§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir E. Carson)
The House will observe that we have taken the same course this year as my predecessors took last year and the year before in presenting the Naval Estimates to the House. You will find in them very little information. They are, I believe, technically called Token Votes, and the only Vote which really states anything is Vote A, which gives certain information as regards the number of men for whom we require the Vote. Stated briefly, at the time of the outbreak of the War the number of men employed in naval ratings was about 140,000. It had increased by last year to over 300,000 men, and we are asking now to bring it up if necessary to 400,000. All I need say about that is that the Vote itself demonstrates the natural expansion of the Navy and the necessary enlargements and strengthening of the Navy, having regard to the great weight of responsibility which rests upon it. If anybody desires to survey the history of the Navy since the outbreak of the War, I can refer him to the statement made in 1915 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill), and to the speech made last year by my predecessor, the present Foreign Secretary (Mr. Balfour). I shall have before I sit down to say something of our programme for the coming year, because it must be apparent to anybody who takes an interest in the matter that in certain respects there are obvious differences and considerations, having regard to the circumstances in which we find ourselves at present.
I ought perhaps briefly to refer to the changes which have taken place at the Admiralty. Recently the late First Sea Lord has been replaced by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. I cannot help saying that I think the country in the present crisis is extremely fortunate in having at the Admiralty Sir John Jellicoe. His knowledge of the Service is unparalleled. 1360 There is no important post in the Admiralty which he has not, between his sea services, filled. As one of the Sea Lords on two occasions, as the Director of the Naval Ordnance, and as an expert in gunnery, he is unique as an officer at the Admiralty. But in addition to that, what I value most is that with that experience he has held in his hands the destinies of this country for two and a half long years, with faithful, able, and watching service, preserving our shores from the assaults and attacks of the enemy. The other greatest change is the change of the Commander-in-Chief, who is now Admiral Sir David Beatty. He has had a unique career. At a very early age he is now commanding the greatest Fleet that ever sailed the seas, and I believe that he has the confidence of every man who is serving under him. I believe he always had that confidence, but from what I have seen in my visits to the Fleet, I believe it is a daily growing confidence, founded upon the connection of the officers and men with this distinguished admiral. There have been other changes at the Board to which I will make a passing reference. We have appointed a fifth Sea Lord to deal mainly with the Naval Air Service, because, as the House will recollect, an Air Board has been appointed. He represents the Admiralty on the Air Board, and I feel certain, from what I have heard, that the appointment of the Air Board, with the necessary co-ordination between its services and the supply being vested in the Minister of Munitions, will greatly increase the efficiency of the Air Service, and greatly increase what is above all necessary, the output of our aeroplanes.
We have had another change, of far-reaching consequence, and that is the-appointment of the Shipping Controller. The Transport Department at the Admiralty had grown to an enormous extent since the outbreak of the War. The whole of that Department, except so tar as it is concerned with naval transport and the duty of naval transport to the Army, has been entirely taken over by the Shipping Controller. May I say, in passing, that I am not sorry for it because I certainly shall be relieved of a great many complaints where the requisitioning of shipping, which is daily increasing, has to take place, and where. I am glad to think, in the future it will be dealt with by the Shipping Controller, and not by me. The appointment of the Shipping Controller makes other changes, to which I will refer 1361 later on, but more especially in regard to the question of the building of merchant ships, which, as the House will readily understand as my statement proceeds, is a matter of the most vital urgency to this country at the present moment. I am not going to take up a great deal of time in surveying the work of the Fleet. The House and the country will expect me mainly to deal with the growth of the submarine menace, and I intend, I hope, to deal with it perfectly frankly. The vast work, the unceasing, silent and watchful work of our Fleet, deserves, at all events, a passing word. The Grand Fleet, though never advertised, is never done working. The great volume of trade in and out of this country has gone on unceasingly and unremittingly. Our Allies in every quarter of the world have been helped ungrudgingly.
The great mercantile fleet of Germany still lies idle in her harbour. Her ports are desolate and deserted. I do not think people really realise the calls that have been made upon the Navy as the War has expanded. They think of home waters. Probably they sometimes think of the waters that surround our Colonies. But we are largely assisting in the expeditions in Mesopotamia, in Salonika, in Greece, and in Egypt. In all these theatres of War we have to keep the seas clear so as to bring the necessary support, the necessary equipment, and the necessary ammunition to carry out warlike operations. Notwithstanding that, let me say that, upon the whole, in my belief, this country has suffered less in privations than any other of the belligerents. I very much dislike statistics. I am afraid, however, I shall, if I am to convey information to the House and to the country, have to trouble the House with a certain number of statistics. Let me just give a slight picture of what has been done. Let me give the House a summary of some of the work that has been carried out on the sea in the direction of transport since the War began, and which has been going on daily up till the present moment. I have a Return here which has been brought up only to 30th October, 1916. You may, however, take it from me that in proportion the same amounts are being transported at the present time.
In regard to personnel, the total numbers that we moved across the seas up to that date were 8,000,000 men. Although I 1362 regret to say we have had two or three untoward incidents, when you think of the vast domain of sea over which they were: moved, I think we may say that these men were removed almost without mishap. Take supplies and explosives. Up to 30th October of last year we had moved 9,420,000 tons; 288 ships; sick and wounded over 1,000,000; horses and mules over 1,000,000; with petrol alone amounting to 47,504,000 gallons. When people begin to-be anxious—and may I say rightly anxious!—I would ask that they should not think that the account is all on one side. Do not let them imagine, because certain incidents occur which cause us anxiety, that at the same time the work which we are carrying out is not gigantic. Let me direct attention to another matter. We have during the last year examined on the high seas or in harbour ships coming in voluntarily, by arrangement, or being compelled to, numbering 15,158. Since the commencement of the War we have examined 25,874. In the month of January of this year we examined in British ports alone 764 ships. From the Returns which I have up to the present I am encouraged to think that the numbers will not be less in February, notwithstanding the blockade. That is the work which constitutes the blockade of Germany! But does anybody conceive what is the extent of that work? Let them picture to themselves the size of the Atlantic Ocean. Let them conceive the work that is required to guard that ocean and to take care that these ships coming into our harbours are examined on their way to Scandinavian and other ports. I saw the other day the admiral of one of our squadrons who helps to carry this out. I wish the House could have heard his description of the work. He showed me a diagram, dotted over the whole Atlantic, of the ships that he met from day to day. If you could see the picture it would give some idea of the herculean task which we so lightly pass over when we are criticising the conduct of affairs.
However, I pass from that. I only think it right to remind the country of it. I cannot, however, pass from this part of my statement without paying a passing tribute to the bravery and the distinction which has been won by our Naval Division in France. They have covered themselves with glory. May I say that they owe their origin to my right hon. Friend sitting opposite (Mr. Churchill). Having said so much, I come now to deal with the 1363 submarine menace. It is not a recent menace. It has been for months and months a growing menace staring us in the face. I myself spoke in this House on 15th November, about a month before I was given my present office. Although the speech is a very ungrammatical one—[laughter]—as reported—[renewed laughter]—I merely desire to quote a few lines from it to show that when I went to the Admiralty I was at least alive to the fact that there was a submarine menace. I made that speech following my right hon. Friend opposite, the ex-President of the Board of Trade, when he introduced proposals in relations to the Food Controller. I said:There is no use our shutting our eyes to the great difficulties we are going to have in the future for transport. It is all very well to hide away in the corners of newspapers the submarine menace. It can do us no good shutting our eyes to the fact, and we really are not telling the Germans anything they do not know. They know perfectly well, and no small print in the corner of a newspaper will make any difference."-[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November.1916, col. 864. Vol. LXXXVII.]I intend to-day to act on the principles I there laid down. I assumed my present office with a full sense of responsibility, and of anxiety in relation to this question, and I can assure the House that I have never from the day I went to the Admiralty to the present moment ceased to work in reference to this submarine menace. People ask me about it. They say: "Are you optimistic or are you pessimistic?" I am neither one nor the other. My duty is to tell the House and the country the whole extent of the menace. It is grave. It is serious. It has not yet been solved. I can honestly say that we have never for a moment ceased to work at it in the Admiralty. But no single magic remedy exists, or probably will exist. Nevertheless, I am confident that in the development of measures which have been and are being devised its seriousness will by degrees be greatly mitigated.
