HC Deb 30 March 1914 vol 60 cc836-9

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty to whom the Vice-Admiral of the Third Battle Squadron made application for field guns for practice on shore at Lamlash, and by whom such application was granted; whence the field guns were drawn to comply with this application; whether it is in accordance with the usual practice for a Vice-Admiral to make such an application otherwise than through the Admiralty or with the knowledge and approval of the Admiralty; whether the field guns in question were under the control of the Army Council; and how was it that the Vice-Admiral made application for guns controlled by the Army Council without the knowledge of the Admiralty?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)

Battleships in Home waters do not usually carry field guns, but draw them from store when proceeding on foreign service, or on occasions when bodies of men are likely to be landed for exercise, ceremony, or other purposes. These guns are, of course, naval guns, and the approval of the Admiralty is given on. each occasion. In this instance the application was treated as a matter of routine, and approval given by the proper authority without my personal knowledge. I need hardly add that in my opinion it was a perfectly proper application for the Vice-Admiral to make and for the Admiralty to grant.


Would the right hon. Gentleman indicate what he meant by the proper authority having sanctioned the application; and whether his reference to foreign service implied that the taking on board of these field guns was appropriate to an occasion of foreign service?


What orders were given to bring on board ammunition for these guns; and why was ammunition wanted for exercise or ceremony?


I presume that when guns are taken on board ship on any occasion the ammunition for them is taken on board, too. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ceremony!"] If it is not, it certainly ought to be. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If it is desired that I should answer questions, it is better that one question should be put at a time, and that I should be permitted to give my answer without a fire of interruptions. I am endeavouring to answer several now. The hon. Member who asked the question asked who was the proper authority. I am not quite certain what official settled it, but it was settled as a pure matter of routine without my knowledge. I have already said that if I had had any responsibility for this I would gladly assume it, gladly. [An HON. MEMBER: "All right, don't bite."]


May I ask whether, when an Admiral commanding a Fleet asked to have guns of this character placed on board for exercise in bad weather it is customary also, as a matter of routine, always to supply ammunition?


As a matter of fact, in this case nothing but absolute routine was followed.


I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has answered my question. Is it customary in all such cases to supply ammunition, and to put ammunition on board at the same time as the guns?


No, Sir; I cannot answer on the spur of the moment whether that is so, but the whole matter was settled many stages lower down in the Admiralty than that which I at present occupy, consequently I am not acquainted with the details. The Admiral telegraphed home that he would like to have the guns on board, and a subsidiary authority dealt with it and met his request.


Will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to ascertain the facts and communicate them to us?


Put the question on the Paper.


was understood to assent.


Since when has the complement of one division of guns to every battleship, that is two guns, been removed from the complement? I understood the First Lord to say that they had not their proper provision on board.


The Noble Lord is full of knowledge on these subjects, but is not always quite up to date. It used to be the practice always to carry the guns on board, but I am advised that of late years the guns have only been taken on board for distant cruises, and they were not on board the Third Battle Squadron at the time the Admiral telegraphed for them, otherwise he would not have telegraphed asking that they should have been put on board. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is Lamlash a distant cruise?"]


Why ask for four guns?


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what orders, actual or contingent, were issued in respect of all ships of whatever type under Admiralty control in regard to movement, offensive, defensive, or precautionary, by reason of the existing situation in Ulster?


The orders given in this connection to His Majesty's ships were: Firstly, to two flotilla cruisers of the Patrol Flotillas (since relieved by two flotilla cruisers of the same class) to convey a company of the Bedfordshire Regiment from Kingstown to Carrickfergus, and then to remain in Belfast Lough, keeping in touch with the military authorities. Secondly, to a destroyer of the Fourth Flotilla to proceed to Dublin Bay with a view to embarking the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief if he should desire to do so. Thirdly, to the Third Battle Squadron and eight destroyers of the Fourth Flotilla, as to which I have already made a full statement. Fourthly, to two cruisers of the Training Squadron to call at Kingstown in case they might be required to transport to Dundalk the troops. This was cancelled when land transport was found to be available. These were the whole of the orders given, and the hon. Member will be able to judge whether they were actual or contingent, and whether the movements to which they related should be properly described as offensive, defensive, or precautionary.


Was it a matter of routine to summon the Admirals to London?


No, Sir, certainly not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you do it?"]

81. Mr. FELL

asked if the orders to the squadron to proceed to Lamlash were communicated by wireless telegraph; if so, on what date were the orders sent; if these orders were countermanded by wireless telegraph, and on what date; and where the ships were to embark the field guns mentioned by him?


I would refer the hon. Member to the statement I made on the 25th instant in reply to the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth.