HL Deb 28 March 1871 vol 205 cc752-65

, who had given Notice to move an Address for Returns respecting Garrison Instructors, and for Copies of Instructions on the Military Education of Officers, issued consequent to the Report of the Commissioners, said—My Lords, the interests of the country are so intimately concerned in the unfortunate state of affairs on the Continent, and the country relies so much for the protection of its rights and position on the efficiency of the Army in the art of war, that I consider it my duty to bring to your Lordships' notice, with the view to their amendment, serious deficiencies in our military training and education, and especially in its first requisite, strategy; and yet it is strategy, my Lords, which, in an incredibly short time, has made Prussia mistress of the destinies of France, as 65 years ago it placed Prussia and her independence at the mercy of France. We ought not to be blind to the lessons which recent Continental events are so well fitted to teach. We ourselves have had warnings to which we ought not to turn a deaf ear; protracted and not always successful operations in our Colonies against uncivilized insurgents, reverses which checkered brilliant successes in the Crimea, and threw a shade over our imperishable recollections of the Peninsula and Flanders, and an Empire all but lost in India. Before going further, I will explain the nature of the deficiencies in our training for war. They arise from our Regulation Book of Instruction, which teaches the mechanism of movements, but not their strategical object or adaptation to the varied features of ground for troops; they, therefore, are taught peace, not service movements; they move, but do not manœuvre. I am fully alive to the importance of skilfully executed movements—the best devised plans of strategy have often been spoilt by faulty movements. The mistake is to teach movements, but to omit their object. They should be inseparable. In the examination of officers for promotion, the same error is committed. Since I held the command of a Bombay division, in 1857, to the end of my command in Ireland, I have never ceased, in Reports to my superiors and instructions to those under my command, to correct this misprision of the first element of an Army's education. I stated this also fully, and other shortcomings, to the Commission on Military Education, as well as their remedy, and I am glad to see, in a new Book of Instruction of October last, that some of them, have been adopted; but these improvements are few and partial, and they omit the great desideratum in the instruction of young officers and soldiers of combining drill from its first stages with reason and object, so that, the mind once directed in the right way, an ordinary capacity may gradually become a good service officer, and a genius may wing his flight to elevations now, unfortunately, tenanted only by Count Moltke and his strategical Staff. All those simple and important manœuvres which figured in the late Prussian successes are also omitted in the new Book. The last of my thoughts in bringing this Motion before your Lordships is to make the smallest pretension to superior capacity; I do so under the sense of duty in critical times, which tells me that if a British Army be obliged to take the field, it should do so second to none in fitness for war. If, however, I do not lay claim to superior capacity, I do lay claim to some experience in two matters which lie at the roots of this question—strategy, and the state of instruction in the Army. As regards the latter, it has fallen to my lot to have commanded, or to have inspected, nearly every battery and regiment in Her Majesty's service. I conduct my inspections in a manner which makes my Staff and myself personally acquainted with the nature and condition of the instruction imparted in almost every regiment in the service. The remarks, favourable or otherwise, are sent to commanding officers, and copies of them kept as records in the Adjutant General's office. The experience I have thus acquired enables me to say that, both as regards officers and men, our Army has almost none of that kind of instruction on which I set a high value. As regards strategy, peculiar circumstances made me acquainted with it from my earliest days. My father was Her Majesty's Envoy at Berlin, where I had a military education, of which strategy was the chief element. In those days Prussia was in the full tide of her noble and patriotic efforts to retrieve the disasters which a mistaken art of war had entailed on her, and the wrongs which it had done in 1806 to her gallant Army and a resolute people. It is a singular coincidence that mistaken training should, but in a more aggravated, form, have been the same error as our own at present—peace, but not service movements. The map and the tactics of Frederick the Great had been replaced by the plummet and the pace-stick. But in my days there was a re-action, and everything in Prussia was strategy. The atmosphere was strategical, and I imbibed some of its influences. In the Crimea I witnessed the results of good or mistaken strategy; and in India, if I had not been assisted by troops of whom Lords Canning and Elphinstone said, in telegrams and general orders—"that they had marched from Bombay to the Jumna and Gwalior, from success to success, without a check, under hardships heroically borne, although seldom endured even in India," and if I had not invariably had recourse to strategical precautions and manœuvres, I could not have overcome the difficulties of overwhelming numbers which cut off my base as I advanced, of an unknown country, and a line of operations some 700 or 800 miles long, defended by forts. In 15 actions and sieges I was obliged to reconnoitre night and day, to use turning movements, feints to cover a real attack, concentration of fire on a weak or given point, and so forth, none of which are in our old or new Book. The result of my twofold experience has taught me that, as regards officers and men, the English Army is without equal. They are a rare combination of ardour when it is required, and of steadfastness when it is necessary; but, in consequence of the want of strategical education, they are so deficient in strategical knowledge that if, unfortunately, we were involved in war, the odds would be in dangerous proportion against them in the field. I, of course, except officers of superior talents, with strategical instincts, and who have