Let me tell the House what we have done by way of organisation. We have established at the Admiralty an Anti-Submarine Department, composed of the best and most experienced men we could draw for that purpose from men serving at sea. Their whole time is devoted to working out the problem. I have had their reports brought before the Board, and the Board take full responsibility for the approval of their methods and suggestions. Shortly after Sir John Jellicoe came to the Admiralty he issued an invitation to 1364 every member of the Fleet to send in any suggestion that occurred to him for dealing with this difficulty. We have, in addition to the Anti-Submarine Department, the Board of Inventions and Research. It is presided over by Admiral Lord Fisher, and associated with him are the greatest scientists the country possesses. He is there to tell them the wants of the Admiralty, and they are there to work out the methods by which those wants can be met—men like Sir J. Thomson, Sir Charles Parsons, Sir G. Beilby, and many of equal distinction associated with them; and I am sorry that my right hon. Friend opposite described a body of that kind the other night as a "chemist's shop." These are some of the greatest men we have. They give us of their best freely, and, as far as I am concerned, I cannot for a moment imagine that a great and distinguished public servant, who has done so much in the past as Lord Fisher has done, is not also giving to the Admiralty ungrudgingly the whole of his abilities and the whole of his services in trying to solve a problem of this kind, which threatens the very existence of this country. However, if anyone can suggest a better organisation, if anyone can suggest an improvement in the organisation, I shall be only too happy to consider it. For my own part, since I have been at the Admiralty, so far as I know, every single intelligent suggestion which has been made—and there have been many of them—with a view to helping us in these difficulties, has been worked out and tested with elaborate care by the bodies to which I have already referred.
One matter has greatly helped us. The first question that was put to me in my present office was asked by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) with reference to the law affecting the arming of merchant ships. I then stated the proposition, which, although commented on, has never, so far as I know, been denied by either the belligerents, our enemies, or by the great neutral countries, as to the right of every merchant ship to arm itself for defensive, as contrasted with offensive, purposes. I have been greatly interested in observing the effect of the arming of merchant ships. You may take it from me that in the last two months the number of armed merchant ships has increased by 47.5 per cent., and I do not know that that conveys to you the amount of work that was involved. We had, in 1365 the first place, to get guns in competition with the Army. We had to get the mountings, and, above all, we had to get the gun ratings. All I can say is that that increase in the arming or the merchant ships is going on better and better each week. When I tell the House the percentages, so far as I can gather, of the number of armed merchantmen and unarmed merchantmen that escaped the submarine menace, they will see how right we were to throw our whole force and power into carrying out this arming. As far as I can gather, of armed merchantmen that escape there are about 70 per cent, or 75 per cent., and of unarmed merchantmen 24 per cent. Therefore you you will see how important is every gun you get and every ship you arm.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
By an armed merchant ship does the right hon. Gentleman mean one with a gun in the stern only?
§ Mr. McKENNA
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that that is the percentage of ships attacked, and not of all ships?
§ Sir E. CARSON
Oh, attacked, of course. We have made great preparations, and I would like, in passing, to say that the French have helped us considerably in this matter. There was some question at one time that some of the neutrals raised—as to whether our ships had a right to enter their ports armed. I must state that that has all been practically got over, and I do not believe that any international lawyer—and although the Germans have abandoned international law, the neutrals have not —will controvert the proposition which I stated in this House as to the right of a merchantman to arm itself against offence. I am stating that about the arming of merchant ships, and the effect it produces, not to minimise the difficulties or to minimise the extent of the danger in which we are placed.
I must now state the progress of our losses, but their real significance can only be realised by comparing them with the volume of our shipping. I propose to compare, first, the total of British, Allied and Neutral shipping, taking the first eighteen days of each of the months of December, January, and February, with a view to showing the extent to which the so-called blockade by Germany has in- 1366 creased those losses. What I am going to give you are the figures of merchant vessels over 100 tons net lost through submarines and mines, excluding fishing vessels; and the reason I exclude fishing vessels is because they are not brought in in a comparison with the amount of our trade entered and cleared every day in the various ports of the realm. Taxing the total of British, Allied and Neutral in the first eighteen days of December, we lost of steamers over 1,000 tons sixty-nine, amounting to 201,934 tons; in January, sixty-five steamers, amounting to 183,533 tons; in February, eighty-nine steamers, amounting to 268,671 tons. Now I will give you the British for the first eighteen days of each of those months. In December there were 24 steamers over 1,000 tons, amounting to 92,573 tons; in January, 23 steamers over 1,000 tons, amounting to 82,158 tons; and in February, 47 steamers over 1,000 tons, amounting to 169,927 tons. I will now give you steamers under 1,000 tons lost in the same way. The total of British, Allied, and neutral in December, was 10, amounting to 6,292 tons; in January, 7, amounting to 4,379 tons; and in February, 14, amounting to 6,957 tons. Of the British, in December there was not any; in January, 1, amounting to 466 tons; and in February, 8, amounting to 3,468 tons. In addition to that, there were losses amongst sailing vessels, the total British, Allied, and neutral in December being 39, amounting to 15,096 tons; in January, 19, amounting to 10,321 tons; and in February, 31, amounting to 28,968 tons. Of these in December, six were British, amounting to 2,531 tons; in January, two were British, amounting to 2,193 tons; and in February, seven were British, amounting to 8,134 tons. Let me give you the total. The total of the items I have given for December were 118 vessels, amounting to 223,322 tons; for January 91 vessels, amounting to 198,233 tons; for the first eighteen days of February 134 vessels, amounting to 304,596 tons.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Yes, and the first eighteen days of February. Having stated those losses, let us now turn to see what those losses were out of, and what was the volume of the trade. From the 1st to the 18th February—I am talking now of the daily number of vessels over 100 tons net, 1367 arriving and sailing into United Kingdom ports, exclusive of fishing craft or sailing vessels, and exclusive of estuarial traffic— for the first eighteen days of February we had arrivals in port of 6,076 ships, and we had clearances for the same eighteen days of 5,873 ships. That together shows an enormous amount of shipping which still goes on notwithstanding the German blockade. You may take it from me, and it may be another figure interesting to the House for future consideration, and whatever may arise in reference to this question—that the estimated number of ships in the danger zone at any one time —I mean the danger zone at home—is about 3,000. The losses are bad enough and they are dangerous enough, but they are not equal to the blatant and extravagant bravado of the German accounts. Here is an intercepted message to New York, taken from the "Deutsche Tages-zeitung," giving a great account; of the actions of their submarines, which I am not at all tempted to minimise, but I am attempting to put them in their true light. After boasting of the deeds of their men, they say this:They are taking into account that at first the increase in sinking will not be so very great as they would wish, for submarine scare has been thrown into the English with paralyzing effect, and the whole sea was as if swept clean at one blow.Twelve thousand ships in and out in eighteen days does not look anything like a paralysing effect or a sweeping of the seas. Then they go on and say this:It caused us nearly joy that English government has seen itself necessitated to forbid publication of ships losses.Sir, there is not a particle of truth in that statement, and so far as I am concerned, I would never be a party to holding back from my fellow countrymen the losses which I believe, so far from making them shrink from the conflict, will put into them the spirit and determination that will eventually drive back these German vessels. I dare say some people will criticise our action in giving all these details, and I dare say people will say, "Are you not letting the Germans know how far they have been successful?" Not at all. I am letting the neutrals know the truth, and in my opinion the greatest asset that this country possesses is the unconquerable courage of our race. In face of all these sinkings, with their accompanying sacrifices and trials—and God knows it is wearying work to read of the boats with frozen corpses that are brought in which 1368 have been submarined without notice by a nation that said they would not shrink from sinking our hospital ships and drowning our wounded—that is all bad enough, but I am encouraged by the fact that I have not yet heard of one sailor who has refused to sail. That is what is going to win the War, and however neutrals may have been nervous and frightened, you will see our example spread, and you will sec, as days go on, that the neutrals will resume their sailings.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I agree. I propose to make a change in the method of publishing our losses, which I hope the House will approve of. Nothing can be worse than inaccurate recording of these losses. I take up a paper and I see "Twenty-four ships sunk," or something of that kind, in a big headline. When you come to examine that with the real knowledge of the facts you know that these are accumulations coming in for many days. When you read down the list probably you recognise by the names of them some are fishing boats, or trawlers, not that I am minimising the loss of fishing boats or trawlers, but when you read it you get no comparison with the actual volume of the trade that is being done. I propose, therefore, to publish—I am not sure that I shall be able to do it every day, but as near as possible every day—the number not merely of British merchant vessels sunk by mines and submarines, but also the arrivals of British vessels of over 100 tons net in United Kingdom ports, exclusive of fishing and local craft. I also propose to publish the number of British merchant vessels which are attacked and escape. I shall also publish the number of fishing vessels which are sunk.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Yes, if I can. I do not propose to publish the number of neutral and Allied vessels sunk. In the first place, we have not always the accurate information, and, in the second place, the neutral and Allied Powers prefer to publish their own losses themselves. If they should be copied into our papers I do not mind, but I shall deal with our ships in the manner I have mentioned, and if any hon. Member thinks there is anything 1369 else which I ought to be able to give with reference to information I can assure him I shall be quite willing to do so.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I rather think that the names of the men who lose their lives are published in the casualty lists as far as we can get them, but it is not a very easy thing to get the names.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
Will the right hon. Gentleman take into consideration the desirability or otherwise of publishing the number of German submarines destroyed?
