HL Deb 05 May 1871 vol 206 cc247-60

, in moving an Address for certain Returns respecting the force of Artillery in the United Kingdom, said, that no soldier or civilian could doubt the vast importance of the part which artillery played in modern warfare, it being hardly too much to say that it had of late years been the deciding power in the great European campaigns. If, therefore, our guns were insufficient in number or were insufficiently manned, the position of the country was unsatisfactory, and any expenditure on other branches of Army administration, if not absolutely wasted, was of very doubtful utility. With the permission of their Lordships he would suggest several ways for testing the strength of our artillery force. The first and perhaps the best was to take the number of troops said to be available for military operations. The Secretary for War had repeatedly in "another place" stated them at 300,000, 400,000, or even 500,000 men, including the Reserves. Adopting the lowest of these Estimates, and assuming that we should have to provide artillery for 300,000 men, and adopting the ordinary standard of three guns for every 1,000 men, 900 guns were required, irrespective of Reserves. Now, he believed that, in point of fact, we had considerably less than 400 guns. If again, the available forces were 400,000 men, 1,200 guns were required. He did not think his noble Friend the Under Secretary for War would say that we were provided with 400 guns; but in some of the battles of the late war there had been more than that number engaged on one side in one Army, Prince Frederick Charles' Army alone had more than that number. Looking then to our coast and land defences, he wished to know what was the proportion of our garrison artillery to our field and horse artillery; and with regard to our garrison artillery what should be the proportion of men to guns. He believed it was the opinion of the most skilled artilleryists that less than 25 men per gun for garrison artillery were wholly inadequate. In the Crimea, he believed, we had never less than that proportion; indeed, the naval brigade employed in the trenches always went into action with 36 men per gun. Since then war had greatly changed, for while the largest guns at that time were of five or six tons, the largest gun for garrison was now of 35 tons; and the greater size of the guns and the projectiles necessitated a larger number of men. Now, in the Southern district, of which Portsmouth was the head-quarters, there were, he believed, 976 guns and 1,276 gunners; in the Western district, Plymouth being the head-quarters, 636 guns and 774 men; in the Eastern district, Dover being the head-quarters, 570 guns and 900 men, the total being 2,182 guns and only 2,950 gunners, or little more than one man per gun. If the Coast Brigade were included, the garrison artillerymen could not be estimated at anything like 5,000 men; whereas 2,182 guns at 25 men per gun required 54,000 men, exclusive of Scotland, Ireland, and our Mediterranean fortresses. This was a serious deficiency, and indicated a condition of great danger in the event of invasion—the contingency for which we were bound to provide—men could not be transferred from one part of the coast to another, as every part would probably be threatened simultaneously, so that each point liable to attack would have to be sufficiently garrisoned. The noble Lord (Lord Northbrook) would probably object that such an enormous force as 54,000 trained artillerymen could not possibly be raised, and that we must depend on troops of the Line to supplement the regular artil- leery force. This, no doubt, might be done within certain limits; but the Regular forces were at present small, and were never likely to be large—and everyone would admit that less than one man to a gun was at any rate preposterously inadequate. He believed that in the French Army three or four artillerymen were told off for each gun, sailors or Gardes Mobiles being depended on for the rest. Their Lordships knew what the result had been in the late war, and it was certainly not very encouraging. He believed that in the Crimea also the French had an insufficient number of trained artillerymen, and had to supplement them by troops of the Line; the consequence being that their batteries were more than once unable to sustain the hot fire of the Russians. Turning to the proportion of gunners in the horse and field artillery, he was aware that the Government claimed credit for augmentations, and he would admit that these considerably counterbalanced the reductions. The force of horse and field artillery now in the United Kingdom, as stated by Mr. Cardwell, amounted to 16 batteries of horse artillery with 96 guns, and 40 batteries of field artillery with 240 guns; the total number of guns being thus 336. Mr. Cardwell and Sir Henry Storks had spoken of these as if they were perfectly ready for action; but of these 336, which everyone would admit to be the minimum of what was necessary, not quite one-half were properly manned and horsed. The reason was that they were all on the peace establishment—the difference between this and a war footing being no less than 80 men and 136 horses in every battery of horse artillery, and 115 men and 173 horses in every battery of field artillery. It would be impossible to go into the field with a peace establishment, and the deficiency could