HL Deb 13 July 1875 vol 225 cc1368-77

rose to call the attention of the House to the time tables of the Aldershot Manœuvres published as official in The Times newspaper of the 8th of July. The noble Lord said, it must not be thought that he intended to criticize the military manœuvres; but without disparaging them, he could not help expressing his opinion that they were not military manœuvres in the sense of the terms in which the word was used among Continental nations at all. The official Memorandum referred to by the noble Lord described the time and place at which each Army Corps would appear on each of the six days. The whole of those announcements might be thus summarized:— A large army is supposed to have landed in the south coast, between Shoreham and Little-hampton, and to be advancing on London. The defending army has taken up a position along the heights in front of Reigate, and has also occupied the passes at Dorking, Guildford, and Aldershot. The invading army has detached forces to watch these points. The First Army Corps represents a detached force from the invading army, which has seized the London and Portsmouth line, and has collected supplies at Liphook and Hazlemere, and occupies a position covering these places. The Second Army Corps represents the detached body of the defending army which occupies Aldershot, and is defending the pass between the Hog's Back and Cæsar's Camp. Special ideas relative to the Manœuvres has been communicated to the General Officers commanding on either side by Sir Thomas Steele. When the proceedings were planned out in this way proper scope was not afforded for that useful application of strategic science which had obtained in previous years. In saying this he disclaimed any intention of merely making an accusation or charge against the War Department. Then the men were living in quarters, and instead of their movements extending over an unknown country they only went over a few miles of country that was well-known to many of them. There was, therefore, not sufficient opportunity for tasking the genius of the commanders, trying the skill of the regimental officers, and testing the endurance of the men. A strange thing happened on the second day, because the genius of the attacking commander led him to break through the restrictions imposed by the orders, and the spectacle was witnessed of the invading army in full possession of the field. He criticized the plans which had been adopted in these Manœuvres, and contrasted them with the great military manœuvres which took place on the Continent. He also expressed some doubts with respect to the strength of the regiments, observing, of 22,000 soldiers which were encamped on the plains of Chalons, the commanding officers were able to place 21,000 in line. He considered it very important that it should be known what the strength of our regiments and brigades was when mustered. If the Manœuvres were to be made important in a military point of view, means must be taken to make them as real and as large as possible. Several series of military manœuvres had now taken place—namely, at Aldershot, Salisbury, Dartmoor, and Cannock Chase—and perhaps the one in which there was the greatest amount of reality was at Dartmoor, owing to the extraordinary inclemency of the weather, and the physical structure of the country. His Royal Highness the General Commanding in Chief suggested, in his Report on the Salisbury Manœuvres, that Autumn Manœuvres on a large scale should take place only every third year. At the Salisbury Manœuvres Ireland sent a contingent of Militia, Scotland of Volunteers, and England also of Militia, and they then witnessed 31,000 as fine British troops as were ever under arms called out for training. On that occasion, also, there were no fewer than 17 military delegates from every great military Power in Europe except Austria, and he heard from two distinguished officers, of whose views he had ascertained, the highest opinion expressed as to the efficiency of the troops. He called attention to the fact that had the mimic warfare been real a whole Army Corps would have been sacrificed. There was a great difference between those manœuvres of 1872 and those of the present day; yet he could see no reason why Militia Reserves should not take their autumn instruction along with those troops, with whom they would have to act should the necessity arise. But there was more than that. An arbitrary selection had been made of points of attack; whereas these Autumn Manœuvres might be made available for obtaining very important strategic information. It should not be forgotten that Europe was now in an armed peace, and that it was essential that we should avail ourselves of the inestimable advantage we possessed in our insular position to ascertain our most vulnerable points of attack. That led him to suggest that particular points should be selected for attack during the intervals between the manœuvres on a large scale. On that point he would remind the Government that some very valuable papers by General Roy, an admirable military organizer, were found at the Ordnance Office in the time of Sir John Burgoyne, and no doubt were still there. He would also, in accordance with the views of General Roy, suggest the establishment of a local camp in the Eastern district. In 1848 the Government were fully alive to the importance of extreme despatch in all military movements. In that year, when a southern county of Ireland was much troubled with Ribbonism, and general disaffection and some insurrectionary movement was deemed imminent, Woolwich was communicated with, and within 30 hours of the arrival of the first intelligence two batteries of artillery had been transported from Woolwich to Dublin. Other nations were straining every nerve to make the most of their resources and capabilities in these matters; and so, in his opinion, we should also do. He was far from bringing any charge against Her Majesty's Government, and least of all against the gallant officers who were engaged in the conduct of these movements; but he trusted that the result of the discussion of his Motion would be to increase very largely the practical value of the periodical gatherings of our military forces.


