HC Deb 05 March 1888 vol 323 cc193-205

It may be well to commence by a short explanation of the changes which have been rendered necessary by the re-organization of the War Office. These changes, I glad to say, are now practically complete. Their carrying out has entailed much labour on certain branches of the Department, and especially on the Permanent Under Secretary of State, to whom I am greatly indebted. Nor can I omit to mention the cordial and loyal co-operation of Sir Stafford Northcote, M.P., the late Surveyor General of Ordnance, in the initiation of these measures.

The primary feature of the re-organization has been the abolition of the department of the Surveyor General of Ordnance, and the concentration of the whole administrative work of the Army in the hands of its chiefs, subject to the control of the Secretary of State. This most important change has now been carried out without friction, and the country has every reason to be grateful to His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief and his Staff for the readiness with which, in the public interest, they have undertaken new, laborious, and responsible duties. Amongst the advantages which I anticipate from this alteration, I place first the fact that the Military Authorities will now be enabled to take a comprehensive view of the whole condition of the military resources of the country, of our requirements, and of the means available for meeting them. All the threads are in their own hands. Any scheme put forward by them should be founded upon full knowledge of all surrounding conditions, and the Secretary of State will be enable to rely upon them for advice as to the comparative importance of all proposals for Army expenditure.

Secondly, the control of the department of the Financial Secretary is extended to all branches of the War Office. And it is gratifying to be able to quote from the Report of Sir M. W. Ridley's Commission on Civil Establishments, which has been issued since the new scheme for the War Office was explained to Parliament, the recommendation that— If the Financial Secretary of the War Office, and his chief adviser the Accountant General, were put into their proper functions as financially responsible for the whole of the Army expenditure, the Secretary of State would have a real grasp and control, which he does not now possess, over both Estimates and Votes."—(Paragraph 21.)

The reform thus indicated has in fact been carried out, and has entailed great labour on the Financial Secretary.

Thirdly, in accordance with the statement made in Parliament last Session, the inspection of all warlike stores and armaments has been entirely separated from manufacture; and for the future any article produced either by the trade or in the Ordnance Factories will be equally subjected to the inspection of the Military Authorities before being passed into the Service. All the manufacturing establishments—except the Clothing Department—have been placed under the control of a single head, who is termed the Director General of Ordnance Factories. It is intended that this Officer shall make an annual Report to the Secretary of State upon the work of his department, which will be presented to Parliament.

It will be remembered that those two important changes—namely, the separation of inspection from manufacture, and the placing of the Government Factories under a single head, are both in accordance with the recommendations of Lord Morley's Committee on the Manufacturing Departments.

The transfer to the Navy of the charge for Naval armaments, which I indicated in my last year's statement, has involved the separation in all parts of the world of the stores intended for the use of the Army and the Navy respectively. Although this division is not yet quite complete, it is accomplished at all the more important stations, and the preparation of the necessary Returns is proceeding as rapidly as possible. The result is that for the first time the Army Estimates show approximately—as between the Army and Navy—the true cost of the services undertaken by and for the Army.

The few changes proposed in the Establishments for the present year will be best explained in the course of a short review of our present state of organization.

The preparation of schemes for the utilization of all our available forces in the Service or in the defence of the country has made considerable progress during the past year. This task presents greater difficulties with us than in most countries, because of the different conditions under which our forces are serving, and of the variety of contingencies against which the schemes have to provide. We have to be prepared for the possibility of one of those small wars so common in our history, of a larger expedition involving the despatch of one or two Army Corps, and also for the general defence of the country, of the Imperial fortresses and coaling stations, and of our commercial ports.

For the first object, it is thought to be essential that we should so organize our Army as to be able to despatch a small force, complete in every detail, on the shortest notice, without calling out a single man of the Reserves. For this purpose the Aldorshot Division has been raised to a slightly higher establishment than before, the Cavalry regiments first for service now numbering 707 (all ranks) with 424 horses, instead of 625 with 380 horses, and the eight Infantry battalions being maintained at an establishment of 1,010 (all ranks), whilst a reduction has been made in the numbers at the depôts.

The only remaining changes in Establishment which it is necessary to notice here consist of an increase of 186 men in the Commissariat and Transport Corps, and a decrease of 200 in the Medical Staff Corps.

The net result is that the increase in the Establishments, upon which the Estimates are based, amounts to 276 men.