not be supplied on war being proclaimed, for in these days hostilities commenced a few days after the proclamation of war, and, whatever might be possible in other branches of the Army it was utterly impossible to extemporize either artillerymen or horses. Both men and horses required long and careful and scientific training before they were fit for artillery work, and it would be an affair not of weeks and months but almost of years before the raw material was ready for service. To bring up these batteries to a war footing would demand 5,200 trained gunners and 8,700 horses, and it was obviously impossible that such an increased number of men and horses could be obtained properly trained on an emergency. It was not merely that the peace establishment was less than the necessity of the case required, but the number of batteries really available, in consequence of the deficiency of men and horses, was even lower than a peace establishment itself would imply. In the horse artillery there were on a peace establishment 2,288 men and 1,824 horses, while in the field artillery there were 2,760 men and 3,520 horses. Dividing these figures by what should be the war establishment, this formidable conclusion came out—that in the horse artillery there were only 10 batteries with 60 guns, instead of 16 batteries with 96 guns, and in the field artillery 21 batteries with 126 guns, instead of 40 batteries with 240 guns; while with regard to horses, there were only 7 batteries of horse artillery with 42 horses, instead of 16 batteries with 96 horses; and in the field artillery there were only 13 batteries with 38 horses, instead of 40 batteries with 96 horses. The result of this was that there were but 20 effective batteries with 120 guns, instead of 56 batteries with 336 guns. It therefore followed that the notion that there were 336 guns ready for service was altogether fallacious, and if Parliament and the nation were relying upon such a force of artillery in the event of a war breaking out the country would find itself in a very critical position. It might be replied that there were the depots to fall back upon; but the Indian establishment was recruited from these, and they were on a very small scale, being composed in a certain measure of old horses and young recruits. Again, it might be said that this country could not be expected to maintain a war establishment when other countries, such as Russia, were content with a peace establishment. Russia, however, had very large reserves, while we, practically speaking, were wholly without reserves as regarded horse and field artillery. Reductions had even been made lately on important points; the number of waggons in the horse artillery had been cut down, and in districts where horses of the best kind were formerly abundant they were now difficult to obtain, large numbers having been exported at a high price for the German Army. The whole difficulty of the case, in fact, lay in the impossibility of extemporizing these scientific and trained troops at a moment's notice; and therefore they ought to be increased until, at all events, there were considerable reserves to fall back upon. What, then, was the state of the case as regards reserves? We had very few reserves even as far as the mere guns were concerned; we had all our naval stores concentrated in and about Woolwich and the metropolitan district; the great commercial ports were absolutely undefended; the fortifications, on which a great deal of money had been spent, were incomplete, gun after gun not being mounted, and the most important points on the coast were undefended. Abroad the case was not much more satisfactory, at all events with regard to our two great forces in the Mediterranean. At the beginning of the year—whatever might have been done since—there was at Malta only one battery of two guns properly mounted and armed; and he doubted whether at Gibraltar there was even one trained artilleryman. At Malta, too, the number of trained artillerymen was very small, though the fortifications were very extensive; and the garrison had been much reduced within the last two years. What, then, were the resources to which we could look? It might be said that the field artillery could be supplemented by the regular garrison artillery. Now, even if this was feasible—as to which opinions differed—the number of trained garrison gunners was so extremely small that we had really no resources of that kind. Again, it might be said that the field artillery could be supplemented by the Militia and Volunteer Artillery. No soldier of experience, however, would assert this—for, not to speak of other reasons, the drivers required almost as long a training as the gunners. He admitted that the Militia and Volunteer Artillery formed a powerful Reserve for garrison purposes, and that being 49,000 strong they would be amply sufficient, in conjunction with the garrison artillerymen, to make all the great towns and central fortifications absolutely secure. He feared, however, that they were at present uninstructed, and that, in spite of the best intentions, they must be pronounced comparatively inefficient. The Commission of distinguished artillery officers which sat last year recommended some important changes in these branches of the service, in order to make them available for garrisoning, and among other matters a better and more complete system of training was recommended, while it was also suggested that some officer of distinction and eminence should be appointed at the head of that instruction; that the Militia and Volunteer Artillery should be organized on a common system, and that they should be brought into contact with the Regular force and into greater unity—all of which results, according to the Report of the Commission, could be achieved at a small cost. Though finding fault, to a certain extent, with the Secretary for War, his object was rather to strengthen his hands. If the Government deliberately chose to keep the artillery on a peace footing the responsibility would rest with them. What we wanted was first a numerical increase in the men and horses of the field artillery, re-organizing the reserves so as to provide for the garrison artillery; secondly, a proper system of instruction for the Regular and Reserve Artillery forces; thirdly, an officer of distinction to take charge of this instruction and give unity to the system; and, lastly, a re-organization of both the Regulars and Reserves under a common management. Till these measures were taken we were living in a state of complete self-deception, counting upon horses which, if suddenly called upon to act, would be found to have no real existence. And the troubled state of Europe was a serious consideration. He saw with regret that after three months' discussion the country was still just as utterly helpless for maintaining its dignity abroad as it was at the commencement of the century, and almost as helpless for defence at home. He feared that the terrible lessons of the late war were, in a great degree, thrown away upon us, for he observed a feeling of indifference creeping over Parliament and the country on these vital subjects, and at least half the Session had been wasted in what he ventured to call unprofitable controversy on this subject.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for the following Returns with regard to the force of Artillery in the United Kingdom:

  1. 1. Number of horse, field, and garrison artillerymen in the United Kingdom, exclusive of depôts:
  2. 253
  3. 2. Number of the same in depôts:
  4. 3. Number of militia and volunteer artillerymen in the United Kingdom:
  5. 4. Number of artillerymen in the fortresses of Gibraltar and Malta respectively.—(The Earl of Carnarvon.)


desired to thank his noble Friend for calling attention to this important subject. He regretted with him that the Government had not proposed a larger increase in the artillery, the strength now contemplated being the very minimum which ought to be kept up on a peace establishment. It was impossible, however, to provide an artillery force in due proportion to our Reserve forces, for this would involve something like 1,400 field guns, which large increase on our present strength Parliament would hardly be prepared to grant. The proposed increase was insufficient, for in case of war we had no artillery reserve whatever; and he objected to the reduction of the cadres of the officers in India—namely, four officers and two subalterns in every brigade of horse artillery, and four captains and ten subalterns in every brigade of field artillery. Eight troops of horse artillery were to be brought home from India, in spite, he was told, of the protest of the Commander-in-Chief in India; and it was stated that they were to come home without drivers. He understood also that ten batteries of garrison artillery were to be converted into field artillery, and that they would be replaced by untrained men; as also that the new field batteries required drivers, who would need some amount of training. He feared that in these measures the Government had lost sight of the principle that economy and efficiency should go hand-in-hand. He was anxious to know the strength of the first class Army Reserve, which he hoped was at least 4,000 men; and how many gunners it included, as well as the strength of the Militia Reserve, and the number of artillerymen it included. He had heard that out of 15,000 in the latter force there were only 1,000 artillerymen. The majority of the colonels had stated that a second Militia artillery brigade could be easily formed, and as the Militia was to be raised to 140,000 men, he would impress on the Government the advisability of increasing the artillery branch. It was important, too, that the Militia artillery should be properly trained; for 14 days for re- cruits and 28 days for the remainder of the force—the period assigned this year—was quite insufficient, considering the number of Sundays and wet days which intervened. As to the Volunteer Artillery, it was a valuable branch, and the Government had done a great deal to leaven it by enabling 1,000 men a-year to pass through the camp at Shoeburyness; but it could not be brought beyond a certain standard. Every soldier viewed with alarm the proposal of the Government that boys of 17 or 18 should be enlisted, and after three years' service passed into the Reserve; for though this might be the quickest plan of forming a Reserve, it would be effected at the expense of efficiency. Hence he was anxious to support the noble Earl in considering that the increase in the Royal Artillery had not been sufficient to meet the exigencies of the case—there being but a small amount of Infantry and Cavalry Reserve, and he might say none of Artillery.


