers on active service, "not to discuss or criticise that policy, but to carry it out with loyalty to their superiors, in harmony with one another, and with a single eye to the efficiency of the great Service to which they belonged."
To put the matter still more specifically, it is the duty of the Cabinet Minister who is in fact, if not in name, the head of the• Navy to keep order in the great Depart- ment of State which he controls. Though he cannot alter human nature, and cannot prevent personal jealousies and animosities from existing. he can, if he understands his duties, and if he has sufficient power of managing •men and making them obey his will, prevent
such jealousies and animosities doing any irreparable harm to the public service. In most cases the know- ledge that he will not tolerate the prosecution of personal quarrels in the Navy will be sufficient ; but if at any time the animosities get beyond control, he must re-establish discipline by the summary dismissal of those concerned, no matter how great their previous public services or their capacity and no matter how disagreeable the task. Anything is better than such a condition of affairs as we are now witnessing. We trust that in saying this we shall not be held to be censuring Mr. McKenna. He has so recently taken up his duties as First Lord of the Admiralty that he cannot be blamed for the existing state of things,—a state of things which we fear is largely due to a want of nerve and of will-power in his predecessor. But though Mr. McKenna, is not to blame, and though his task has been rendered especially difficult by a lack of the strong hand in the past, the country must now look to him as the person responsible in the last resort for the efficiency of the Navy., and will expect him to put matters right. Though he has an arduous task before him, and though it may in one sense be a misfortune to have encountered that task at the moment of entry on his new work, in another it must be regarded as a great opportunity for showing his quality as an administrator and a statesman. He must do more than merely settle the quarrel of the moment which is raging round the personalities of Sir John Fisher, Lord Charles Beresford, and Sir Percy Scott. He must so handle the matter and lay down such principles of action for the Admiralty that the recurrence in the future of public exhibitions of animosities in the Navy will be impossible, or at any rate exceedingly difficult. He cannot, of course, prevent men hating each other, but be must prevent their hatreds injuring the vital interests of the State.
In the present controversy we hold no brief for Lord Charles Beresford, and if there is a Beresford party, we must deny most emphatically that the Spectator belongs to that party, or is in sympathy with it in any shape or form. Lord Charles Beresford is undoubtedly in many ways a most capable sailor, and we believe that it is the almost universal testimony of naval officers of experi- ence that during the last three or four years he has shown himself exceedingly efficient in the handling of the fleets and in the training of the units which have been under his command. Till Lord Charles Beresford obtained com- mand, first of the Mediterranean Fleet and then of the Channel Fleet, it was somewhat widely held that he was little more than a brave and dashing officer, with more power of making breezy speeches and of exhibiting the theatrical side of the Navy than of doing less showy but infinitely more useful work. As we have said, however, he has of late risen to the opportunities that have been given him, and has proved himself to possess the higher naval gifts, even though he may have retained some of the defects which originally made stricter critics distrust his judgment and his capacity for serious work. But though we hold that Lord Charles Beresford has proved himself a sailor of great ability, we should be the first to admit that the possession of ability cannot for a moment be weighed against anything approaching indiscipline,—should in- discipline be proved against him.
The business of a sailor is not to obey his orders merely when they are agreeable, but to think solely of his duties. All he has a strict right to demand from his chiefs is that when they give him orders, and insist or them being carried out, they shall support him as long as he holds command in obtaining true obedience and true co-operation from those who are placed under him. Further, though he has no right to ask that those above him shall be sympathetic with, or even friendly to, him, he has a right to ask that his superiors shall not work against him, or reprove him in any indirect manner. If he is to be censured or opposed at head- quarters, it must be openly and in the light of day. Though we are most reluctant to do anything like pronouncing judgment in a case where, by the very nature of things, the true facts are, if not inaccessible, at any rate most difficult to reach and most confused, we feel bound to express our belief that Lord Charles Beresford has not received from his superiors the support which he had a right to expect, and which he ought to have received in the interests of the Navy and of the nation. It will be asserted, no doubt, that if Lord Charles Beresford has received treatment other than that which we have just described, it is his own fault, and due to intrigues and. so forth of which either he or those who advocate his cause have been guilty. Into such recriminations, however, we must refuse to enter. If it is alleged by Sir John Fisher and his advocates—it is best to be plainspoken in the matter— that Lord Charles Beresford was the aggressor in the quarrel, and has been guilty of insubordination, then the step which was imperatively called for on the part of the Board. of Admiralty was the dismissal of Lord Charles Beresford from his command. Granted the truth of the allegation just noted, dismissal, aud nothing less, should have been his portion, and. in no circumstances can any subsequent dereliction of duty on his part be made an excuse for counter-attacks upon him.