It is satisfactory to note that the 1st Class Army Reserve shows a steady and appreciable increase, the total on the 1st of January, 1887, being 46,858; whilst on the 1st of January of this year it reached nearly 51,000 men. It is estimated that the transfers from the Colours to the Reserve during 1888 will number 8,800. Owing, however, to the very large number of recruits enlisted 12 years ago, and who consequently complete 12 years' service and become entitled to their discharge this year, the "waste" from the Reserve will this year be exceptionally heavy, and will probably exceed the number transferred from the Colours. To meet this, to some extent, I have agreed to relax the regulations (which appeared somewhat unduly stringent) under which men join the "Supplementary Reserve," composed of soldiers who have completed 12 years' service.

It has been decided during the past year to enlist men for the Royal Engineers, the Commissariat and Transport Corps, and the Medical Staff Corps, for three years' service only with the Colours. This is an important step, which will, as time goes on, materially increase the Reserve of these valuable corps.

In the Memorandum attached to the Estimates of 1887–8 it was pointed out that a general review of our available forces showed that, with certain changes and additions, they would be sufficient to provide men for all our home and colonial garrisons, and also to furnish two Army Corps of Regular troops, together with a strong Cavalry Division, and the necessary troops to guard their line of communication. The two great deficiencies to be noted were in connection with our garrisons, and existed in the Garrison Artillery and in the Engineers. The present Estimates provide for the whole of the regular Garrison Artillery required by the mobilization scheme, at home and abroad, and for all the necessary Submarine Miners. The only remaining deficiency consists of four companies of Fortress Engineers, which it is not proposed to raise this year.

A mobilization involves the calling out of the Reserves necessary to raise the different units to war strength. It cannot, therefore, be effected without the previous determination of the places at which these are to be armed and equipped, the provision at such places of the necessary clothing, arms, accoutrements, and equipments, the selection of the ports of embarkation, and the storing at those ports of the ammunition, tents, vehicles, and supplies requisite to complete the outfit for war. In all these particulars considerable progress has been made during the past year.

The whole of the units necessary to complete the organization of two Army Corps, a Cavalry Division, and troops for the communications, are now actually in existence, with the exception of some deficiencies in the Departmental Corps, which could, however, be rapidly filled up on an emergency; and, in calculating the numbers required, a full allowance has been made for weeding out young soldiers and those who are likely to be physically unfit for active service. The places of mobilization and of embarkation have been selected, and each unit knows exactly where it will have to go when the order to mobilize is given.

For the 1st Army Corps, the Cavalry Division, and the troops for the Line of Communication, the whole of the necessary outfit, including clothing, arms, accoutrements, equipments, tents, stores, supplies, and vehicles, might have been said to be practically complete, except that every month produces new demands and alterations, and some of the transport matériel is not of the newest pattern. For the remaining troops it is partly in existence, and could probably be completed without serious delay; but this must, to some extent, depend on the country in which operations were anticipated.

These stores have been hitherto, to a great extent, concentrated in large depôts. The arrangements for the decentralization of a large portion of them, which is indispensable to avoid delay and confusion, are being proceeded with. I may mention in particular that it has been decided to utilize the great facilities afforded by Southampton as a port of embarkation, and to relieve the Dockyard at Portsmouth from being encumbered by the requirements of the Army at a time when its resources would probably be required for naval purposes alone. The recent transfer of the offices of the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company to the Thames has enabled us to hire the necessary store accommodation at Southampton, and the transfer of the stores will shortly be effected.

The decentralization of clothing and equipment stores, which, without great care and constant inspection, deteriorate very rapidly, presents questions of difficulty, owing to the variety of the patterns and of the numbers to be provided; and no solution has yet been arrived at. In the meantime, the issue from the central depôt, where the reserve is at present stored, could be accomplished with rapidity.

There is one general principle which, I think, should be borne steadily in mind in considering all questions of stores, and that is that while we should keep up fully sufficient stores of articles which take time to produce or to procure, no advantage arises from maintaining large reserves of goods which can be rapidly obtained from the open market in times of emergency. For these we should rely on the vast producing powers of this country. And this principle applies, not only to stores, but also, in some cases, to personnel. There are certain auxiliary services to an army, such as the Postal Corps, the Railway Corps, the Telegraph Corps, and the like, which we can largely expand from Volunteer organizations at any moment. In the case of all such corps, our proper policy would seem to be to keep up only the smallest departmental cadres, and to fall back in war time on the large Reserves furnished by these organizations.

