19 OCTOBER 1929, Page 35

Admiral Bacon's Life of Lord Fisher Lord Fisher, Admiral of

the Fleet. A Biography by Admiral Sir R. H. Bacon. ' iVoLs. (Redder and Stoughton: " "f2-2§.) Is the proper functions of biography are to be performed for Lord Fisher there will have to be another " Life." Sir Reginald Bacon's attempt does not meet the case. This is not to say Wart there is not Much very good' reading in it There is. It is full of rollicking fun and hard-hitting argument. Nor is it to say that Admiral Bacon fails to justify a great many of Lord Fisher's famous reforms. The fact remains that he does not -make anything like a clear enough dis- tinction between the two aspects of Lord Fisher's genius.

In one aspect Lord Fisher was the most invigorating spirit in the Navy. All his reforms were directed to an instant readiness for war and to thoroughness in every detail of a naval officer's education. No one who ever came in contact with that mercurial personality can forget the infectiousness of his enthusiaSin or his demoniac energy. But in his other aspect—this was the perilous defect 'of his virtue—he was an eccentric. He was unbalanced. He could never understand that the Navy was the servant of State policy, and that naval officers must not do and say things which put the great civil representatives of the nation entirely in the wrong. He had an unbridled tongue, and some of the sayings attributed to him in this book would have been much better forgotten.

Unfortunately Admiral Bacon regards the Constitutional devices by which the responsibility of the Cabinet is placed above the responsibility of naval officers as a sort of im- pertinence. " By our system of politics," he says, " any man who may happen to be Prime Minister when war breaks out is considered to be the fit and proper person to carry out the supreme superintendence of the war and, ex officio, to preside over the War Council." Admiral Bacon appa- rently would have liked to see sailors and soldiers—the " men who know "—conducting the affairs of the country during the War. He evidently does not understand the alphabet of democracy. It is certain that if Lord Fisher had been in control he would have made a much sorrier mess of policy than Admiral Bacon thinks that Mr. Asquith made.

Admiral Bacon's conclusion about Lord Fisher is that he was the most remarkable Englishman that this century has so far seen." At least these are the words used in a " Fore- word " which we assume to be by Admiral Bacon. There is also a Preface which is signed by Admiral Bacon, though the " Foreword " is not. Another of the author's conclusions is that. Lord Fisher " never made a mistake so far as the Navy was concerned." It seems to us that he made several—all characteristic of his recklessness and his restlessness. It would be unfair, however, to mention his mistakes without referring first to the lasting good which has come from his revolutionary reforms in the education of naval officers and

in improving the conditions of the profession. And he was splendidly right when he saw that as in the Fleet of the future mechanism would be of the first importance the Fleet would never be served to the best advantage unless the mechanical officers—the engineers—were given as high a status as the Admiralty-could bestow.

To turn to the other side is rather painful. Let us turn to it as gradually as possible by taking as an intermediate stage the. controversial . creation of the Dreadnoughts. Admiral Bacon defends the creation stoutly, but we can only say that we are unconvinced. If GerMany had invented the Dread- noughts we should, of course, have been compelled to follow suit ; but by inventing them. herself Great Britain in effect made the British Fleet as it then existed obsolete. She thus made it much easier for Germany to Compete.

Among the painful things" which we wish could be forgotten are Lord Fisher's .scheme for " Copenhagening " the German Fleet immediately Upon a sudden declaration of war by this 'country and his scheme for kidnapping Dreyfus from the island where he was a prisoner and landing him in France. Irresponsible, too, were the lectures to naval officers in which he ridiculed the various Conventions which aimed at modifying the brutalities of war. " Give no quarter. Take no prisoners. 'Sink everything." Thus Admiral Bacon reports Lord Fisher as having instructed his pupils. Admiral Bacon's comment is merely that Lord Fisher " rammed home " such advice with his " usual exaggeration." Every naval officer and every politician knows that it was " only Jacky Fisher's way," but the foreigner cannot be expected to know that.

Lord Fisher's ultimatum to Mr. Asquith at a crisis of the War, when he demanded to be put in absolute control at sea with colleagues of his own choosing, was also a painful episode but it should be put on a different level, for at the time Lord Fisher was obviously suffering from a far greater strain than he could bear at his age. He failed to make it clear to the Cabinet that he was essentially opposed to the Dardanelles adventure unless it was planned as a co-operative campaign between sea and land forces. Admiral Bacon makes Lord Fisher's views perfectly clear—the first time it has been done, we think—with the aid of some material new facts. The Cabinet, however, had some excuse for misunderstanding Lord Fisher, because in discussing Mr. Churchill's plan for the Dardanelles he was less intent upon condemning it for its faults than on recommending his rival scheme for sending ships into the Baltic as a base for the landing of Russian troops on the German coast a hundred miles from Berlin. The Dardanelles was a trap, no doubt, but so would the Baltic have been, and one cannot conceive what would have been the outcome of that most difficult of all manoeuvres—a combined naval and military operation—with the partners knowing nothing of each other's methods and not even understanding each other's language.