17 OCTOBER 1914, Page 6


THE fall of Antwerp has, not unnaturally, set all our croakers croaking, and the pessimists have, in private, been indulging in a series of dismal prognostications. Starting with the perfectly sound Napoleonic maxim that he who possesses Antwerp possesses a pistol presented at the mouth of the Thames, they go on to ask what will happen if not only Ostend but Dunkerque and Calais and the whole of the coasts of Belgium and of Northern France pass into the enemy's hands. Not only, they urge, will he have a convenient base for Zeppelin attacks, but his chances of invading us will be greatly increased when there will only be a narrow piece of water to be passed. In their heated imaginations, our Navy, on the one hand, is utterly ignored, and, on the other, the waters of the Schelde, and indeed all the coastline opposite England, are pictured as crowded with transports suitable for the conveyance of we do not know how many hundred thousand men for the raiding of England. In these circumstances it may be worth while to call attention to the fact that even if the pessimistic data upon which men base their gloomy forebodings were true, though as a matter of fact half of them are not, we still have plenty of resources with which to meet the evils that are conjured up by anxious imaginings. It is only by steadily exaggerating every German advantage, and ignoring with equal steadiness all our powers, offensive and defensive, that the case of the gloomy-minded can be given any substance. We will take the prognostications in order.

First for the Zeppelins. It is no doubt quite possible that the Germans will before long try to make an aerial raid. But if their airships come, not as single spies, but in battalions, we venture to say that our shore guns and that portion of our air fleet which is kept here to attack invaders will be able to deal faithfully with them, either before they get near London, or while they are flying over the capital. Let us assume, however, that our airships will miss them or fail to do them any damage, and that no hits will be made by the guns which are prepared at many convenient places to fire at such splendid targets. What are the sixty or seventy—these numbers are ridiculously large— Zeppelins, assuming that they can be got together over London, likely to accomplish, even if each of them is able to drop bombs weighing in the aggregate some three or four tons ? That they will do a great deal of local damage to buildings we do not doubt. Though the Paris records seem to show that it takes about seven bombs to kill a man, woman, or child, we are quite willing to admit that a very considerable number of people may be killed in various parts of London by a great Zeppelin raid. But, after all, how can that possibly affect the essential military situation ? Putting it at the very worst, the number of people killed and wounded will be far less than the number of soldiers placed hors de combat in one of the minor daily skirmishes along the battle front. Besides, the Londoners who will be killed will be almost all non-combatants, and thus from the military point of view quite negligible. The mien killed in the skirmishes are all able combatants. To put the matter quite frankly, five hundred non-combatants killed in London—and that is a very liberal allowance—as the result of an air raid will deplete our military strength very much less than five soldiers or one officer killed at the front. The notion that the bomb-throwers will be able to light a conflagration in London which will run through the Metropolis like the great fire of Chicago is absurd. London bricks do not burn. As we have so often said before, the only important result of an aerial raid would be temporarily to break down our recruiting arrange- ments by the influx of recruits. But suppose some of our ships were struck ? Well, that of course is quite possible; but, after all, battleships were meant for use and not for show, and they must take their chances from the air as well as from the water. The notion of Zeppelins being able to destroy the Fleet as a whole is fantastic. The Zeppelin danger would only be a danger to a nation of neurotics, and happily we are not that, but something very far removed from it. Paris, always a much more impres- sionable city than London, is getting quite accustomed to aerial raids, and now treats them with angry contempt. What Paris can endure with fortitude will not send us off our heads. It is true the Zeppelin bombs are larger than the aeroplane variety, but the difference is not material.

Next for the supposition that the possession of Ostend, Dunkerque, and Calais will increase the German power of invasion. It will do nothing of the kind, and for the very good reason that the ports we have named have none of them any facilities for rapidly embarking troops for a surprise raid. To get two hundred thousand men on board transports, accompanied by large bodies of cavalry, and, what is more important, by the great quantities of artillery without which we see that German troops are unable to act, is a tremendous job, and one which certainly could not be carried out from the Channel ports just named. As for Antwerp, quite apart from any question of Dutch neutrality—which we admit will not be thought twice of by the Germans—the narrowness of the river entrance, and therefore its liability to be stopped by mines, sub- marines, and destroyers, makes the plan of using it as a base for invasion impossible till our Fleet has been destroyed by the German Fleet—a type of action which they do not seem at present very anxious to undertake. The truth is that the Germans can do nothing in the matter of invasion till they have got the command of the sea, and they are at present a very long way from that. It really is rather exasperating, because our Navy does its work silently and unseen, that the alarmist should ignore its existence, and think and talk as if it had vanished for good.