The problem of providing on an emergency an adequate supply of horses at a moderate cost, and of avoiding the enhancement of price which a sudden demand for large numbers would inevitably cause, cannot yet be said to have been solved. The experiment that is being tried is that of inviting owners of horses, suitable for military purposes, to enter into a provisional agreement, undertaking to sell their horses to the Government, when called upon, at a given price, receiving in virtue of such agreement an annual fee for every horse. If this or any other voluntary scheme should fail—which, I think, need hardly be anticipated—the only course remaining will be to put in force those powers of compulsory requisition which are contained in existing Acts of Parliament, supplemented by any further provisions which may be necessary.

The systematic organization of the troops available for our home defence has also made some progress. The variety of conditions under which the Auxiliary Forces—upon whom our main reliance must necessarily be placed—serve, makes this a task of difficulty. It is of primary importance that the troops, and especially the Artillery, should be familiarized with the works they would, on an emergency, have to defend, and with the guns they would have to serve. Accordingly, the General Officers commanding districts have been directed to frame their proposals for the training of Volunteer Corps with a special view to attaining this object. But time will be required to accomplish this; for the local exigencies of defence sometimes necessitate the supply of contingents from very distant corps, whether of Militia or Volunteers. We are, however, making special endeavours to foster the increase of each particular arm in the neighbourhood of the locality where it is required, and to discourage any enlargement of the number of Infantry Volunteer Corps. Arrangements have been made for the formation of 21 Volunteer Batteries of Position, the guns being offered on the condition of their being efficiently horsed on a certain number of occasions.

The great progress made in recent years in the art of submarine mining has necessitated the organization of special corps of Engineers, both of Militia and Volunteers, as well as in the Regular Service, for this purpose. We have every reason to think that in all the localities where this form of defence is required, the necessary force can be raised; and provision has been made in the Estimates for raising 10 additional companies for the defence of the principal mercantile ports.

Lastly, the organization and registration of transport for all those of our Volunteer Forces which are not required for purely garrison purposes has made some progress. A small grant is being offered to certain corps this year on condition of their producing efficient regimental transport for inspection on fixed occasions. We anticipate most useful results from it; and even where no grant is offered, there is reason to hope that, in agricultural districts, at any rate, all the transport which is necessary can be registered for active service.

Turning now to the general condition of the Auxiliary Forces, as apart from the position they occupy in the mobilization scheme, I am glad to be able to report a steady improvement in efficiency in all branches.

An unsatisfactory feature, however, is a decrease in the enrolled strength of the Militia. For the last four years there has been a regular increase of recruits, but on the 1st of January 1888 the enrolled strength was less by 1,770 noncommissioned officers and men than on the same date in 1887. No other cause has been assigned than a greater facility in procuring work. On the other hand the percentage of loss by desertion was lower, and the confidential Reports are very satisfactory as regards the physique, conduct, and training of the men. The supply of officers has always been a cause of some anxiety; but this year the Returns are most satisfactory, showing that although 190 Officers passed into the Regular Army, being 40 more than usual, the Militia is able to reckon upon 132 more Officers than in the previous year.

The result of the musketry training of the Militia has never been so good as at present. 21,203 more men were exercised in 1877 than in the previous year, and 111 full battalions as against 60. Only 9 battalions have been unable to go through their musketry instruction for want of range accommodation. The standard of shooting shows considerable advance.

The present system of drilling Militia recruits at the head-quarters of the regimental districts has tended to affiliate the men more closely to the Regular troops. Some difficulty has arisen in certain cases as to the place of training of Militia battalions, the localities interested being, not unnaturally, reluctant that any change should be made. I have felt it to be my duty to be mainly guided in this matter by considerations of military efficiency.

The depression in agriculture still continues to affect the Yeomanry, and it appears from the Reports of the Inspectors that—especially in the northern districts—recruits are beginning to be more largely drawn from the class of tradesmen than of farmers. The general efficiency of the force has, however, undoubtedly increased. In the northern district a scheme of mounted ambulance detachments has been started in several regiments, and in the midland counties two regiments underwent their training in camp instead of in a town; an experiment attended with marked success, and which I should be glad to see extended when suitable ground can be procured.