§ Sir E. CARSON
The hon. Member will see that I am not going to shrink from that question, but I am dealing with one matter at a time.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Yes. I am often asked, and my predecessors have often been asked, Why is it the Admiralty have not from time to time published the number of German submarines destroyed? It has been pointed out to me by many hon. Members, and with considerable force, that the daily toll of British merchant shipping is published to the world, but nothing is said about the losses the enemy incurs in the submarine campaign, the effect being that all the honour appears to rest with the enemy, and that apparently nothing is being done on our part to cope with this menace. I frankly admit that that is an argument of force, but I am bound to remind the House of the other side of the question. In the first place, I have no doubt myself that the policy of silence pursued by successive Boards of the Admiralty about the losses of enemy submarines is the policy that the enemy dislikes most. Just see what it is. A submarine starts out on its campaign of murder and all the enemy know is that it does not return home. What has happened is a complete mystery to them. They cannot tell whether the submarine was lost from a defect of construction or design, which is a very important matter, or some error of navigation, or whether her loss was due to one or other of the methods that the British Admiralty has devised for her destruction. This is the first point. The second 1370 point is that if we were immediately to announce the certain destruction of an enemy submarine the enemy would know-without waiting that a relief for that particular boat was required and they would at once dispatch another submarine, if available, to operate against our ships. I would rather leave them to imagine that they are there when they are not. As it is, the enemy cannot know for some time the exact number of their submarines that have been operating at any particular moment.
But undoubtedly a further and the strongest argument is that we at the Admiralty do not know ourselves whether an enemy submarine has or has not for certain and in fact been destroyed. All we know is that from day to day and from week to week reports come to us of engagements with enemy submarines, and it follows of necessity that the results range from the certain, through the probable, down to the possible and improbable. In the case of the submarine it is only absolutely certain when you have taken prisoners. After all, the submarine is operating mainly under the water. A submarine dives, and very often someone thinks that it has sunk. A submarine sometimes dives when it is wounded—no doubt never to come up again, but you cannot tell. I should be sorry to mislead the country by giving them only what you could call, under the circumstances I have mentioned, "certainties." I know it would be misleading. On the other hand, if I gave them probabilities, it might be equally misleading. The degrees of evidence in relation to the sinking of every submarine, or the report of the sinking of every submarine, vary to the most enormous extent. You may say, if I had nothing else to do at the Admiralty, that I might be able to weigh the evidence. Well, I can assure you it is no easy matter. I hold in my hand at the present moment brief accounts of some forty encounters which we have bad with the submarine since 1st February. Recollect what they are doing, and how they are working. The fact that we nave got into grips with them forty times in eighteen days is an enormous achievement. Perhaps it will make my meaning dearer if I give to the House a few illustrations. I may be raising the veil somewhat on how the battles are carried on, and with what varying results, but I will give you a few illustrations to show what I mean by the difficulty of establish- 1371 ing in the large majority of cases definite conclusions. I will take my illustrations in the order of probability.
The first illustration I give presents no difficulty whatsoever. A few days ago one of our destroyers attacked an enemy submarine. They hit the submarine, and, as events showed, killed the captain. The submarine dived. If it had remained below, it would have been an uncertainty, but as a matter of fact she was injured only so much as that she was compelled, but able, to come to the surface. She was captured, and her officers and men were all taken prisoners. That is an absolute case. But look how different it might have been if the submarine had been so injured that she was unable to come to the surface, and had remained at the bottom of the sea! My second illustration is that of a report received from one of our transports that she had struck an enemy submarine and was herself damaged, and that she was confident that the submarine had been sunk. A further report was received later that an obstruction which was thought to be the sunk submarine had been located. This is a claim of which we may say there attaches to it a degree of probability amounting to almost certainty. The injuries to the damaged ship were found to correspond to such injuries as would be caused by ramming. My third illustration will be that of a report received that two of our patrol vessels had engaged two enemy submarines and sunk them both, but there were no casualties in the patrol boats and no survivors from the submarines. A fuller report received of this engagement appears to show that one of the submarines was sunk, but it leaves a degree of doubt about the second. My fourth illustration will be that of one of our destroyers reporting that she had heavily rammed an enemy submarine which was awash. There is no doubt that the destroyer struck the submarine a severe blow, but it is not possible to establish that the submarine was sunk. This, I think, might be described as a case of strong probability.
The fifth report I propose to quote is that of an enemy submarine being engaged by two of our patrol vessels, who were subsequently assisted by two destroyers. The result of the engagement is reported as doubtful, although it is certain that one of the destroyers was slightly damaged in running over the conning- 1372 tower of the submarine. In another case one of our patrol vessels reported striking a submerged object after engaging an enemy submarine, and an examination of the patrol vessel bore out this report. It is believed that the submerged object struck was the submarine engaged, but it is not quite clear, and in this case there is a considerable degree of doubt. I will give three more illustrations in which the claim is made, ranging from possible to improbable. A patrol vessel reports that she has been in action with an enemy submarine, that the fifth shot hit the submarine's conning-tower and it is believed that she was sunk. The second case is that of one of our smaller airships sighting a submarine on the surface and dropping a bomb just after the submarine had dived. Lastly, there is a case in which an aeroplane dropped a bomb on the enemy submarine when in the act of diving. The submarine was not seen again, but the result is quite unknown. I have given you these illustrations in order that you may see that we are not, from any purpose of concealing or not trusting our people, who, after all, have to bear the brunt of all this, keeping anything back. At the same time, we ought not to publish anything that would be misleading.
I have dealt with the submarine menace, and I have told you really all I know myself. You have now got the situation. I have neither tried to under-estimate it nor to exaggerate it. How are we to deal with it? We are doing our best on the naval side, but I am bound to say that, in my opinion we must firmly and determinedly take such other measures as we can devise, on the assumption that it will be only by degrees and through the development of measures that we are adopting that the danger can in time be mitigated, even though it may never be entirely eradicated. We cannot afford to take risks. The Food Controller's work and the Food Producer's work will all help to contribute to the solution, but in my opinion we must go further. I understand that the Prime Minister will to-morrow ask the House, and, of course, the nation, to allow the Government to reduce imports, so as to limit them to those which are essential for the carrying-on of the War and the food of our people. I do not hesitate for a moment to say that the Admiralty have felt it their duty to urge that point upon the Prime Minister and upon the Government. Look at the help 1373 it will be to us. Look at the reserve it will give the country in ships. If you can reduce your imports—and you certainly can — you will relieve for the watching of the remainder and the outgoing ships, patrols, destroyers, convoys, every kind and description of ship which aids and assists in our organisation upon the seas.
You will relieve the dangers and the difficulties of the captains, officers, and men of your merchantmen. May I say, in passing, that I cannot talk too highly of the work of the merchant service, nor can I talk too highly of the courage and bravery beyond all description of the men on the patrols and the mine sweepers. These men carry their lives in their hands at every moment of the day. They do it ungrudgingly. And for what? To save your shores and feed and keep your people in comfort. If anyone is inclined to doubt that, let him contrast his life at home, even with reduced imports, with the daily and hourly dangers which confront these men who never cease and never know a moment's security. There are other methods also for alleviating the situation.
I said I would say a word about the programme for the year, and I said it was plain we were in a different position for framing programmes to those who have occupied this position in other years of the War. Our programme now must be largely framed with a view to as speedily as possible alleviating the losses caused by the submarine menace. You cannot expect in any near time to lay down and complete great battleships, of which we have large numbers, and for which in his programme we owe a deep debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill). We have arrived at an entirely different state of affairs, and are faced with an entirely different problem. We want to build, of course, such craft as will be most readily and soonest available, and we also want to make good the losses in the mercantile marine, and therefore we have two, as it were, competing programmes. I do not say it in any sense as wishing to give any idea that there is friction in relation to the matter. On the contrary. But in this state of facts, with these competing programmes, we have appointed between the Admiralty and the Shipping Controller and the Board of Trade a junta to arrange how these necessary programmes are to be carried out, so that 1374 the most suitable yards may be appropriated to the most suitable kinds of ships. We are taking care, and I think we can assure the House, that not a single slip in the country will be left empty during the coming months.
