HC Deb 14 March 1887 vol 312 cc219-21

In the event of war, the demands upon the Royal Artillery, according to the new scheme of mobilization, would be as follows:—

(a.) For Horse and Field Artillery to furnish artillery for two Army Corps, a Cavalry Division, and their line of communication:—

8 batteries of Horse Artillery of six guns each.
24 batteries of Field Artillery of six guns each.
14 Ammunition Columns formed from Field batteries.

The total number of batteries required being 46, and the total number of guns 192.

It may be observed that the proportion of guns to Infantry is larger than that which prevailed in the German Army during the war of 1870. In peace time five of the Horse Artillery batteries and 13 of the Field batteries will be maintained at 1st Army Corps strength, with six guns each; 11 batteries of Field Artillery will be kept at 2nd Army Corps strength, with six guns each, while the three Horse batteries of the 2nd Army Corps, and the remaining 14 Field batteries will be kept up with only four guns each. In war, of course, these Horse batteries will take the field with six guns each.

Comparing this establishment with that of our existing organization, it represents a reduction of two batteries, and the conversion of four batteries of Horse into Field Artillery. No doubt these two additional batteries would have been valuable for home defence, but they are not required for the two Army-Corps which alone we could hope to mobilize, nor for service with the existing Army in India; and for purposes of home defence their reduction is more than counterbalanced by the largo increase in the number of guns which will be issued to the Volunteers, and for which provision is made in the Estimates.

The conversion of the batteries of Horse into Field Artillery has been the subject of much comment. It involves, I need scarcely say, no diminution of that feeling of admiration for the condition of this splendid force—a condition which has always done so much credit both to Officers and to men; but, as was pointed out by Lord Napier of Magdala in a recent debate, the existing proportion in our Army of Horse to Field Artillery is larger than that in the German, and slightly larger than that in the French Army. The real value of Horse Artillery batteries is to be found wherever extreme rapidity is required, and in all other cases they possess disadvantages in the largo cost which they involve, and in the increased number of horses which are necessary, and which require far more food, forage, and transport in time of war; and when it is remembered that the weight of a horse's daily ration is about the same as that of six men, both having to be carried, the importance of saving every unnecessary horse becomes apparent—all the more when the special difficulty of horse supply in our own country is borne in mind. It is, moreover, represented that the tendency of modern Artillery tactics is against the frequent moving of Artillery when once in action; and therefore, except in the case of the batteries which are attached to, and move with, Cavalry, extreme rapidity of movement is not required.

The simple fact is that we have at present more Horse Artillery than is required for two Army Corps and a Cavalry Division, while we have not enough field Artillery. If Parliament is prepared to sanction a large increase to this latter force, then it may be ready also to leave intact the former. But I do not think I should be justified in asking the country to bear the additional expense this would cause while the excess of Horse Artillery above the requirements of two Corps and a Cavalry Division remains as now. And short of this—if the mobilization scheme is to have any real existence—there is no alternative but the conversion already decided on.

(b.) In the event of war, the Royal Artillery will also be required to provide garrisons for the fortresses at home and abroad for our coaling stations, and for some of our seaports, besides filling up the batteries in India to full strength. The careful examination which has taken place has revealed a serious deficiency of men for these purposes, even including the First Class Army Reserve, which can at present furnish only one thousand men. This is a matter of extreme urgency, as to which no avoidable delay can possibly be defended. For home garrisons the Militia and Volunteer Artillery have been utilized to the fullest extent possible; but the latter are not available for foreign service, and the former only partially so, while the necessity for the increase in the Garrison Artillery is mainly caused by the garrisons necessary for the coaling stations and military ports abroad.

It has, therefore, been proposed to raise the establishment of the Garrison Artillery at home to 40 batteries, exclusive of depôts, and to keep those 40 batteries up to a full strength of 128 non-commissioned Officers and men. This represents an increase of about 1,800 men over those now serving, with an addition of only 16 officers. If carried out it would fill up the great deficit and facilitate the increase of the Reserve. This recommendation is now being acted upon, so far as is possible, bearing in mind the present condition of recruiting for Garrison Artillery, and the probable increase which can be obtained during the coming year. Estimating the total deficiency at 1,800 men, it is not expected that we can get more than half that number this year, and accordingly provision is made in the Estimates for that increase.

Before quitting the subject of Artillery, I may mention that while all the Volunteer Artillery living within a certain distance of our seaports has been utilized for the defence of our fortresses, there are 21 inland corps, some 12,000 strong, situated so far from the forts to be defended that they have not been included in the garrisons. These it is proposed to equip with more guns, and in time of emergency they will form a most valuable supplement to our regular Field Artillery.