All branches of the Volunteer Force have made substantial progress during the past year. Its numbers are higher than at any previous period of its existence; the Reports speak favourably of its discipline and efficiency, while the various developments, which have been already described, testify to the general desire to fit themselves for all possible requirements which pervades all Volunteers. An illustration of this may be found in the ready and energetic manner in which, in all parts of the country, they are preparing themselves to comply with the conditions to be attached in future to the Capitation Grant. It will be remembered that it has been decided that (after the year 1887–8, which was to be a year of grace and transition) the whole Capitation Grant, increased in amount to 35s., is mainly to depend upon efficiency in shooting. All men, with the exception of recruits, are to pass out of the 3rd class in musketry in order to obtain the grant. And, although the last annual Returns of Musketry cannot, for various reasons, be taken as affording any very valuable test, yet the reports which reach us from all parts of the country tend to show that the recent change will conduce to greater efficiency in musketry without operating with undue severity. Several modifications in the regulations have, moreover, been made to meet certain difficulties which have been pointed out. The most important of these relates to ranges. There can be no doubt that in all large towns, and even in some country districts, the provision of ranges is becoming a more and more serious question. Accordingly, a Committee has made special inquiry into the matter, and, in accordance with their recommendation, the use of screened, and even of underground ranges, will, under certain restrictions, be authorized in the case of corps which find great difficulty in obtaining their practice at open ranges. A concession has also been made to meet the loss, which a corps might otherwise have sustained, by the admission of a recruit who turned out to be incapable of getting; into the 2nd class. Provided that he is efficient in drill, a Capitation Grant of 10s. will be given for the second and third year, so as to enable the value of his outfit to be recovered.

Amongst other interesting examples of the great desire existing in the Volunteer Force for improved efficiency, to which the War Office is prepared to offer every encouragement, I may mention that Mounted Infantry detachments have been added to several Volunteer battalions, and that cyclist sections have been formed in many corps. One separate corps of cyclists has also been authorized, and is in process of organization. A much larger sum than usual has been asked for, this year, to enable Volunteers to drill with the Regular Army; and it is hoped that 15,000 Volunteers will be enabled to profit by this excellent method of improving in military efficiency. There can be no doubt that the connection of the Auxiliary Forces with the Regular Army is annually becoming closer, and will be much encouraged by the increasing interest now taken by all Officers commanding districts in that branch of their duties which concerns the Auxiliary Forces, and by the fact that all are now assigned a definite and responsible share in the common defence of the country.

The increased Capitation Grant, and the other grants which have been made to increase the efficiency of the force, make a substantial addition to the Estimates to which I cannot believe that any objection will be raised. There is, however, an aspect of it to which attention should be called. These increasing grants of public money are in some districts killing local contributions, of which it is, in the interests of the force, most desirable that they should continue to have the assistance.

The improvement of the arms in the hands of the troops is receiving serious attention. The manufacture of the new 12-pr. field gun is proceeding steadily. In the course of the financial year all the batteries of the two Army-Corps, and one other battery, will be armed with this very excellent weapon.

After a careful and exhaustive examination of the numberless inventions put before them, the Small-Arms Committee, presided over by Major-General Philip Smith, C.B., have submitted a magazine rifle for approval. The magazine is detachable, and of very simple construction. The calibre is. 303, experience having proved to the Committee that equally effective results can be obtained with this as with the originally proposed bore of 4. The rifle having been provisionally approved by my military advisers, a certain number are being made for final trial by the troops under all conditions. Without this it would be imprudent to commence manufacture on a large scale, and it may undoubtedly suggest minor alterations of advantage. It will then be necessary to prepare the machinery required for the manufacture of the arm. These preliminary steps will, as I am advised, prevent the completion of many rifles during the present year. If however, Parliament thinks fit to vote the necessary money (and the total cost will be heavy) a large number can be constructed in 1889, and there is every reason to hope that our Army will be equipped with a magazine rifle almost as quickly as—and with an arm superior to that of—any other nation.

In the meantime it is impossible to discontinue the manufacture of Martini-Henry rifles, or the conversion of Enfield-Martini rifles to the bore of 45. Not only will they be required for the Regular Army until the new rifle is ready for them; but it must be anticipated that for some time to come they will remain the armament of the Militia and the Volunteers.

The examination of all the weapons in the hands of our troops, promised during last Session, has steadily progressed. It has been found that a considerable number of Martini-Henry rifles, having been in use for many years, are worn out, and have to be replaced. The Reports upon the condition of the swords and bayonets present some very curious results. It is sufficient here to say that the inefficient weapons have been replaced; and that it is intended in future, through the agency of the Inspection Branch, to examine the weapons in the hands of the Regular Army annually, and those afloat at the expiration of the period for which a ship is commissioned. It is hoped by these means to ensure their absolute efficiency according to any fair tests to which they may be subjected.

Back to
Forward to