said, that as an impression seemed to exist that the reduction of the artillery in India and the increase in England were connected together, he rose to explain that the former step was decided on by the Government of India long before it was known that the home force was to be increased. In concluding their financial arrangements, the Government of India decided to reduce the force by five batteries of horse and three of garrison artillery; all its members considering that this was expedient and safe with the exception of Lord Napier of Magdala, who had some objection to it—and it was but natural for an Indian Commander-in-Chief to dislike a reduction of the force. This decision was approved by the India Office at home, which thereupon proposed to the War Office that these batteries should be absorbed at home; it was, however, found impracticable to bring the three garrison batteries to England, and they were therefore to be broken up in India.


said, that being connected with the Militia Artillery, he would suggest that a part of that force should be exercised as field artillery, instead of being looked upon merely as garrison artillery. It would be well if some of the regiments could be instructed in the use of the mitrailleuse, which had proved so effect- tive a weapon in the late campaign, and also in the civil war now unhappily going on in France. At present the Militia Artillery know nothing at all of the mitrailleuse.


said, it had been rumoured that the Government intended to strengthen the field at the expense of the garrison artillery by drafting the latter into the former; but he must urge that the garrison artillery required higher qualifications than the other branch. It was a recognized principle that the class of men who could be trained in the shortest period should be kept at a low level, while the class requiring the longest term of training should be kept at the highest standard; but the Government would depart from that principle if they permanently reduced the strength of the garrison artillery for the purpose of increasing the field artillery. He wished to know whether the reduction of the former was to be a permanent measure? He hoped the Government would consider the noble Viscount's remarks on the necessity of a longer period of training for Militia Artillery, for at present, according to information supplied to him by officers in his own county, there was in some cases really only about three days' training a-year for each man at gun drill, and the money might as well be thrown into the sea.


said, that the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon), following his usual custom, had made his speech before obtaining the Returns, and had consequently fallen into inaccuracies. He would point out the alterations that had really been made in the artillery. In 1870 there were in the United Kingdom 180 guns of horse artillery and field batteries, 5,702 officers and men, and 2,966 horses; while the Estimates for the present year provided for 336 guns, besides 30 in depôts, 9,698 officers and men, and 5,800 horses;—showing an increase of 31 batteries, 186 guns, 4,000 officers and men, and 3,000 horses. The force of garrison artillery in 1870 consisted of 64 batteries and 6,641 officers and men; while this year's Estimates gave 42 batteries and 7,152 officers and men. These figures, he hoped, would satisfy the House that the Government had not overlooked the strength of our artillery, and would answer the question of the noble Earl (the Earl of Airlie) by showing that while the field artillery had been strongly increased, the garrison artillery had also been slightly increased as regarded officers and men. No doubt there had been a decrease in the number of batteries of garrison artillery; but that was a decrease in the officers, and not in the rank and file. In making these changes, the Secretary of State had acted under the advice of competent authorities and of the Committee of which the late Quartermaster General (General Haines) was Chairman, who proposed the peace establishment for horse artillery and field batteries on which this estimate was based. These changes were suggested after due deliberation, and the establishment was calculated in such a manner that it could be readily raised to an establishment sufficient for war service. In addition to the increase in the artillery, made in the Estimates of 1871, it was proposed, if the Bill now before Parliament should receive the Royal Assent, to lose no time in organizing the Militia and Volunteer Artillery. With regard to the Volunteer Artillery, he believed he was stating the opinion of those qualified to judge when he said that that force would be much more usefully employed as garrison artillery than as field artillery. With regard to the mitrailleuse, it appeared to him doubtful whether it would be right to employ the Militia or Volunteer Artillery, in the use of that arm. The noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) assumed that the recommendations of the Royal Commission respecting the instruction of the Volunteer Artillery had not been carried out; but he had to observe that the substance of those recommendations had already been carried out. To revert to the strength of the artillery at home—There would be 336 guns—being precisely the same number as in 1805, when it was expected that Napoleon would invade the country. If that number were not sufficient for 400,000 or 500,000 men, it should at the same time be borne in mind that that number of men could not all be brought into the field at one and the same time. In his opinion, the artillery force proposed by the Government was sufficient for the present wants of the country; and no anxiety need be felt for the perfect safety of Gibraltar and Malta, where the strength of artillery was greater than when the noble Earl himself was Secretary of State for the Colonies, and responsible for the safety of those fortresses. The noble Earl said that to raise a horse artillery battery from peace to war strength required 70 men and 136 horses, and a field, battery 115 men and 173 horses. Now, the peace establishment of a battery of horse artillery was composed of five officers, 143 non-commissioned officers and men, and 126 horses; while the war establishment for home defence consisted of five officers, 164 men, and 172 horses:—so that the real difference was 21 men and 46 horses, instead of 70 men and 136 horses, as stated by the noble Earl. Compared with the peace establishment of any other country in the world, ours was the stronger. The Prussian war establishment of horse artillery was four officers, 152 non-commissioned officers and men, and 146 horses; our peace establishment was five officers, 143 men, and 126 horses; so that the Prussian war establishment only exceeded our peace establishment by nine men and 20 horses. With regard to field batteries, the peace establishment was five officers, 144 non-commissioned officers and men, and 88 horses; the war establishment for home defence was five officers, 164 non-commissioned officers and men, and 138 horses; or a difference of 20 men and 46 horses, instead of 115 men and 173 horses as the noble Earl alleged. The noble Earl was in possession of very insufficient information on this subject, and had thus made statements which did not represent the proper figures, or the proposals of the Government. The arrangements made by the Government had been with a view to be able to increase our establishments at short notice. Three depôt batteries of field artillery had been established, and two of horse artillery; and these would have a large strength of drivers, because it was essential to have in reserve drivers, in order to place artillery in a condition for service. Great pains had been taken to supply this necessity, and if they wanted to place the artillery on a war footing they would only have to take a few guns from the garrison artillery and purchase a few more horses. He wished particularly to impress on their Lordships that our peace establishment was neither artificial nor delusory; they had been carefully considered by those who were responsible, and could be easily made effective should war occur. As to the number of artillerymen in the Militia Reserve, he could not at that moment state it, not having the documents at hand; but he believed that a Return giving this information had been already laid before Parliament. By increasing the length of training from 14 to 28 days, they had done something to meet the suggestion of his noble Friend (Viscount Hardinge), and the Government would be glad if they could secure for the Militia still more effective training. They had always considered the Militia a most valuable force, and would gladly do everything in their power further to improve it. All suggestions to that effect would therefore receive the most respectful attention of the Government. He hoped their Lordships would be satisfied that a considerable increase had been made in the artillery; that the increase he had described was not a paper increase, but was made in such a manner as would enable the force to be rapidly and efficiently put upon a war footing.