Let us, however, indulge our pessimists to the full, and for the moment accept their hypothesis that somehow or other the Navy will go to sleep or be decoyed away, and that some hundred or hundred and fifty huge transports brought down somehow from Hamburg and other German ports to the coasts of Belgium and Northern France, and there filled with troops and artillery, will be sent across the Straits of Dover. (Why, if troops can be got on to them and a raid can be made, they should prefer as a preliminary to knock about the shallow waters of the Continental Channel ports rather than come com- fortably straight over from Emden is a matter for wonder, though a point we will not argue here.) Let us suppose two hundred thousand gallant Germans and their horses, transport, and artillery landed whilst we were asleep, and without any destroyers or submarines getting amongst them, or without our big vessels paying them any attention. Do our pessimists really suppose that we should then be annihilated as a nation, and that when our Navy appeared it would be too late ? As a matter of fact, we have at this moment ample power to deal with a raid of the kind we have imagined. But, it will be said, are not all our Regular troops out of the country, and are not we practically defenceless from the military point of view ? Most emphatically we are not. The country was never in its whole history in a better position to repel a sudden raid than it is at the present moment. In the first place, we have got something like three hundred thousand Territorials, forming a properly constituted field army—that is, not merely a fortuitous concourse of battalions, like the old Volunteers, but a force with a well-designed brigade and divisional organization. These troops have now been under arms and in training for two and a half months, and many of then} for three months, since a great deal of the Territorial training began in the middle of July. We venture to say that in the opinion of com- petent officers this force is quite capable of dealing with German raiders, however numerous, for the Germans could not send us their best first-line troops, since those are all busily engaged either in Poland or France.

We are not inclined to use the language of bragga- docio, but, at the lowest, a British Territorial battalion is quite capable of meeting and disposing of a bat- talion of Landwehr or Landsturm. And remember that our troops would most probably be three to one, for the men available here to dispel a raid would by no means consist solely of Territorials. There is still quite a considerable force of Regulars of high quality left in the country, though it would not be advisable to mention any- thing in the way of numbers. If the Germans wanted to make a raid, they should have made it two months ago, immediately after the despatch of the Expeditionary Force, and before the Territorials had settled down to their training.. These are now at least fifty per cent. better troops than they were in the middle of August. But besides the Territorials and the remains of our Regular Forces, there are the first-raised battalions of the new Army. Of the six hundred thousand men enlisted, a hundred thousand will by the end of October be in a posi- tion to give a very good account of themselves, and if the Germans postpone their raid for another month, yet another hundred thousand will know how to handle their rifles quite as well as the German Landsturm. By the end of October, indeed, we venture to say that there will be at the very least six hundred thousand men in the country capable of repelling a raid. If our enemies wait till Christmas there will be at least a million. If, then, the Germans want to do the best for their invasion scheme, they had better hurry up. Every week they post- pone the attempt that attempt will become more desperate and more useless.

We know that the true pessimist, who is determined not to be driven from his ground, but sticks with splendid British tenacity to his position, will say that all we have written is easy optimism, and that even if we do beat the raiders in the end, they may destroy a quarter of England before our troops can be got together to oppose them. That really is a most unfair attaek upon our military authorities. We cannot, of course, go into any details, for that might be regarded as a betrayal of valuable information. We can, however, assure our readers in general terms that the arrangements made by the military authorities for coping with a raid, should it ever take place, are of the most thorough description. The possi- bilities have all been thought out and met, and, barring some amazing accident, we feel certain that these arrange- ments will work perfectly. There has been no trusting to the impossibility of the Germans managing to land on our shores. Our military authorities have made their prepara- tions on the assumption that a raid may take place. They have assumed, that is, the possibility of the Germans by a ruse, or owing to fog or some accident, getting tem- porary command of the sea, and running all risks to take advantage of it.

Our readers must not suppose from what we have written that we are mere easygoing optimists, and think that everything will go perfectly smoothly in the war, and that there is no danger and no reason for anxiety. That is by no means our mood. We desire to inculcate no false sense of security. In some ways we are quite pessimistic enough to satisfy the most anxious. All we want to do is to try to keep people from bemusing their minds with false terrors. They have quite enough of real anxieties to keep them from sham alarms. It is childish to worry ourselves aboutZeppelin raid s and invasion. The essential danger is not there. The danger is in the war being greatly prolonged, and in us and our allies becoming exhausted and being dragged down in a common ruin by the Germans. Unless we make a supreme effort to finish the war, the national peril is very great. We dare use no other words. Therefore we must for the IV six months determine to make England into an armed camp, and to devote the whole of our energies to the raising and training and equipping of men. We must get our million men, and then prepare another million. Those who are pro- viding the equipment must run a race with those who are providing the men, and see if they cannot possibly get in front of them. If we can get another million and a half men, all of as good quality as the first five hundred thousand, we shall do well, and there is no sort of reason why we should not.

There is not a, day nor an hour to be lost. The authori- ties—and we do not wonder at it—have been astonished at the difficulties they have been able to overcome in im- provising the battalions from the mobs of men which the nation has crowded upon them. We must astonish them still more. We must be daily self-surpassed in the way of creating armies. If we only set our minds to it, and determine that we will achieve things which have never been achieved before in the military history of mankind, we shall win. There must be no use for the word " impossible." If people tell us that it is impossible to get men and rifles and uniforms more quickly than they are being got now, we must teach them that they are wrong, and that, in spite of all appearances, we can get thirty per cent. more steam-pressure from engines which already appear to be running at their very highest speed.