That such counter-attacks have been made upon Lord Charles cannot, we regret to say, be doubted. At the beginning of the present week those accustomed to observe the signs of the Press cannot have failed to note that those organs of public opinion which support Sir John Fisher's policy suddenly entered. upon an attack upon Lord Charles Beresford, the excuse for it being a trumpery allegation of an net of social rudeness which, however ill-timed or ill-considered in itself, ought never to have received serious notice, or even to have been mentioned in the present controversy. What made this attack on Lord Charles Beresford all the more regrettable was the fact that he has on his shoulders at the moment a very difficult and arduous duty in the shape of the command of the biggest fleet of war vessels which has ever been seen in British waters. That such a time should have been selected for opening a campaign against Lord Charles must revolt even those who, like ourselves, have grave doubts whether Lord Charles has not often been indiscreet, or worse than indiscreet, in some of his controversial methods. Perhaps, however, the worst incident in the "hunt of obloquy" which has pursued Lord Charles during the last few days has been the publication of a story that during certain tactical exercises recently held in his fleet he gave orders which might have led to a terrible accident had not Sir Percy Scott shown his courage and ability by refusing to obey them. The publication of such a story is, in our opinion, one of the most monstrously cruel and. unjust attempts to create prejudice ever made against a public servant. We know nothing as to the merits or demerits of the tactical exercise in question, nor as to the way in which it was conducted, but if anything involving danger to the Fleet took place, it should. be a matter for inquiry on the part of the Admiralty, and not for ex-parte criticism in the Press. The issue of such a story at the present moment could only have been prompted by a desire to shake public con- fidence in Lord Charles Beresford's judgment and seaman- ship. In our opinion, the First Lord of the Admiralty should insist upon a thorough investigation of the means by which that story was conveyed to the newspaper -which published it. The incident is a very ugly one, and. emphatically requires to be sifted to the bottom.
Before we leave this painful and disagreeable subject there is one more point to which we must draw attention. It is an open secret that, if the relations between Lord Charles Beresford and the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty are of an unfortunate and regrettable kind, they are reflected in the relations between Lord Charles and Sir Percy Scott. In these relations is to be found the essential fact of the situation. Some months ago it will be re- membered that Sir Percy Scott signalled to the ships under his command. a message of a character which can only be described as insulting in a high degree to his superior officer. Surely the Board of Admiralty should have dealt with the situation thus created sternly and. swiftly. If they thought that, although prima, facie Sir Percy Scott might be in the wrong, he had been tempted to indis- cretion by unjust treatment on the part of his chief, they should have dismissed or censured that chief. If, on the other hand, they did not consider that any such excuse existed, they ought to have punished a grave breach of discipline by removing Sir Percy Scott. They might either have placed him on half-pay, or, if they considered that his fault was not grave enough for such punishment, they might have transferred. him to another command. In any ease, they were bound to put an end to the quarrel in one way or another, and not to leave it as an open and festering sore. Instead, they closed their eyes to the incident and let matters drift. The result of this, as was foreseen by persons of common-sense both in the Navy and outside it, has been that a situation has grown up infinitely more dangerous and difficult than that so weakly ignored. Viewing the Scott signal incident as a whole, we think it must be admitted that Lord Charles Beresford did. not receive that support from his superiors which he had a right to expect,—a support without which no Admiral could properly carry out his duties. No errors of taste or discretion which can be proved against Lord Charles Beresford can alter this fact.
We can only end as we began, by declaring that the responsibility now rests upon Mr. McKenna as First Lord of the Admiralty. If he lets matters drift still further, he will only be preparing the way for another and worse explosion. However disagreeable, he must make it clear that he absolutely refuses to tolerate the condition of things now existing. It is difficult for those who are not in possession of all the facts to make any very detailed suggestion for action. We will, however, go so far as to express our belief that the more drastically Mr. McKenna deals with the situation, the more likely it is that he will find the true solution, and obtain for the future true control- over his Department. If, for example, he were to take the strong course of dismissing Sir John Fisher, Lord Charles Beresford, and Sir Percy Scott, we feel sure that in the future he would be very little troubled by personal animosities in the Navy. The naval officers of high rank would realise that they had got a man to deal with, and that they could no longer safely indulge in personal quarrels. Another good result of the policy we are hypothetically contemplating would. be that it would teach naval officers that there are no indispensable men in the Navy, and that the nation can get on without even a Fisher, a Charles Beresford, or a Percy Scott. Unquestionably something has got to be done to make our Admirals realise that the Navy exists for the nation, and, not as a place in which envy, hatred, and malice can be safely indulged in