My Lords, I wish to make a few observations on this subject, which cannot but command the attention of every military man. I may take this opportunity of pointing out to your Lordships that it is a very natural thing that officers who have commanded a fine field battery or battery of horse artillery should desire it to be and remain very efficient. If I myself commanded one of those batteries, I should greatly regret that it should be put on a peace establishment. But it is utterly impossible that you should keep field batteries or horse artillery on a war footing in time of peace. What I venture to think of great importance is that there should exist a power of expanding the Army when an increased force is called for. It is far more essential that the artillery should consist of a large number of batteries capable of expansion at short notice than that we should have a few batteries so large in number that though the actual force of men and horses is the same, still you have not the means of expanding them. The formation of new batteries, battalions, or regiments of cavalry is a perfectly different thing from increasing the establishments of old ones. In the latter case you have the officers in hand, you have the Staff, and, to a certain extent, in the case of artillery, you have horses and drivers, You put the less efficient men and horses into the second row of waggons, and in a short time they become efficient. I must express my regret that the officers of the Royal Artillery—and a finer set of officers do not exist—seem to hold the opinion that their batteries should be stronger. I think, on the contrary, that there should be a larger number of batteries on a peace establishment, so that our artillery force may be expanded in an emergency upon the old foundations; and I hope we shall not be led away by a natural desire on the part of the officers and conclude that the existing batteries of artillery are too weak, and that they ought to be diminished in number with a view to increase the strength of such as remain. We cannot fall into a greater error, and I hope we shall not do so. As regards the increase this year, we had 180 field guns last year, and this year we shall have 336 field guns, every one of which is horsed with six horses, while every field battery has a waggon to each gun besides, horsed with four horses. There ought, in my opinion, to be no great difficulty in increasing the existing batteries and bringing them up to a fair degree of efficiency in a short time. We have had an addition of 20,000 men made to our Army since last year, and the increase in the artillery has, I think, been very considerable. I do not say it is too considerable, as it ought to be so, compared with the necessity which existed for increasing that branch of the service. I quite admit that the artillery is one of those branches of our military service which ought to be kept in as efficient a state as possible. It is a scientific branch, and it is, of course, more difficult to train men for it than for other branches; but I am not going the length at the same time of saying that we ought to sacrifice the remainder of the Army for the sake of one particular branch. It would not, therefore, it seems to me, be desirable to increase the artillery more than we have done, because by so doing we might impair the efficiency of the rest of the service. As to the remarks which have been made with respect to transferring men from garrison artillery to field artillery, I would observe that there is nothing, no doubt, so essential as a well-trained garrison artillery—more especially when we take into account the great calibre of the heavy guns, which renders the work- ing of this branch of the service very intricate. But if there is any part of an artilleryman's education which is more delicate and requires more instruction than another it is that which is connected with field artillery, which requires the most delicate handling. I may add that no greater misfortune could, in my opinion, occur to the Militia than that they should be converted into field artillery. They are a most admirable force for the purposes of garrison artillery; but I do not see how it is possible that they can get any field artillery instruction which would be of much utility in the short space of time at their disposal for drill. Of course the longer the Militia are drilled the better, speaking in a military point of view, I should be pleased. The civil habits and occupations of the Militiaman, however, render it almost impossible that he should undergo a longer period of training than he does at present. If the period of training were extended, the Militia would, no doubt, be rendered more efficient for the purposes of field artillery; but I am very much afraid that under a more extended system of training they would lose many of their civil employments. I believe the efficiency of our artillery has been very much increased by the arrangements which have been made. The number of batteries has not been increased, but we have increased our cadres of field batteries by decreasing numbers of our garrison batteries, adding at the same time to the establishments of garrison gunners per battery, so as to make up this loss in the aggregate. I have desired to address these observations to the House, as I know much has been said on this subject of artillery.


wished to say, in explanation, that the calculations on which he had based his statement had not been hastily made. He, unfortunately, had not the Papers with him, nor had he, of course, access to official documents. He was, however, under the impression that the calculations were correct. If it should turn out that they were not he should be the better pleased.

Motion agreed to.