We have also set up and strengthened a Department for controlling labour in the shipyards. When I say "controlling," what I mean is this: The Admiralty necessarily had a right of priority in the early part of the War in relation to labour. There was at times, I think, a good deal of wastage, and the Admiralty have set up now a Department to prevent that and try to have the labour properly allocated according to the programmes which have to be carried out. It is my duty hereto-day to point out to every labourer and every workman engaged in the yards and in the docks that whether they are engaged in building merchant ships or in building ships of war that each of these classes of ships is equally engines of defence in the life of this country. May I say that on them devolves, as much as upon any man in the Admiralty, the power of defeating the submarine menace. Every nail, every rivet, put into a ship contributes towards the defeat of the murderous weapon of the Hun. I believe that the menace can be and will be beaten. I believe it can only be solved by the nation itself acting in the ways I have indicated" in conjunction with the Navy, but that it can be and will be solved is certain.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the illuminating account which he has given of the present position of that great Department of the Service over which he presides. I think the House particularly appreciated the frank and manly way in which he stated the difficulties and dangers with which he was confronted and the losses, without minimising them in any way, which are from day to day inflicted upon our mercantile marine. My right hon. Friend rightly devoted the bulk of his speech to the submarine danger. No graver danger menaces us to-day. It is curious, looking back over the past, to the days before the War, to see all the-dangers which we then foresaw and which we then laboured to provide against. How many they were. How formidable they seemed. How serious were the anxieties and the pre-occupations of those who were responsible for trying to prepare against them. There was the danger of surprise by treacherous attack in profound peace upon 1375 our Fleet—a danger which was described as "a bolt from the blue"; there was the danger of armed merchantmen in large numbers breaking out upon all the trade routes of the Empire and upon our commerce; there was the dangers of aerial attacks upon our dockyards, our arsenals, our magazines, and our oil tanks; there was the danger of sabotage on a gigantic scale, the Zeppelin danger, the mining danger, the danger that the Army would not leave this country in time or get safely across to its station, the danger that we should be exposed to a raid or an invasion before our Territorial Force could be properly trained, and after our Regular Army had left these shores; the danger that we should not be able to maintain our oil supply.
All these dangers looming up through what were then the mists of the uncertain future have been successfully surmounted, have been overcome. No serious or vital miscarriage has come to us from any of them. They have drifted past us and floated away behind us; and now in the fourth campaign of the War we are confronted by new dangers and new difficulties, different altogether from all these dangers which I have recounted to the House, but certainly not less serious in their character, and dangers which arise not from any of the forty years' pre-war preparation of the Germans, but from new efforts and new devices and new methods which they have made and adopted since August and September, 1914. All that great fleet which was the product of successive German Navy Laws and grew year by year under our eyes, against which we used to measure ourselves so carefully and so anxiously with just this or that percentage of margin of superiority in every class of vessel—all that great fleet and all the preparations of a secret and elaborate character which they had made in every part of the world for the levying of aggressive war by sea have been effectually frustrated, and our chief and almost our sole anxiety at the present time arises not from the ships of the German Fleet as we knew it before the War, but from vessels scarcely one of which was in existence at the declaration of War, and from the adoption of methods of warfare which before this War were considered by the best judges incredible or almost incredible that any civilised belligerent would adopt or that neutral nations would endure. That is a curious reflection, but it is not 1376 an unencouraging reflection, for I think the recollection of the many perils and difficulties we have overcome, in spite, no doubt, of many errors and shortcomings, should inspire us with sober confidence that we shall succeed, no doubt with much suffering and loss and anxiety, but still that we shall in the end succeed in meeting the present and future perils, some of which my right hon. Friend has so vividly and pointedly described to us to-night.
Last year, when I spoke on the Navy Estimates, in following the predecessor of my right hon. Friend, I thought it my duty to strike a note of warning and of criticism. This year I have no such intention. Everyone is fully alive now to the serious position in which we stand, no one more so than the Minister on whom the chief burden of responsibility is now thrown. Indeed, so much are people alive to this danger, that it is right also for us to keep in mind that, serious as the danger is, it is possible even to exaggerate it, and that, above all, there must be no undue alarm or panic, not only in our merchant seamen, who have shown themselves entirely immune from any threat of danger at the present time, but also in the civil population of this country, who also must preserve the most sober and calm state of mind in regard to the dangers by which we are now confronted. Criticism has its place, but criticism in war-time to be justified, and to be helpful, should be criticism before the event. Nothing is more easy, nothing is cheaper, nothing is more futile than to criticise the hazardous and incalculable events and tendencies of war after the event has occurred. Therefore, I shall not hark back this afternoon to what I ventured to submit to the House last year further than to say—I think I am entitled to say-it—that I never made a speech in this House—I am sorry to say I have made a good many—for which I was more roundly abused, and I never made a speech which was more necessary in the general and vital interests of the country. It was quite clear last year that new dangers were coining upon us, and that the submarine menace would renew itself in forms more difficult to cope with than the first submarine campaign had manifested. The possibilities of large overseas submarines, and of a great multiplication of German submarines, were already fully in view. It was an open secret that the German mind and the German effort were 1377 already turned in these directions. The only reason we did not care to speak openly about it was for fear that that movement might be stimulated by discussing it as a danger and by showing apprehension of it; but the movement was well marked and was tolerably well known. It was also evident that the Board of Admiralty, as it was then constituted, although composed of most able and skilful officers and although guided by all the comprehension and ability of the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, had not got the drive, vitality and resourcefulness which the new situation and the changing and aggravated situation urgently and indisputably required. It was evident that at the time it was right to say so, and that was the time to say it.
My right hon. Friend this afternoon, in the account he has given of the measures which he has taken and which are being taken to cope with the new development of the submarine, has described to us the institution of an Anti-Submarine Department, with special charge of this section of Admiralty affairs. It was high time that a measure of that obvious character should be taken. There is not the slightest reason why measures of that character, and others which are connected with it and which deal with the same set of expedients, should not have been adopted, not in January and February, 1917, but in the similar months of 1916. I proposed this time last year that Lord Fisher should be recalled to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord. After a very long interval another solution has been adopted The Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet was recalled to the chief naval position at the Admiralty. If you look back, I do not think that that solution was reasonably possible this time last year. The victorious battle of Jutland had not then been fought. We had not then taken the definite measure in general battle of the whole German Fleet, nor had Sir David Beatty at that time either the full experience in handling large bodies of ships or the full measure of the reputation which has since enabled him, with so much general acceptance, to fill the vacant place created by Sir John Jellicoe's recall to the Admiralty. But when the time came for Sir John Jellicoe to leave the Grand Fleet and to return to the Admiralty, from which, as the House is aware, he was so reluctantly spared at the outbreak of War, the obvious successor, acclaimed by all, 1378 was at hand to take his place. In Sir David Beatty we have a Commander-in-Chief who, by his gifts and also by his exceptional training, not only possesses the regular qualifications which admirals of distinction possess, but he has, perhaps, in a greater degree than almost any of the other principal officers of the Fleet, what may be called the "war mind." It is not only seamanship or technical attainments or even leadership of men that are required in a Commander-in-Chief, but also that feeling towards the art of war, that deep comprehension of its sombre yet simple problems, without which all other qualifications, however valuable, however laboriously attained, still only receive a limited scope. The nation is fortunate in that, as this struggle deepens and darkens, it finds two such leaders of the Navy afloat and ashore— with the Fleet and at the Admiralty. Let me also say that the fact that Sir Doveton Sturdee, an officer who had a decisive victorious naval action to his credit, should have loyally accepted the position of serving under his junior is only one of the many instances of the loyal comradeship which the officers of the Naval Service have by long tradition always observed towards each other.