had other means of instruction. Nor would it be fair to place the responsibility of our system on present proper names or Governments. It dates from our forefathers, and, in fact, it has its origin in our insular position, habits, and distaste for preparations for Continental wars. I beg your Lordships' indulgence while I adduce a few illustrations of the want of strategical education of a simple description from the first to the last pages of the Book. In consequence of no object being assigned, the young officer or recruit is not acquainted with the reason of the numerous points and parries in the bayonet exercise, nor does he learn that part of it which makes him more than a match for cavalry. He is equally untaught as to the advantage of early or the danger of delayed fire. As regards evolutions of a regiment, when I ask an officer the object of a change of front, as a rule he assigns any but the service one, and I have to explain to him that the service object is to oppose an attack on his weakest point—his flank, or vice versâ. He is equally uninformed as to the firing which should cover the movement, and I show him that early and successive fire from the company of formation will check the enemy and cover the formation, while delayed fire may cause its destruction. A first-rate Artillery officer of long standing performed a diagonal change of front on the two centre guns of his brigade, but delayed his fire till the flank guns were in the new alignment. I told him the mechanism of the movement was perfect, but that I could not say as much of its strategy; that if he had opened fire from his guns of formation, he might have killed a general or thrown his assailant into confusion, as well as covered his defenceless guns, throwing up to and retiring into the new aligument. And, my Lords, when we hear of batteries captured and formations cut up by cavalry, it is only too often caused by delayed fire. And yet this simple instruction and these words, "early and delayed fire," are not in the book. On another occasion, for the sake of practice, I requested an officer of 40 years' standing, commanding a regiment during the Fenian period in Ireland, when constant depositions and intercepted letters showed intentions to attack barracks, blow up their garrisons, and burn them with Greek fire, to defend his barracks against an attack by the road. Two loopholed defences, with banquette, gave a cross fire on the road. The officer threw his battalion into order—the skirmishers with their face against a wall 20 feet high, with no means of defence—but did not place a man in the loopholed defences. As regards field days and movements of large bodies in India and Ireland, there was no system of instruction or camps of instruction in India or in Ireland. The general officer stationed at the Curragh informed me that he had never heard of a second line; and yet an order of battle for attack or defence without a second line is forbidden by every principle of war. It invites a disaster. The field days were characterized by constant changes of front at too large an angle against a supposed enemy, so constant that no power of locomotion could have enabled an enemy to change to such distant positions—flanks were exposed; and as there was no combination between the three arms, collisions and firing into each other ensued. All arms, individually and collectively, frequently took up positions on the top of a height or rising ground, which exposed them, instead of in the rear of it, which would have covered them. And if in former days defeat often, and loss of life always, followed on neglect of cover, or of turning movements, use of ground is now indispensable in these days of improved arms. In England I have seen field days in which the same defects occurred; and we all read in the newspapers an account of a remarkable field day at Wimbledon Common last year, written by a noble Lord commanding a brigade, whose better judgment appears to have been overruled, of which I will say no more than that it was not a representation but a ridicule of the realities of war—and that, too, at a time when, on account of events in Europe, a display of such military inefficiency was to be regretted. It is apposite to observe here that the instruction of the Militia and Volunteers is the same as that of the Army. I now beg to adduce a few service examples of the unfavourable results of mistaken military education in the Crimea and India. As regards the Crimea, I do not wish to ring the changes on Balaklava. I will merely observe that, although nothing could be greater than the devoted gallantry of the troops, yet that the charge with a brigade of cavalry, with the Feduchine Heights with artillery and riflemen on their left line, and a masked battery to their right front, a large force of all arms in front, was a thing never heard of before, and could only end in the loss of most valuable life. Then, on account of neglect of ground and other rules for outposts, pickets and guards of trenches were only too often surprised and driven in. But in justice to a noble Earl (the Earl of Lucan) I am happy to say that I was told by very competent authority that he always evinced both zeal and ability, with the best results, in placing his outposts and sentries. In-kermann, though a great victory, was a surprise, which rendered a retirement necessary in the first instance and caused loss of life. In October, 1855, the day of the general and final attack on Sebastopol, Marshal Pelissier sent me to tell the English Commander-in-Chief that the French had taken the Malakhoff. General Simpson requested me to tell the French Commander-in-Chief that his troops had been unable to take the Redan. Now, my Lords, the cause of this failure was an attack in one line without a second line in support. As regards India, the sieges of Delhi and Lucknow, two main operations against the insurgents, were both caused by misprision of strategy. If the commanders at military stations had by simple strategical arrangements prevented mutinous garrisons from leaving their stations, they would not have formed a nucleus at Delhi. The siege of Lucknow was ushered in by the defeat of its garrison at the strong village of Chiwhut, one march from Lucknow, where they went to attack a large force of mutinous regiments. In disregard of strategical foresight, the left flank of the English troops was posted on the village, which was neither occupied nor watched. Fatal volleys at close range into the English left were the first intimation of the dangerous flank attack. It was followed by a retreat to Lucknow, with a loss of artillery and the arrival of the enemy before the city as besiegers. An advance in light infantry order against a fort held by a few mutineers, without reconnoitering or a turning movement, was the cause of the check of one of the finest brigades of all arms that ever took the field in India, with a large loss, including that of a general officer of the highest promise. I now beg, my Lords, to close my statement of deficiencies in our education and training for war, its causes, and results. I regret the necessity which has compelled me to notice military failings; but I should have been guilty not only of false and culpable delicacy, but of the greatest dereliction of duty of which an officer can be capable if I had silenced convictions which told me British troops had already sustained reverses, in consequence of mistaken training; and that for the same reason they would certainly encounter fresh—perhaps irretrievable—disasters were they to take the field against an Army perfected in the art of war: more especially when in the last few months we have witnessed one of the best and most successful armies in the world fall in collapse, not from any want of their often proved gallantry, of which I have on so many occasions been witness, but from a neglected art of war. I think that when vast and cardinal changes are announced which point to a great evil, although that evil is not known by bad results, it may be an advantage to the Government and Parliament that they have now before them a plain statement of facts, proving the existence of our military shortcoming; and I venture to think that when your Lordships have heard the simple remedies which I suggested to the Commission on Military Education, you will agree that they are as simple as the evil is palpable. I venture to think that another advantage of my statement is that it removes the impression which exists in some quarters that the blame of reverses I have alluded to attach to officers. The statement places the saddle on the right horse. A faulty education is alone to blame.

Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Returns of the number and statements of service of garrison instructors, and copies of instructions given to them for the execution of their duties by the Secretary of State for War, as well as copies of any instructions given by him or of communications made by the Royal Commission on the military education of officers of Her Majesty's army consequent on the Commissioners' report on that subject.—(The Lord Strathnairn.)


said, he would gladly admit that not only had the noble and gallant Lord who had just sat down (Lord Strathnairn) earned a high reputation by his distinguished services in the field, but also by the thoroughness with which he had performed the less conspicuous duty of inspection of the troops in peace. The subject the noble and gallant Lord had brought under their Lordships' notice was one of the highest importance, and any information which the Government could furnish would be readily given. There would, therefore, be no objection to furnishing the Returns for which the Motion had been made. The whole of this subject was referred, several years ago, to a Royal Commission, of which he had himself the honour of being a Member, and which had the advantage of receiving the evidence of the noble and gallant Lord. The general result of the inquiries of the Royal Commission with respect to the state of the education of our officers entirely confirmed the statement which his noble and gallant Friend had made that evening. Those inquiries showed that great deficiencies existed in almost every branch of military education; and that no fault could rest upon our officers for not acquiring an education for which no adequate provision had been made. But the subject would again come before their Lordships, when the measure now before the other House was before them, when the whole subject might be fully discussed. Meanwhile, he was happy to inform their Lordships that considerable progress had been made in the education of officers after they had joined the service. Since the Report of the Commission, almost all the different branches of education in the Army had been dealt with by the Secretary of State. The Commission recommended, among other things, that officers should be appointed qualified to instruct other officers in certain points described in the General Order issued by the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, in August, 1870. Those officers—the garrison instructors—had now been at work some time, and the Report which had been made at the close of last year was most favourable to the progress of the system. The Report showed that there had been the greatest desire evinced, not only by the junior officers, but by officers of long standing in the Army, to take advantage of the means of instruction furnished them; and that their number was steadily increasing. The number of officers at present receiving instruction at the hands of the garrison instructors was between 300 and 400, and quite recently the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief had issued an order permitting a certain number of officers of each regiment to be excused regimental duty while attending the instruction of the garrison instructor. He trusted, therefore, it would be evident to their Lordships that the subject had not been lost sight of. He felt quite sure that there was no one connected with the administration of the military affairs in this country—no one even who had paid any attention to the events which had recently occurred on the Continent of Europe—who did not feel with the noble and gallant Lord who had just addressed the House, and who was not desirous that the officers of the British Army should have an opportunity of acquiring such a thorough knowledge of their profession as that which was possessed by the officers of the Prussian Army; for nothing had been more remarkable throughout the late war than the superior qualities and training of the Prussian officers. In giving these Papers, he had only to add that the Secretary of State for War was fully alive to the importance of the subject, and that his attention was steadily directed to the importance of affording every facility to officers of the Army for acquiring a complete military education.


