TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE NAVAL POLICY OF GERMANY.
FROM certain points of view the crisis through which the nation has been passing in the last fortnight has not been a pleasant spectacle. On the whole, however, we cannot doubt that good will come, nay, has already come, of it. In the first place, the British public is gradually clearing its mind. of cant on the question of naval policy, German, and British. Up till now our people, always disposed to be a little puzzle-headed and a good deal optimistic, have refused to 'answer, or even to ask seriously, the questions : Why is Germany building so huge a Fleet ? and what will it be used for if and when it reaches the goal prescribed for it by German aspirations ? Hitherto we have been inclined to think that, because we have clearly no right to say to the Germans that they shall not have as big a Fleet as they wish, we have no right to assume that their Fleet is being built to fight ours. Now the whole nation realises that the object of the great increase in the German Fleet is to fight our Fleet, and everywhere people are wondering bow they could have been so foolish as not to realise this before. Nations, they begin to understand, do not spend millions, upon battleships' for the mere pleasure of spending, or in order to have pretty toys to look at. Battleships cannot be used. for commercial purposes or as excursion steamers. They are built with one object, and one object alone,—to fight other battleships. As long as Germany's Navy was obviously greatly inferior to our own, it might be argued that the battleships which it was intended to fight were those of France, of Russia, or of America. The rapid expansion of the German Navy in the last two years has made this view of German naval affairs untenable. Germany passed her other rivals, with the possible exception of Ainerica, several years ago, and the present astonishing activity of her shipyards can have only one explanation. The new ships are being built to fight our ships.
The British nation having at last been brought to realise this fact, a great point has been gained. The next point is to make sure that we draw the right conclusions from it and base the right action on our knowledge.' And we believe that the nation is going to do this. For a moment it seemed as if in the national excitement men might lose their heads here so completely as to think that we should be justified in pushing things to their logical conclusion, and telling the Germans that we were not going to allow them to prepare for war with us, but that we meant to strike while we were still much stronger than they. Happily we can say with the utmost certainty that this view has found no echo in the public mind, but has been dismissed at once and finally as both unworthy and unwise. The nation is ccinvinced that though it must prepare for war in the most serious spirit and. make its preparations on the largest scale, no matter what the sacrifices involved, it must never provoke war. We shall make ready, but we shall not be the aggressors. That, we may confidently say, is the decision registered by the national conscience.
In order to understand how to make our, prepara- tions adequate, it is essential for us to study those of Germany, and to resolve not only to outbuild her, but to render our Navy so perfect an instrument of war, and to dispose it with such strategic efficiency, that if war comes we may feel that all that men can do has been &fie, and that our sailors can enter upon the struggle with the strength of quietness and confidence. The first coneideration which strikes us is that though calculations as to the exact dates at which this or that German 'Dreadnought' or 'Invincible' will be completed, eras to the acceleration of one portion or other of the German programme, should, no doubt, be made by our Intelligence Departieent and considered by the Admiralty, it would be the height of folly to depend too much upon those calculations. And for this reason. Germany, by means of her magnificent instinct for organisation, has a power of commanding secrecy which will in all probability baffle in future the best efforts of our inquirers. Now that Germany realises the keenness with which her pro- ceedings are watched, it is more than possible that we shall find the veil behind which bar constructors work absolutely impenetrable. It seems to us, therefore that the only safe plan upon which the Admiralty can proceed is to calculate the powers of construction both in the matter of ship- building and of naval equipment which exist in Germany, and to assume that for the present those resources will be used to their very utmost. We must assume that Germany will build a capital battleship in every slip available, and that her shipyards and arsenals will work twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Fortunately the difficulties of ascertaining what are the resources of German production are not nearly so great as those in the way of ascertaining the rate at which those resources are being used. Concealment and secrecy on this wider scale are almost impossible. Further, we shall be very foolish if we assume that Germany will now be prevented from building by any financial considera- tions. She is playing for far too great stakes to be troubled by such matters, at any rate in the near future. She will not be hampered by the thought of expense, especially as she will be relying in fact, if not in name, on loans for the carrying out of her programme. German deficits are covered by borrowing. We must remember, toe, that if the considerations which induced Germany to "speed up" her construction were potent .before, they are of still greater force now.
That Mr. Asquith and Mr. McKenna acted wisely in insisting upon speaking as plainly to the House of Commons and to the country as they spoke, we do not doubt for a moment. We must not fail to realise, however, the effect that their words have had in Germany. They have moved the German opinion which counts almost as much as they moved opinion here. Those who control German policy recognise that German intentions are now clearly understood here, and they naturally draw the conclusion that the need for acceleration is infinitely greater than it was before. As we have pointed out above, we shall never act as Germany's assailants. But, if we may judge the Germans by what is no doubt their own standard of action, they do not believe, and cannot be expected to believe, that we really shall act in a way which seems to them Quixotic. Unquestionably they are moved by the fear that we may attack them before their preparations are complete. Accordingly they feel that every mouth in which peace is maintained is a month gained, and must be utilised to press on their preparations. Here, then, is another urgent reason for assuming that the Germans will now use every resource at their command for the acceleration of their naval programme. On the other hand, we must repeat that our duty is not to rest our national safety upon minute calculations as to dates, but to determine.that we will use all our resources to the utmost, and will still further develop those resources for the future. Such a policy is, we admit, one that must lay a very great financial burden upon the nation. In regard to this matter, however, there is only one consideration which ought to prevail with us, and that is that such a burden will be incomparably less than the burden of actual war, and that though we caunot be sure that it will avoid the ultimate arbitrament of war, it is the best, and probably the only, chance of avoiding it; and further, that it is the only way, humanly speaking, of ensuring that war, if it does come, shall not mean our destruction as a nation. The Germans are going to strain every nerve, that is clear. We must strain every nerve also, and if we do, we have little doubt that though Germany will not at once cease her efforts, but is likely to maintain them for several years to come, in the end she will tire first. Our reason for believing that Germany must tire first can easily be expressed. Though from the point of view of world-policy it would be an immense advantage to Germany to beat our Navy—the command of the sea is the only way by which she can reach her highest national ambitions—yet at the same time no German feels that the national life depends absolutely upon sea power, and that if it is not secured Germany must perish as a nation. We, on the contrary, feel that without sea power we must perish absolutely. Supremacy at sea is vital to us, and therefore our Fleet is our all in all. But other things being equal, when two men are struggling for supremacy, the man who knows that the struggle is a matter of life and death for him will last longer than thli man who is not inspired by any such imperative need.
There is another consideration, as a rule very little landerstood in this country, which is calculated to induce those who are at present responsible for German naval policy to increase their efforts still further in the matter of shipbuilding and ship equipment. People here are inclined to believe that Germany will never risk a war until her fleet of capital battleships is. equal to ours on paper. We have ourselves for some time realised that this vii3w is chimerical, and we find it supported by a ' very striking article in the April number of the organ of the National Defence Association, National Defence (15 Pall Mall East, is.), an article entitled "Germany's Plan of Attack." The Germans believe, for various reasons which we will proceed to specify, that a German navalforce, even though Weaker by twenty-five per cent: than ours on paper, would be sufficient to obtain victory. In other words, while we w'ere counting upon victory because their force was only three-quarters of ours, they would consider it fully equal, if not superior, to ours. The grounds on which the Germans hold this belief—as most assuredly they do—are set forth in the article in question as follows. In the first place, they would be the assailants, and would thus have the undoubted advantage which always belongs in war to the attack. They could choose the time and place and would strike the first blow. Next, they hold that owing to the principles of construction upon which they have worked, their Navy, ship for ship, has a superiority of gun-fire over ours. Into these questious we cannot enter in detail, but 'will only say that, assuming their contention to be true, Germany would no doubt have an immense advantage, because in the last resort naval actions must always be decided by gun-fire. Gun-fire is the absolute essential of the fighting ship. Just as a soldier is a man who has the capacity for killing his enemy with a rifle, so a battleehip is a,: ship capable of destroying other battleships by gun-fire. Granted equal capacity to keep afloat and to use her guns, the,:.victory is to the big ship 'With the gun-fire as to the big battalions. Thirdly, the Germans beffeVe that their armour-plate is superior to the armour-plate used in British ships. Therefore they claim not only greater offensive, but greater defensive, power. Fourthly, they claim the better scientific training of their officers and the superior discipline of their crews. Their officers are more learned, they assert; and "the men are more sober, less enfeebled by disease, and better educated than ours." This claim we record, but in regard to it we can only say that we are convinced that no such superiority exists with them in either case. On the contrary, we believe that the superiority belongs to the British. On this matter, however, it is idle to bout.
Only the arbitrament of war can decide. • Fifthly, the Germans believe that they possess a superiority in naval strategy over us owing to the fact that they are in. "possession of a naval plan intended, in the first place, to bring about the disorganisation of our naval preparations, and, in the second place, to facilitate the landing of an invading force on our shores." The writer of the article in National Defence professes to have seen a secret German naval document that sets forth the plan in question, a plan which he thereupon describes. The essential condition of this plan, which we must leave out readers to study at first hand, is the absolute readiness of the German Fleet to sail at a moment's notice. No formal declaration of war is to be made, and the plan contemplates advantage being taken of the fog which so often envelops the North Sea. Hero it may be noted that, the German naval strategists are declared to rely very greatly upon the power of their Navy to navigate in safety during periods of fog. Importance is attached to time remarkable achievement of the squadron of Prince Henry of Prussia, which in December, 1897, got into Portsmouth Harbour during a dense fog, past all the forts and guardships quite undetected. Again, we are told by the writer in National Defence that it is contended that German navigators have reduced the navigation of the North Sea in fog almost to the dimensions of a mathematical certainty. "They have, as it were, mapped it out, and from a given point to a given point can tell, by the rotations of the engine, with almost complete accuracy, where they are. It is an enlarged application of the practice betweeu Dover and Calais, where on a dark or Misty night the cautious captain stops his ship after two thousand revolutions to find out where he is."
We cannot go further into the details of the German plan; nor do we wish it to be supposed that we take any responsibility for the article in question, though of the good faith of its author we make no doubt. We are con- vinced, however, that the Germans believe that they have a very .great physical as • well as moral superiority over us, and that therefore they would not be running any foolish risk in attacking us with what we should consider an inferior force. In fact, they are as willing to attack at a paper disadvantage as were our Elizabethan seamen in the case of the Spaniards. We do not for a moment wish to say that the Germans are right in this belief. It is a belief often entertained by ambi- tious and highly organised POwers, but it is not always well founded. We are convinced, not at all by the article we have quoted, but by independent testimony, that Germany believes that she need not wait for a paper equality or superiority. We hold that this fact is one which we are bound to take into consideration in making our calculations as to how to prepare against war. The more men dread an outbreak of war on moral and humauitarittn grounds, the more necessary it is for them to do their best to make our preparations adequate. Only preparations so complete and on so vast a scale as to make even the ardent men who control German naval policy consider that the game is not worth the candle can prevent war in the future. That is our firm belief. We have still the time in which to make such preparations, but no time to waste in sleep or doubt.