It is impossible to allow the mind's eye to run over the flotillas and battle squadrons of the Grand Fleet and over the leaders—trusted, experienced, and war-hardened leaders—who are in command of them, without being infected by the desire, which all ranks of ratings in that great Fleet have, that a further opportunity of a blue-water battle may be provided them before the year has closed. I hope my right hon. Friend will not think—I am sure he will not—that it is from any want of confidence in the present Board of Admiralty, or in the brilliant sailor on whose advice he relies, if I repeat in a somewhat different and modified form what I said last year, namely, the hope that no personal consideration or old animosities, born of controversies and reforms of the past, or prejudices of this or that important person, will prevent him from endeavouring, as opportunity offers, to find some means by which the fertile genius of Lord Fisher can be more effectively associated with the conduct of naval affairs. I read with some regret the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. Meux) the other day. However these 1379 matters ought to be decided, they ought not to be decided on the grounds that he adduced. That is not the language, that is not the spirit in which, in time of war, the appointment of men of the highest ability to the national service should be approached. Let us keep our hatreds for the enemy. That is a sound general rule which has much wider application than I am making of it at the moment. I understand the difficulties of this matter, and I do not attempt to prescribe the manner or means by which they can be surmounted. But of this I am sure, that this is not a time for the personal proscription of any naval officer of the highest ability. We need all our talent, we need all our resources; and if my right hon. Friend in his own way and in his own time finds it possible to take some action in this direction, I am certain—I do not speak without a varied extensive and peculiar knowledge of the subject—that it would conduce to the interests of the Navy and sustain in the hard and trying months that lie ahead of us the confidence and spirit of the nation.
I listened with great attention, in common with all the rest of the House, to the full account which my right hon. Friend has given of the various and numerous palliative and defensive measures which are being adopted by the Admiralty to minimise and, if possible, restrict within limits which are not injurious the submarine attacks of the enemy. The statistics which he has placed before the House are impressive and are very serious, but, at the same time, I am glad that he has stated them, because they enable us to measure accurately and definitely the evil and the danger by which we are assailed so far as it has at present manifested itself. The right hon. Gentleman was also quite right to place before the House, and in consequence before the country, the other side of the picture—not merely the ships which are being sunk each day, but the enormous number of vessels which, charged with their precious cargoes, are reaching our harbours safely, plying boldly on their course and on their new voyages, and, on the other hand, that unpublished, not accurately recorded, but at the same time steady and cruel denudation of the enemy's submarine strength which is constantly and ceaselessly at work through the activities, through the enterprise, through the ingenuity, and through the daring of our seamen, not 1380 only in the ships of war but also in the merchant ships. It has two sides to it. Both sides inflict great suffering and injury, but I feel that the right hon. Gentleman has taken a wise step in reverting to the old practice of publishing a regular list of sinkings, sailings and arrivals, such as we had in the days of the first submarine campaign. He has also asked the House to support him in not attempting to publish the losses inflicted on the enemy submarines, and the reasons he has given have been potent and powerful. It is entirely a matter for the House. I am certain the House would not wish to put any pressure upon them or allow any pressure to be put upon them in such a matter If the Admiralty is prepared to publish regularly the losses which they are sustaining, and feel themselves strong enough at the same time not to publish any claims of the losses they are inflicting, no policy is more calculated to convey a feeling of confidence to those who think carefully and soberly about these matters.
Many of the methods which are adopted to combat the enemy submarines it is, of course, impossible to speak of. Some are of very early date, and some have been developed in the time of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, for many very valuable lines of inquiry were patiently pursued in his tenure of office. But of those of which we can speak, none is more important than the arming of merchant ships and the building of new merchant tonnage to replace what has been lost. I have been struck, and I dare say many Members have had the same experience, with the great amount of misapprehension which exists in the mind even of quite well-informed people about the character and method of submarine warfare. It is a widespread delusion that a submarine has to rise to the surface in order to discharge its torpedo, whereas of course, a submarine fires its torpedo in perfect safety from any gunfire with only a foot or two of its periscope showing above the water. The object of putting guns on a merchant ship is to compel the submarine to submerge. If a merchant ship has no guns, a submarine with a gun is able to destroy it at leisure by gunfire, and we must remember that on the surface submarines go nearly twice as fast as they do under water. Therefore, the effect of putting guns on a merchant ship is to drive the submarine to abandon the use of the gun, to lose its surface speed, and to fall back on the 1381 much slower speed under water and the use of the torpedo. The torpedo, compared with the gun, is a weapon of much more limited application. The number of torpedoes which can be constructed in a given time is itself subject to certain limits. Any trained artillerist or naval gunner can hit with a gun, but to make a submerged attack with a torpedo requires a much higher degree of skill and training. One of the things we counted on to check the indefinite development of German submarine expansion was the difficulty of training crews. That difficulty does not manifest itself as long as submarines are free to use the gun, but it will undoubtedly manifest itself when they are driven back on the almost exclusive use of the torpedo, by the fact that the great majority of merchant ships which they meet will be effectively armed, and the result will be, or should be to a certain extent, that a very large proportion of torpedoes will be wasted, because the difficulty of firing at a ship advancing with accuracy is very great, and there is only a very limited are ahead of a ship from which a torpedo can be discharged with the certainty of getting home. Also the torpedo is easy to dodge, and a shell is impossible to dodge. I thought it was right to explain in a few simple words this matter which is bread and butter to every family in this country. It is of the highest importance that the ships which are being built to replace existing tonnage, what we might call tonnage casualties, should possess a speed superior to the speed of an enemy submarine submerged. That I hope is so.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of SHIPPING CONTROL (Sir Leo Chiozza Money) indicated assent.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am very glad my hon. Friend assents to that, because it is of the utmost importance that the Admiralty's view on a matter of that kind should be fully realised and adopted by the Department of Shipping Control. Another point, which is of great importance, is that not only should guns be put on the ships, but there should be at least one good gun-layer on each. I dare say that is becoming the case now, but it was not the case until a short time ago, and many cases have been brought to notice of vessels which carried guns but carried no man really competent to direct the shot to its objective. I listened with interest also to what my right hon. Friend 1382 said about the programme of construction. At the beginning of the War, as the result of preparations made long before, it was decided to adopt a system by which the whole available labour supply we could control at that time should be concentrated on the finishing up of the warships which were then under construction, concentrating, of course, in the first instance upon those which were most nearly ready for sea. The next great thing was the programme of small craft which was undertaken in the autumn of 1914, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is very glad to have at his disposal now. It was not until the beginning of 1915 that the question of merchant tonnage began to arise as a competitor to these other demands on our shipbuilding resources. I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman that merchant tonnage to replace submarine casualties and submarine hunting vessels now practically monopolises, and ought to monopolise, our shipbuilding activity. He is quite justified in not attempting to add to the very great preponderance of capital ships which years of great expenditure before and since the War have given us.
I wish now to revert to the more general consideration with which I started. The action of the Grand Fleet is inherently offensive in its character. From its northern bases it exerts from hour to hour a continually increasing pressure upon the enemy which we expect will ultimately become decisive, and from which the enemy can only free himself by winning a great battle at sea. But, apart from the Grand Fleet, we cannot disguise from ourselves the fact that submarine warfare in its present form and condition has very largely thrown us back upon a defensive attitude. It is quite right to arm merchantmen on a great scale, to provide enormous numbers of small escorting craft of all kinds, and to build tonnage to replace what is lost with the utmost rapidity. Still, we cannot deny that these measures, important as they are, efficacious as they no doubt will be to a very considerable extent, are by themselves the negation of the true principles of war. Almost the first of the great principles of war is to seize the initiative, to rivet the attention of the enemy on your action, and to confront him with a series of novel and unexpected situations which leave him no time to pursue a policy of his own. It is easier said than done. The submarine has robbed the stronger Navy 1383 of its power to carry warfare close up to the enemy's coasts and harbours. But for the submarine, our flotillas and cruiser squadrons would from the beginning of the War have been in close contact with the enemy, and a succession of hard fought flotilla and cruiser actions, culminating perhaps in a main battle between the supporting battle squadrons, would have ensued from week to week and from month to month, as the result of which it was a fair conclusion, on the balance of strength which we possessed, that the enemy's Fleet would have been decisively beaten into its ports, and could then be effectively mined in. The submarine has altered all this. It would be madness to jeopardise the solid and probably decisive advantages which we derive from the distant action of our Grand Fleet. To do so would be to cast away the greater for the less, and the substance for a shadow.