said, the noble Lord, in the course of his strictures on the manœuvres which were being held this year, had entered into various strategical questions. For this the noble Lord's great military knowledge qualified him, but he was unable to follow the noble Lord into this part of the subject. In reference, however, to the general question, he was ready to admit that the summer drills, as now carried on, were not so extensive in scope as the large manœuvres of 1872 and 1873. Their Lordships were aware that a camp of instruction was formed at Chobham as far back as 1853, and afterwards another at Shorncliffe; but the idea of manœuvres on a large scale in a part of the country somewhat distant from head-quarters was due entirely to the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Cardwell). In 1871 the manœuvres were held at Aldershot. In 1872 the extensive manœuvres in the neighbourhood of Salisbury took place, to which the noble Lord opposite had referred, when there were 31,000 men under arms. In 1873 there were manœuvres on a reduced scale at Dartmoor and Cannock Chase, and also, he believed, at the Curragh; and the Report of the illustrious Duke in 1874 showed that those operations had been highly beneficial to the troops. He recommended that manœuvres upon a large scale should take place once in three years—that was to say, camps of instruction the first year near Aldershot, a concentration of troops the next year at some point of the coast, and the third year manœuvres on a large scale; and, if the proposed cycle had been carried out, the present would have been the year of a concentration of troops. But this was found to be impracticable. Already the Estimates had been unusually high in consequence of the great increase in the price of various commodities, especially of horses and forage. The increase in the Estimate for forage alone, in the present year, was over £47,000. This rendered it undesirable that the expense of very large operations should be incurred; and it was, therefore, decided to substitute summer drills. Such was the reason why the drills were on so small a scale this year, and their Lordships would understand that it was impossible at this period of the Session to give an idea of the Estimates that would be submitted, or of the expense that would be incurred for next year. Indeed, he believed the noble Lord would not expect from the Government any distinct pledge as to what would be done in the future. Her Majesty's Government so thoroughly appreciated the importance of these manœuvres that they intended to encourage them as far as the means at their disposal would allow. Before resuming his seat, he desired to say a few words on the subject of calling out the Militia to the manœuvres. A few days ago the noble Lord asked him a Question on this point, and he was afraid the noble Lord did not deem his Answer to be very satisfactory. He could assure the noble Lord that the opinion of commanding officers of Militia regiments was not at all unanimous as to the desirability of calling out the Militia for the manœuvres. Some officers said recruiting for the Militia was injuriously affected by the prospect of regiments being thus called out. Under the circumstances it was thought that in the present year, at all events, it would be better to dispense with their services. There was no intention on the part of the authorities to discontinue these manœuvres, and still less to drop them altogether; but, in carrying them out, it would be found impossible to adhere to any fixed rule, and the arrangements must, within certain limits, be confided to the judgment of the Government and the authorities.


inquired when the Returns he had moved for on the subject would be presented?