My Lords, I should be sorry to detain the House if I did not feel called upon to make one or two observations upon the Motion which has been brought for- ward by my noble and gallant Friend (Lord Strathnairn). I hope the House will distinctly understand that this subject of military education has been under consideration for a long period; that it is not now discussed for the first time, but has been under consideration ever since I took the position which I have the honour to hold. And my noble and gallant Friend, I trust, will admit, that during the period which I have held that position, and also during the tenure of my predecessors, alterations have by degrees been introduced into the Army system, all tending in the direction which has of late exhibited itself in such a marked degree in the Continental armies. But your Lordships must bear in mind that military questions in former days were not considered of that interest and importance which now attach to them in the eyes of this country, and that it was a matter of very great difficulty to get the public to appreciate the importance of technical education and other qualifications which tend to make a good officer. I trust the period has now arrived when these matters will be viewed in a different spirit; indeed, there is reason to believe that such will be the case from the fact that they have been taken up so warmly and energetically by the country. I am as convinced, as I am of the fact that I am now addressing your Lordships, that every officer of the Army is as desirous and anxious to advance this question of military education as either my noble and gallant Friend or myself. But, in truth, the officers of the British Army are exposed to enormous difficulties. We have never been allowed to collect large bodies of troops together, as is constantly done upon the Continent; and though theory may be very well in its way, it is valueless unless combined with opportunities for practice. And let me fairly tell your Lordships that it is much more difficult in this country to carry out combined movements of troops, such as take place upon the Continent, than your Lordships generally may imagine. I have frequently attended reviews abroad, and I can assure your Lordships that I was surprised to see the injury that is done without the slightest consideration, the fields passed over and the property destroyed, in a manner that would never for an instant be tolerated at home. If we are really to apply to this country the practice of foreign nations, we must be prepared for something of the same sort—something which will entail a very considerable outlay; for you cannot expect that a landed proprietor, great or small, will submit to all these inconveniences without receiving large compensation. I know that even upon the Continent the cost attending these concentrations is very considerable. If, however, the country is prepared to engage in that sort of expenditure, I shall be only too glad, militarily, that we should have the benefit of availing ourselves of the opportunities thus afforded. There may certainly be tracts of land in this country—and I hope they will be found—where the concentration of bodies of troops will be possible: possibly upon Crown lands, which in ancient days were forests, and are still unenclosed, such combinations may be practicable, But I am still of opinion that, with every desire to carry out the Continental principle, it will be very difficult to do so upon a large scale in this country. At the same time, I am fully justified in stating, after what my noble and gallant Friend has just said, that it is the intention and desire of the Government to carry out this year some concentrations of troops upon a scale commensurate with the circumstances of this country. My noble and gallant Friend, who no doubt has had opportunities of judging, has stated that occasionally he has had to find fault with officers, and that they did not come up to the standard that he expected. For my part, however, and I am not now speaking of the conduct of the British officer in action, but of his performance of ordinary daily duties in time of peace, I have always found the greatest zeal, energy, and willingness on the part of the British officer; and I have found, moreover, that he carried with him the good feeling and the confidence of the men with whom he had to deal. Of course, there may be instances, among large bodies of men, of want of intelligence, that I freely admit; but I put it to your Lordships whether the same thing may not be found in almost every avocation of life. And though there may have been occasions when my noble and gallant Friend has had to find fault with officers under his authority, I am sure that he must have had many more opportunities of praising what came to his notice. With regard to the question of instruction—the garrison instructors are of novel introduction. It was thought desirable, and indeed essential, that officers, having now to pass a much more stringent examination than was the case before, should have opportunities of acquiring that knowledge, which it was impracticable for them to acquire in civil life, and without which it was impossible for them properly to satisfy the requirements of these examinations, and therefore these garrison instructors were appointed to afford such information. I am happy to endorse what has fallen from my noble Friend the Under Secretary, that a very large body of officers—more, in fact, than we have been able to deal with, so far as we have gone—have come forward to obtain the benefit of the instruction that is now afforded. And not alone has this interest in the subject been evinced by officers who have still to pass their examinations, but by officers who have no further examination to pass. I can only repeat that, if opportunities of acquiring professional information are given to British officers, I feel convinced they will be only too glad to avail themselves of such facilities. Perhaps I may be allowed to point out that when I first entered upon the duties of my present position, the system of examination for promotion was carried out to a very limited extent only; but during the time that I have been connected with the Horse Guards, and owing to the support which I have received from successive Secretaries of State, the system of examination has been largely increased in connection with promotion from the junior to the senior grades. No doubt much remains to be done; but this will be facilitated by the introduction of these garrison and regimental instructors, by whom the officers will be assisted in acquiring military knowledge. I am sure that no subject of greater importance could be brought forward than this question of the military education of officers. My noble and gallant Friend himself has testified to the zeal and energy of British officers; and, for my own part, I am glad that I have been afforded an opportunity of speaking of what I have seen and known of the energy and real devotion of British officers during the whole period that I have had the advantage of being connected with the Army.


said, he felt much satisfaction at the prospect of manœuvres by flying columns during the present year, and hoped it would be found practicable to brigade some of the Reserve forces with the Regular troops. The more that could be done the more advantageous would be the result. He also hoped that the flying columns and divisions would march fully equipped, with their ambulances and Control Staff, so that an opportunity might be afforded for judging of the merits or demerits of the Control system—for though no doubt the system could only be fully tested in time of war, he personally had a strong opinion in its favour, though he believed there had been in practice somewhat too great a tendency to centralization. Regimental carts for small-arm ammunition might also accompany the division; but as to these, though the Commission over which his noble and gallant Friend (Lord Strathnairn) presided reported on the subject three years ago, he believed that nothing practical had since been done. He had listened with much pleasure to the opinions expressed by the illustrious Duke the Commander-in-Chief, as to the officers of the British Army, whose efficiency it had been the custom to disparage of late since the purchase question was raised in the other House. Some critics even had gone the length of saying that the British officers were simply rich and incompetent. Their Lordships might possibly not be aware that the examination for promotion offered, in the opinion of the Commissioners, a very fair programme to test the efficiency of an officer: they had to pass an examination that included a knowledge of drill, of the Queen's Regulations, of the interior economy of a regiment, of the art of fortification, and of reconnoitreing—and although the Commissioners added that in some instances the examinations had been loosely conducted, yet that was not the fault of the purchase system or of the officers themselves, but of those who were responsible for the way in which the examinations were conducted. It had been said that proper instruction was not given to officers; but that remark would not apply to the Staff College, where the examinations were severe enough to satisfy any requirements. He concurred in the recommendation of the Royal Commissioners that education should be more practical and less theoretical—and one of the most important of their recommendations was that no officer should be allowed to go to the Staff College, unless the general officer under whom he served reported that he was physically as well as mentally capable of performing his duties. He was glad to hear that a complete scheme for the instruction of the Artillery had been drawn up by officers who were worthy of all consideration—for one of the great complaints in the past had been that there was no uniform standard of examination in that department. It seemed that after the passing of the Army Regulation Bill, all officers were to be appointed to direct commissions by competitive examination; but he feared that such a system would increase those "cramming" schools which were admitted to be a great evil. He was pleased to hear the illustrious Duke say that English officers only needed opportunity and encouragement in order to render them efficient in their duties, for these gentlemen possessed qualifications superior to the officers of any Army in Europe.


said, that the main object of his Motion was to draw the attention of Parliament to the want of strategical instruction for the officers of our Army. Garrison instructors did not undertake to give it, and nothing could be more undesirable than that officers should attempt to teach one of the highest branches which they never had the opportunity of learning. With reference to what had fallen from the illustrious Duke, he desired to say that his Address was intended to remove the erroneous impression which had been created to the disfavour of the British officers; and with respect to the relations between them and their soldiers, he maintained that the men of the English Army were more easily controlled by their officers than the men of any other. He was not enamoured of the purchase system, but it was only fair that some regard should be paid to its working.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Six o'clock.