But when all that has been said the fact remains that the discovery of a method of maintaining the naval offensive ought to claim the first place in the thoughts of the Navy and of the Admiralty, and it is to the solution of that problem that their most earnest desires and concentrated attention should be unceasingly directed. Although there are good grounds, as far as I know, for believing that the submarine campaign of the enemy will not exercise a decisive influence this year upon the fortunes of the War, we cannot afford to assume that it is an evil which cannot continue to increase indefinitely, nor while it continues are we entitled to claim that time is on our side. The Prime Minister, in a very formidable sentence for us to hear at the end of so many months of war, said the other day that time was a hesitating neutral, undecided on which side to swing his terrible scythe. That is an observation which deserves to be pondered over without alarm but without self-delusion. Up to the present the great War has maintained a steady and unbroken crescendo. Every year almost every month, has seen larger armies, greater exertions, more powerful weapons and agencies of destruction, and more lavish expenditure of life and wealth and strength. We have felt that this great effort, all our efforts, and those of our enemies, are moving steadily forward towards a culminating point. But there is no reason to assume that the culminating point, when it is reached—the culminating point of our 1384 efforts and of their efforts—will necessarily give a decisive result. It is not impossible that the intensity of the struggle might decline and yet be continued. It is not impossible: that the War might drag on in a broken-backed condition, with smaller armies, with finer fighting lines, with weaker and feebler populations, with shattered finances of ruined civilisations and attenuated resources, but with undiminished animosities and passions, for a very prolonged period. If, which God forbid, such a course and development of the struggle should be opened out, then undoubtedly the German submarines might exercise a more decisive influence upon its course than they are likely to do in the currency of the present year. Therefore, problems connected with the man-power of our Armies, and problems connected with the mobilisation of the whole energy of our country and of our Empire, are not less important than those measures of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken this afternoon. For that very reason the brains of the Navy must never be content with any development, however weighty and however successful, of offensive and defensive measures, but must search unceasingly and untiringly for some effective means of gaining and maintaining an effective offensive against the enemy. In looking at our own anxieties and troubles we must never forget those of the enemy. The resources and endurance of the vast communities which are now engaged in the War have far exceeded all previous estimates and conceptions. No one would have believed that the social, economic, and financial structure of the nations at war could possibly have borne the prolonged and intense strain to which they have been subjected. No one ever thought the War could have continued at this intensity and at this pitch with unassuaged fury for so many months.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Lord Kitchener prescribed three years as the duration of the War, but the scope and scale of the War, the outpouring of life, the outpouring of munitions, the waste of treasure, the mobilisation of the whole energies of great nations, neither Lord Kitchener nor anyone else had foreseen. The foundations of the great scientific and civilised countries of the world have proved more solid than anyone ever dreamed before the War. Blockade was the great weapon of Britain. 1385 On blockade we counted with good assurance. Blockade has operated more slowly than we expected and more slowly than it was reasonable to expect from any computations that could be made before the War. It has operated more slowly than we expected, but it has operated, and is operating, nevertheless, and its severity is continually increasing, and its effects are cumulative. Much later than we expected, less decisive than we hoped, but still powerful in its operation, the blockade is now beginning to grip the inner life and vitals of the enemy. It is an easy question to ask, "Why not before?" That is an easy question to ask and it is not an impossible question to answer. The Admiralty and the Foreign Office always had different points of view, and so they ought to have on these matters. In February, 1915, the Admiralty proposed the adoption of a rationing system for the small countries subject to the naval blockade, allowing them only what they had consumed in any previous year. As far back as February, 1915, I brought that before the Cabinet on behalf of the Admiralty. It was a natural and obvious proposal for the Admiralty to make, and a perfectly right one in itself, but we always recognised that there was another set of considerations beside those which were present in our minds, with the care of which the Foreign Office were charged, and it was equally important to them to keep those considerations in view. No one can say at the present time whether more weight was assigned to the considerations which the Foreign Office bore in mind than should have been the case, but is it not a very remarkable thing that we have at last reached a very high degree of stringency in our blockade—I think that is admitted—without losing the acquiescence or even the goodwill of the neutral world?
I have no patience with those shortsighted folks who cannot appreciate the immense importance which attaches to the attitude of the United States or who do not see what a supreme event in human history the entry of the United States into the War would be. It would be a deliverance, not merely of the Allies, but of all mankind, friends, foes, and neutrals alike, for it would derange decisively the terrible equipoise which is characteristic of the present situation, and by deranging it would set a final term to the miseries of Europe and of mankind. We have at length applied a naval blockade which, in its stringency, has never been sur- 1386 passed, not even in Napoleonic days, in regard to any great area of coastline. We have applied a blockade which, as my right hon. Friend has told the House, in a year subjects to searching examination 15,000 ships. At the same time, we have seen the United States drawn, not, as in the Napoleonic Wars, into quarrel with us, but to the very verge of war with those we are blockading. How easy it would have been, by unwise or impatient action, to have given an opposite inflection to events! Is not the present situation between Germany and the United States proof that consideration for the lives of others and the laws of humanity, even when one is struggling for one's life and in the greatest stress, do not go wholly unrewarded? If in the end, at the very moment when our blockade reaches its highest point of efficiency, the United States were to be drawn into actual war against our enemies, would not that be an important factor in determining the view which history will take of the foreign policy pursued by Sir Edward Grey?
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Colonel BURN
I should like to add my congratulations to the First Lord of the Admiralty for the lucid statement he has made in introducing the Navy Estimates, which, in the circumstances in which the country is placed by the War, must be considered very satisfactory. The nation will be very glad to know that we are to be told the whole truth as to our losses by the enemy submarine menace—the piracy campaign. I am convinced that the nation is ready to bear whatever news it may have to bear with a stout heart, because of their trust in the Navy and in the full knowledge that the Navy is doing perfectly admirable work, and that our first line of defence is the blue-water school. Sufficient credit cannot be given to the Navy for the immunity of this nation from attack or for the patient watch that the Navy is keeping in the North. Sea. It may not be understood by some how difficult is that silent watch. I have had what one might call a unique opportunity for judging what the Navy has done, because the duties I have been called upon to perform have taken me to every theatre of war. I have been to the Dardanelles and back three times, and to Egypt and back four times, and I know something of what is being done in the Mediterranean. I certainly could not recommend any hon. Member, or any 1387 friends of theirs, to undertake a passage through the Mediterranean pleasure cruise at the present time. We have to thank the Navy for the watch they have kept and for the immunity of so large a number of our ships in passing through the Mediterranean to or from Egypt. Our traffic backwards and forward to India has been very carefully guarded. Our transports to Salonika, almost without exception, have landed their cargoes safely—their human cargoes as well as their cargoes of munitions of war and food. The captains of those ships go to sea fearlessly, ready to face every danger, knowing that the dangers they have to meet are many, and always to be met with in any part of the oceans over which they travel. Nobody can give sufficient credit to the captains of our mercantile marine and the P. and O. ships for what they have done in face of these dangers. I should like to testify also to the magnificent courage of the captains of the cross-Channel boats, who day by day, very often twice a day, make the passage across between the French ports and the British ports. Their responsibility has been very great. They have had responsibility for the safety of thousands of our British troops-—for the men coming to or returning from leave, as well as the drafts going to fill up vacancies in the line. These captains have had to face great dangers, especially at the time when it was ordered, for some months, that the passages were to be made by night alone. I do not suppose that anyone in this country fully realised what that danger was. The great danger they had to guard against was floating mines. In the night, when nothing could be seen, because they had no lights, there was always a great chance of running into a floating mine. There were numbers of floating mines up and down the Channel, and if one of these boats had struck a mine in all probability every man on board would have gone down, because you cannot save people at night in the dark; that is next door to impossible. The nation owes a great debt of gratitude to these captains who have done this splendid work ungrudgingly and fearlessly. I should like to draw attention to the work that has been done, work that is not advertised, but is none the less magnificent work for the nation, by those men who man the trawlers, who have done so much 1388 in every sea, in the Mediterranean and the Channel and the North Sea, in sweeping for mines, when their lives were in danger every moment. I myself have met them at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and at the Dardanelles, those men day by day and night by night sweeping for the mines. They were very likely men who had gone out as Naval Reserve men, and been taken on board some of our cruisers which were out in the Eastern Mediterranean during the early attack on Gallipoli by our naval guns. Some of these cruisers were sunk, and these men had been drafted on to trawlers. I met men myself who told me what they had gone through, and the dangers they had run, and were running every day.
I would like specially to bring before the House that splendid deed of heroism that was done by the men of a trawler in my Constituency, a Brixham trawlèr, who-saved seventy-one warrant officers and men who were in an open boat from the "Formidable," which had been torpedoed. These men were taken on board the trawler in a terrific gale, when it seemed almost humanly impossible that it should be done. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend opposite (Dr. Macnamara) assisted mc very materially and got for these men an adequate reward. But what I would like to point out is the-magnificent pluck of these men, who are always ready whenever an opportunity arises to show that they are Britons, and that anything they can do for our country, in peace or war, will always be done. I think that my right hon. Friend's statement about the way in which the submarine menace is being grappled cannot but be satisfactory. Everyone, I am sure, realises the great difficulty in undertaking this work, but we feel convinced that this will really be grappled with, and that in a short time we may hope that our daily list of losses will be very materially diminished, and that by the arming of our merchant marine, as we are doing, the German submarines will not be so very anxious to attempt this kind of work. We feel that, despite all the Germans say in their papers, Britain still rules the waves. We realise that that is our first line of defence, and that while our Army is doing magnificent work in France and in Flanders our blue-water school is the first defence of this country, and we are dependent before anything else on the Navy keeping its silent watch in the North Sea, and, that 1389 being maintained, we can feel secure that our troops will be transported and that our stores will be transported, and that the Navy will have played its part for our country, and will have done the great work to enable us to finish the War successfully.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The House will heartily agree with the high praise which the hon. Member for Torquay and previous speakers gave to our merchant service and our fishing service. Indeed, both these services have practically proved themselves to be an integral part of the defences of this country, and the House will expect some official recognition to be given in the course of time to those great services which have been once more placed in the position which they occupied in the time of Drake when they were an integral part in the defence of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of the changes in organisation which have taken place at the Admiralty. One of the most important of these changes was that the former First Lord of the Admiralty went to the Foreign Office. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee was speaking about how the blockade had been strengthened. I think that we owe this in most part to the fact, that for the first time in the Parliamentary history of this country, a statesman has gone straight from the Navy to take charge of the foreign affairs of the country, for it is obvious that all the strength which the Foreign Office derives, it derives from the Navy. Its prestige is high or low with neutrals, according to the ability of the British Navy to cope with the situation that faces the country. The First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of the growth of the Navy from 160,000 men to 400,000 men. That leads me to remark that, as compared with the Army, our changes in the Navy are mainly changes of material rather than of personnel, for it so happens that the 160,000 men, at which the Navy stood when the War broke out, practically corresponded with the number which we had planned for the Expeditionary Force. Since then the Navy has expanded two and a-half times, while the Army as a whole, has expanded twenty-five times, and I believe that the Expeditionary Forces, our troops abroad, have expanded to the extent of about twelve and a-half times.
When the First Lord spoke about the changes at the Board he mentioned that 1390 we had introduced not merely officers from the sea service and so brought their practical experience of the War to the Board, but he had brought a new Fifth Lord to take charge of the Air Service. He mentioned one significant fact in connection with the Air Board, and that was that this officer was relieved of the duty of supplies. That is a change which I have been pressing upon the Board of Admiralty in regard to the whole Board. The members of the Board of Admiralty are far too much concerned with mere routine duties, with questions of supplies, promotion and pay, and we ought to have a Board which deals with war, and has not got its mind distracted by other things. I am confident that we shall have to revive the old method of the Navy, by which the Navy Board dealt with questions of supply and routine, and the Admiralty Board dealt with the conduct of war. I hope that that change will ultimately come about.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty a question in regard to the new organisation of the Anti-Submarine Department. It is not a critical question, as he will readily understand, because I suggested in the last Session of Parliament that such a Department should be created. I am most grateful to the First Lord of the Admiralty for having created that Department. We have seen the results in some of the statistics which he has given us I want to know whether the Anti-Submarine Department are going to wait on the Inventions Committee for inventions, or will rather develop all the inventions themselves to the best of their ability? The House must be aware that though the Inventions Committee is highly scientific and is presided over by an old naval officer who had much in common with the Navy of the past, it is hardly in touch with the practical side of the modern Navy. The Anti-Submarine Department, on the other hand, consists of young officers who are thoroughly in touch with submarine development, who know how to handle submarines, and who are the very best men to know the sort of inventions required to deal with the submarine menace. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tell the House that the Anti-Submarine Department is perfectly free to develop inventions by itself, and that ail the wisdom and all the data which are before the Inventions Committee in its various stages are handed over to the Anti-Submarine Department.
1391 The First Lord of the Admiralty then passed on to the arming of ships. He pointed out that within the last two months the arming of ships had increased by 47 per cent. It all depends upon the basic figure of two months ago. Naturally he would not want to give that information, because it is confidential and it would be giving information to the enemy, but I interjected a question in the course of his speech as to what he meant by arming, and whether he meant that a merchant ship was armed with one gun in the stern. He said that that was the case. I would impress upon the Board of Admiralty that that is not sufficient armament for merchant ships. A merchant ship with a gun in the stern has to turn round when it sights a submarine and run away from the submarine, whereas if it had a gun in the bow it could at once open fire. I hope that the time is shortly coming, especially as the United States has indicated its views that we can arm ships at the bow, when our merchant ships will be generally armed both at bow and stern. It is not merely that the merchant ship protects itself, but the knowledge that three-fourths of our ships are armed with guns bow and stern, would make the submarines very shy in approaching a ship lest it should turn out to be armed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee pointed out that the guns drive the submarine below the surface where the speed is slow. When von Tirpitz started on his plan in the spring of 1915 of building a great number of standardised submarines of large and small type for the purpose of attacking our mercantile marine he made a cardinal error. He designed them mainly to use the gun and to get a high speed on the surface. Without going into any technical explanation, let me say that the two things are antagonistic, and that if the speed is high on the surface, the result is there is low speed below the surface. A submarine has great difficulty in overtaking a merchant ship if its speed is below twelve knots, and it has great difficulty in getting into position in order to fire its torpedo. We have therefore won the first round as soon as the ships have got the guns. We have always armed ships, and it never was the case that we regarded it as necessary to arm ships only in the stern. I had sent to me the other day by a correspondent a copy of the "Glasgow Courier" of 1797. In that paper there was a number of advertisements of 1392 merchant ships which were going to sail, and in several cases it was stated that the ship was fully armed. In one case there was mention of twelve carriage guns, as a temptation to send cargoes by that particular ship. The statistics which the First Lord of the Admiralty gave us showed forty-seven British ships as having been lost on eighteen days in February. I regard that as remarkably satisfactory from our point of view, and I say that because I am perfectly certain that they will be unsatisfactory from the German point of view.
The Germans aim at sinking a million tons in the first month, which was to be their high-water mark, but they will not get anything like that. The First Lord of the Admiralty dealt with all ships above 1,000 tons, but my right hon. Friend did not deal exclusively with vessels of over 1,600 tons, which constitute the oceangoing tonnages, and the casualties will be less in connection with these vessels. I ventured to make a forecast when the Germans announced their submarine campaign on 31st January, though it was mere guesswork for one who has not all the essential data. It was a surprise announcement to the world, and at that time I estimated that they would sink perhaps 300,000 tons of British ships of more than 1,600 tons, and that we would sink some thirty to forty of the submarines against us in the first months of the new campaign. The figures which the First Lord of the Admiralty gave show that the Germans will not attain to anything like the amount of ocean-going tonnage that they expected, and suggest that my estimate was exaggerated. I suggested that 300,000 tons would prove very unsatisfactory to the Germans, and that the loss of thirty to forty submarines would create a panic among the remaining submarines, so that they would not attain the same figure in the second month. That remains to be verified, of course. We have to consider alongside these figures the margin we have got. We have to acknowledge that the submarine is not the only cause of the waste of shipping, but the Navy itself has used merchant shipping as though there was an inexhaustible supply. Ships have been sunk to make breakwaters and ships have been turned into dummy Dreadnoughts, which appears to be a useless step in naval policy.
I would like to differ, in a friendly way, from what the First Lord of the Admiralty said in regard to secrecy. He put the case 1393 at its worst when we were giving immediate information. It is true that to announce at once that a submarine had been lost would give important information to the enemy. But that is not what the public; demand. What the public say is that the essenial military advantage of not telling us of a success at once gradually diminishes and diminishes until three or four weeks afterwards there is practically no military advantage in letting it be known that so many submarines have been lost. It may be said that about these things there is no certainty, but there is uncertainty in any battles that are ever fought in regard to casualties. All we can do is to make an estimate, and it would hearten the public and neutrals to-day if we were informed what is the Admiralty's view as to the number of encounters, the number of submarines sunk or captured—the probabilities, the possibilities, and the number that they think escaped. We are aware that Germany is publishing entirely false information in her own country, and that false information is being sent to the neutrals. Against that we have the policy of silence on the part of the Admiralty. The policy pursued in regard to this matter is very well reflected in a letter I have from a workman, received only the day before yesterday. He wrote from Palmers Green. He said:We hoar all sorts of rumours about the number of U-boats sunk, but ordinary people think that if we have sunk one the Government would be only too pleased to let us know—not how it was done, or where, but the bare fact. For us to lose forty ships in a week and not be able to retaliate seems to a humble observer terrible. If we are glad to record that we have taken eleven prisoners and one machine gun on the Western Front, surely we should be glad to know that we had sunk one U-boat.I do not put that forward with any intention to criticise. I recognise that the First Lord of the Admiralty made one of the frankest speeches heard in this House for a long time, and he is acting on the principle enunciated by the Prime Minister some time ago, when he said that "frankness is the beginning of wise action." I wish to induce him to go a little further, and I am sure the Government will not regret it. Let me say that there is danger in not taking the public into your confidence in another direction. An uninstructed public is always a dangerous public, and I think that was shown in connection with the Zeppelin menace. There was alarm around many cities in this country, and perhaps the House is not aware that guns were taken for the de- 1394 fence of Birmingham, as I am informed on credible authority, from our destroyers at Dover and placed around Birmingham simply to meet the requirements of old women of the male sex. In other words, guns were taken from destroyers that were employed for offensive purposes in the Navy in order to station those guns round a city which might never be menaced; and that was simply because of the fear arising from uninstructed public opinion, owing to the secrecy of the Government. In connection with this question of active submarine tactics it is obvious that the Government has a very difficult task before it, and it requires the united use of every offensive device that we can think of. The submarine has tremendous advantages in the lawless warfare which Germany is waging. Every single thing it sees on the surface of the water is to be let fly at with guns or torpedoes, without parleying, whether it be a hospital ship, or neutral, or belligerent merchant vessel. That makes our task more difficult. There is only one complication facing the German submarines at this moment, and it is in connection with the vessel sailing from the port of Halifax which bears Count Bernstorff and his fortunes, for it is a little uncertain whether those on board a German submarine will be able to recognise that vessel.
For this offensive I venture to suggest to the Admiralty that they should do all they can to tap American inventiveness. We know that at Washington they have an able naval attaché, but he is not a scientific expert on inventions, and what we really want is to get together some of our best men in this country and send them over to America in order to tap American inventiveness, more especially in regard to electricity. I believe that America is ahead of the rest of the world in electrical appliances, and this War largely turns on the use of electrical appliances. The submarine below the water cannot verify its position and is dependent on appliances which might be upset by electrical devices or its position located by them. I think we should send some of our experts to America in order to get the advantages of the brains in that country to reinforce our means of resisting the submarine menace. Further, I would ask the Admiralty to unify their system of patrol areas and bases as far as possible. There are too many separate Departments dealing with submarine warfare. I think you have some six separate Departments in 1395 the Mediterranean. I know that there has been a Naval Conference, and that may, perhaps, bring about the unity which is needed there. At home there are a great many old retired officers in control of different areas and bases. I submit that it should be remembered that this War is a young man's game, and that young men should be put in charge of patrol areas and bases, and that retired men of sixty-five or even seventy years of age, who have done splendid work in coming forward when the Navy wanted officers at the beginning, should now make way for younger men, who are more in touch with, and more accessible to, new ideas, and are full of energy and initiative. They would also draw out the best that is in the men of the mercantile marine, who carry on the work at these patrol areas and bases, and who are somewhat awed by the distinguished old admirals. I suggest that change for another reason. Promotion in the Navy is not as fast as it should be. I think the Admiralty will find that only fifteen commanders were promoted in the last batch. There are only two sets of promotions each year, and fifteen is far too low a rate of promotion. Indeed, the Navy is still to some extent, I am sorry to say, under the routine method of everybody waiting his turn.
I heard quite incidentally of the captain of a battle cruiser, a man who had three years' experience of a battle-cruiser, and who had therefore over two years' experience of a battle-cruiser in war. He was promoted some three months ago. He has since been unemployed and has got to wait until his turn. A man cannot be a captain of a battle-cruiser without being exceptionally well qualified to fulfil the duties of the position he would obtain on promotion, yet men of such attainments, who could be employed, have to wait their turn.
Let me pass on to the interesting speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee. He took credit to himself for some warning he issued when he spoke in this House on the Navy. I have not been able to read that speech again, but my distinct recollection is that it was not a warning in regard to submarine matters, but in regard to the output of big ships, and he was taking credit to himself for having warned us in regard to the present situation. There is no question about our superiority in big ships, but if the right hon. Gentleman had fore- 1396 warned the Admiralty to take measures-with regard to submarines at that time, I would think more of his foresight. He, again, like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), raised the question of Lord Fisher. If Lord Fisher was attacked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, the House must recollect that it is said Members and certain sections of the Press are trying to impose upon the Board of Admiralty the appointment of Lord Fisher to the position of First Sea Lord. That is a very disastrous state of affairs. If Lord Fisher is to come before us in that way it necessarily follows that those who think that the appointment of Lord Fisher would be disastrous to the Navy will have something to say; they cannot afford to remain silent while a Parliamentary intrigue is on foot. That is obvious.
I am bound to point out that an additional reason for appointing Lord Fisher to that post in 1914, given by the right hon. Member for Dundee (Colonel Churchill), was that he was concerned in an avalanche of shipbuilding. The position of the First Sea Lord demanded that a great strategist should be appointed, and not a man concerned with material. I venture to submit that even as a judge of material Lord Fisher does not shine. There were some 550 motor boats ordered of quite unsuitable type, and they are now in harbours carrying officers and burning petrol instead of hunting submarines. There were the monitors, and what use have they been except in a very limited field? There are other things which one can only speak of with bated breath in private conversation and which are sufficient to condemn Lord Fisher on material grounds. We must also remember the peace distribution scheme of concentrating every ship in Home waters, which was largely responsible for the escape of the "Goeben." Inefficient ships of from 19 to 24 knots were stationed to capture a 27-knot vessel which had been many months on the Mediterranean station. Then, again, the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau" escaped in the Pacific owing to the fact that proper ships were not there to catch them, and that was Lord Fisher's policy, which was carried on by his successor. He was responsible for the excessive concentration policy which brought the ships home. He was responsible for the state of affairs to which the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs drew attention in this 1397 House when he said that at the beginning of the War that there was no naval defence for trade routes, and that there was not along the whole stretch of the East Coast of Great Britain of 600 miles a single submarine proof harbour. He was responsible for the fact that there was no development of anti-submarine tactics. The Navy never even studied this problem prior to the War, and one of the most hopeful features at present is that we were so entirely ignorant of this matter at the beginning of the War that we are gradually strengthening and developing our methods every day now, so that there is everything to hope for. Only last week Lord Curzon revealed another fact. He told us that we pursued an entirely mistaken policy with regard to mines at the beginning of the War. That is true, but it is also true that mines suitable for laying in the deep seas did not exist in the British Navy.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL dissented.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
What I say is correct. We had mines and did not lay them, but they were unsuitable, because the Admiralty had laid down that the mines were not to cost more than £60, while the Germans cost £250. The good mines we are laying to-day cost about the same figure as the Germans. With regard to submarines, the Admiralty received a warning in November, 1914, when Lord Fisher was in office, that submarines might be expected in the Mediterranean, but no preparation was made in regard to that factor. There was no netting of the Straits of Otranto where a number of those submarines might have been caught when the submarines were sent out. Last Session, prior to the reform of the Board of Admiralty, I had given notice that I would draw attention to the Channel raid and the attacks that were being made on our Dutch trade. Happily the situation has changed. The Board of Admiralty has been reformed, and there is no longer any intention on my part of dealing with those facts. I congratulate the Admiralty on the offensive policy which it is pursuing. We have had a number of air raids on the bases of the submarines and destroyers, and we have had several sharp actions with the enemy destroyers. That is the only way in which war can be waged. Our policy should be like that of the English poet Spenser, when he said:Be bold, be bold, and everywhere, be bold.1398 I venture to say that in proportion, as we pursue an offensive policy, our ascendancy with the neutrals will go up and up, and, what is even more important, our ascendancy with our Allies. The British Navy has not taken that position with our Allies which belongs to it by right and which belongs to the British admirals no less surely than the French generals speak with authority in France and throughout the different land spheres of war. I attribute that fact simply and solely to the Admiralty policy being uncertain and to their failure to give clear guidance to our Allies at the beginning of the War. I think it an impossible situation that we should be supreme in Home-waters only, and that out in the Mediterranean our Navy should be under the command of a French admiral, and in the Adriatic under an Italian admiral. I hope that will be changed, and I believe it will be, because there is clear evidence of policy now at the Board of Admiralty, and our ascendancy will consequently go up by leaps and bounds. I venture to say we should always remember that the sea, though it is called a fickle mistress, takes but one lover at a time. The one who makes himself master of the sea is the one who is the boldest wooer.