said, that with regard to the strictures on Her Majesty's Government, he should like to call attention to the facts on which the noble Lord had based his Motion, which was one of the most extraordinary Motions he had ever seen. Generally speaking, Papers were moved for, and were then produced on the authority of the Government. Their Lordships thus had before them an accurate statement of what had happened. But if their Lordships would turn to the Paper now under discussion, they would find that it had no authority whatever as far as the House and the Government were concerned. The Motion was to call attention to the time table of the Autumn Manœuvres, published as official in The Times newspaper. The document was, however, one which, if the noble Lord really meant to found anything upon it, ought to have been official. This time table appeared to him to be an arrangement of the Commander-in-Chief, and to relate to the discipline of the Army. Then the noble Lord proceeded to give an account of the manœuvres up to last night; but here, again, the House had no official information before it. He did not maintain that the time table was not accurately given in The Times; but he thought he could show, on the noble Lord's own statement, that it was but a slight sketch of what was proposed to be done. The noble Lord said that for the credit of the British Army one of the General Officers who had certainly distinguished himself in the most signal manner on that occasion, Sir Henry de Bathe, had disregarded the rules and regulations that were laid down. The accuracy of the noble Lord's statement on that point he doubted; because if there were rules laid down for the guidance of the forces, that gallant officer was as much bound by them as any soldier. The account which the noble Lord gave of the manœuvres was gathered from the report which appeared in The Times. Now, he said nothing against the report given by The Times correspondent; he dared say it was quite accurate; but it was an inconvenient mode of criticizing the operation of troops and the conduct of their commanders to take their information from no other source than the newspapers. It might be perfectly accurate; but how the reporter of a newspaper could give an account of what occurred between the attacking and the defending force except upon hearsay he was at a loss to understand. He happened himself to know something about the attacking force, because he had a near relative who was with it; and from the information he received from his relative he believed that no single reporter could possibly give an account of everything that occurred. Then the noble Lord had deprecated the character of the present manœuvres. He ventured to say, however, that those manœuvres, as far as they had gone up till now, had elicited the skill of the officers, and been the means of affording instruction both to them and to the men, while they had also afforded an opportunity of testing, to a certain extent, the endurance of the troops. If the noble Lord would inquire among his military friends, he would learn that they were not confined to starting at 8 in the morning, but that on one occasion the tents were struck as early as 3 o'clock, and the men then started on one of their marches. The noble Lord talked of the number of troops employed in these manœuvres. Of course they were not so many as were employed in the first year of the manœuvres, inaugurated, much to his credit, by the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Cardwell). But in 1873 there were only 11,000 at Dartmoor and 9,000 at Cannock Chase; in 1874—when there were two periods—at the one period there were 17,000 engaged, and at the other 18,000; while this year, when they were supposed to be so far behind, the number was in excess of those he had quoted, there being 22,046 engaged in the manœuvres at Aldershot. He would not follow the noble Lord in his observations upon the state of Europe, but merely add that the Government were as sensible as the Government of 1848 were as to being prepared for any consequences, and there was nothing to show that what was done then could not be as well done again. Therefore, without assuming too much for Her Majesty's Government, he would state that they were fully alive to their duties, and that they would be as well prepared for anything which might happen as the Government of 1848.


said, he understood that during his absence some remarks had been made by the noble Lord (Lord Waveney) as regarded the time table. Now, the issue of the time table was mainly to give information to the public of the time and place at which different manœuvres would take place, and by no means represented all the work which was to be done by the military. Indeed, he had himself already altered that time table for Thursday by ordering some Cavalry movements. The present operations were not like those which had been carried on at Salisbury Plain, on a large scale. They were much indebted to the noble Viscount (Viscount Cardwell) for inaugurating those Autumn Manœuvres, and he went the whole way with the noble Lord who had now brought forward the question in hoping that those manœuvres would be continued as they had commenced; for anything that interfered with those admirable arrangements would be detrimental to the interests of the Army, and consequently to the interests of the public. But as regarded the manœuvres which were now going on, it was absolutely necessary to make some arrangements for posting the troops in such a way as that they should meet on different ground on the various days. He admitted that they ought, from time to time, to have manœuvres conducted on a large scale. Of course, the question of finance must have great weight in that matter, because it was, no doubt, much more expensive to have manœuvres on a large scale than on a smaller one. The transport alone, which would be very small this year, would have to be much augmented if the operations were conducted on a great scale. Then there were other obstacles to be met with connected with agriculture. In general, nothing could be more handsome or more liberal than the manner in which the localities selected behaved to the authorities and to the troops; but still it was extremely difficult to manage these things. Nobody could wish to see the crops destroyed, and it was well known that they must also have facilities for bringing ample supplies together. The armies of the Continent could take vast tracts of land without inconvenience for the purpose of manœuvring; but in this country the ease was very different. Again, he did not think it would be desirable that they should attempt to go to the same ground year by year. Even their friends about Aldershot would have a strong objection to the troops going over their property year after year. He had himself thought that one year they might have manœuvres on a large scale, that another year they should have a concentration of troops on the Coast, to see how matters could be managed by the railways, and so on; and again in a third year they might give their attention to divisional manœuvres at their large stations, such at Aldershot, Chobham, Shorncliffe, Colchester, and the Curragh. It was impossible to conduct the manœuvres without laying down restrictive regulations. For instance, with regard to that very point of the order of starting, the object was to bring the troops together, and not to show that one part of them could get up earlier than the others. Then, also, it was requisite that they should keep within bounds. Those were small details, but it was desirable that they should not be overlooked. He was anxious that the manœuvres should be continued; and, whatever Government there might be, he hoped the expense necessary to keep them up would be regarded as a proper subject for a Vote, it being evident that they could not be conducted on a sufficiently large scale unless a greater sum was spent on them than was likely, under ordinary circumstances, to be taken.


thanked his noble Friend (Lord Waveney) for having instituted a very interesting conversation in reference to these manœuvres. He rose to make only one or two observations. In asking Parliament to pass an Act scheduling a particular portion of the country for the purpose of military manœuvres, it was necessary to exercise a certain circumspection; because, if that was not done, instead of the Army being made popular, which had hitherto been the effect of the manœuvres, exactly the opposite would be the result, and difficulties would be created which would stand in the way in future years. The Engineers being employed to report upon the surface of the country, could only point out two portions of the whole Island which were well suited to extended manœuvres. These were the places adopted in the two first years—namely, Aldershot and Salisbury. There were grave apprehensions, when they proposed Salisbury, that they would meet with opposition from the neighbourhood, and also with regard to expense; but it so happened that the troops were welcomed with the greatest satisfaction, and that, although the harvest was not quite over, and there were about 800 square miles included in the Act of Parliament, the bill which had to be paid did not exceed £8,000. After Aldershot and Salisbury had been turned to account, it was found that only two other parts of the country were suitable for manœuvres of even 10,000 or 12,000 men. Those were Dartmoor and Cannock Chase, at both of which there was a great desire to see the Army. In the days of his youth it would have been a most unlikely thing in Staffordshire for 150,000 people to gather on a hill side and look on with interest at a march past, as they did during the manœuvres at Cannock Chase. The feeling of the population towards the Army seemed to have greatly changed. Experience at Dartmoor and in Staffordshire showed that it was not desirable to have these manœuvres carried on with only 10,000 or 12,000 men, and the illustrious Duke (the Duke of Cambridge) therefore recommended that there should be a triennial course. Now, he (Viscount Card-well) was bound to say that he was as much responsible for the adoption of that course as the present Government could possibly be. He entirely agreed with the noble Earl opposite (Earl Cadogan) in thinking that much must be left to the discretion of the Government of the day. Perhaps he might be permitted to remark that there were others besides the late Government who were obliged to study economy. He had heard it attributed to an illustrious Conservative statesman that he said the word "Liberal," when applied to the Liberal Party, should usually be interpreted as "stingy." He should be sorry to hear it attributed to the late Govern- ment that they were unwilling to make proper expenditure upon the Army; but if forage rose to so great an amount as the noble Earl opposite had mentioned in the Estimates for the present year, it was not surprising that Government should feel under the necessity of trenching on some other portions of their expenditure. He did not find fault with any of their arrangements. He hoped the Militia would he so trained that they could take part in these manœuvres, and was confident that they would continue to merit the tribute of praise which they had received from the illustrious Duke at Salisbury. All accounts proved that on that occasion they showed themselves perfectly well qualified to stand beside the regiments of the line. It was not in the power of any Government to get territory suitable for extended manœuvres every year, and the Government must exercise its discretion as to what manœuvres should be held in a particular year, according to the circumstances of the ease. He rejoiced to know that the illustrious Duke and the Government intended to keep up a system which he regarded as absolutely necessary for the efficiency of the British Army.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, to Thursday next, a quarter before Five o'clock.