HL Deb 22 July 1887 vol 317 cc1743-51

in rising to move— That the statement regarding Army organization recently made by Major-General Brackenbury by authority of the Secretary of State for War at the Royal United Service Institution, be laid upon the Table,'' As Major-General Brackenbury's speech was one of considerable national importance, he had given notice of this Motion, and he asked their Lordships indulgence, if in support of it, he quoted at some length certain authorities, to which the House would assign more weight than to any remarks he could offer. He was glad there had been delay in bringing his Motion forward, as meantime the recent reviews at Buckingham Palace and Aldershot had taken place, and had an important bearing on this matter. No doubt his request was of a somewhat unusual character—that the speech of a distinguished officer should be made as it were a public document and laid on the Table of the House. But the speech itself was of an exceptional character, and the subject was one of exceptional interest, and the opinions stated were of the utmost importance to the future defence of the country. General Bracken-bury was a first-rate Artillery officer, who was well known for his excellent conduct in Egypt. He spoke, moreover, as the head of the Intelligence Department, and it was evident that he was in his speech expressing the views of the Secretary of State for War, as he stated that he had the permission of the authorities to make the statement. When he heard it he said at the time that it was the most important statement he had ever heard on the question of our Military Organization. In the first place, General Brackenbury expressed his views of the relative duties of the Fleet and the Army. The object of the Fleet, he said, was not to protect the Dockyards or the commercial ports of the Kingdom, or even the great coaling stations. The object of the Fleet was to go out to sea and seek the enemy's ships and sink them, to protect our commerce, and to see that these Islands were not starved in time of war; but that a sufficient supply of food could be imported. General Brackenbury advised us to examine the extraordinary, heterogeneous mass of men which constitutes our Army to see to (1) the requirements for garrisoning, and (2) what was left for the field, setting free as far as possible the Regular troops for the field, using mainly the Militia and Volunteers for home defence. We ought to have ready Regular troops for two Army Corps, Infantry, Cavalry, Royal Artillery, Royal Horse Artillery, and even after the conversion of the Royal Horse Artillery we should still have a larger proportion of that arm for the field than any other Army in the world. In respect of the Engineers, Commissariat, and Transport, we are still wanting; but in the Estimates this year sums neces sary to complete these Services have been voted. After providing garrison defence at home and abroad, and two Corps d' Armeé for the field. General Brackenbury estimated our surplus Forces as follows:—Five battalions Regular Infantry, 48 battalions Militia, equal to 36,000 men; 112 battalions Volunteer Infantry, equal to 90,000 men; seven regiments Regular Cavalry, and 39 regiments Yeomanry, equal to 21,000 men. Of Field Artillery we had absolutely none, and we were short too of Volunteer gunners, at the rate of three guns per 1,000 for our surplus Infantry, we required 390 additional guns, and a vote has already been taken for 84 guns of position. But we were 23,000 Artillery Volunteers short, and ought to raise them up to the establishment. He hoped that Votes would be taken in future years for the remainder of the 390 guns required. Personally, he said, I advocate in the strongest manner the raising of a sufficient number of Volunteer field batteries, to give us three guns per 1,000 for the Infantry that will remain after our two Army Corps and our garisons have been provided, and therefore it is that I have obtained permission from the authorities at the War Office to attend before you and make this statement. He had quoted General Brackenbury as to what the wants of the Force were, but he had another authority he wished to bring into Court. There could be no possibility of denying that guns were wanted, and the question therefore arose, "Where are they to come from?" There was clearly no hope of getting such an increase in the Royal Horse Artillery as would provide 390 guns, seeing that the cost of one battery was £13,000 per annum. The Volunteers must therefore be looked to to make up the deficiency, and such an authority as Major Thompson, whose paper on this subject at R. V, S. had led to General Brackenbury's speech, had calculated that 10 batteries could be supplied by the Reserve Forces at a cost of £7,000, that means 60 Volunteer Field guns for half the cost of six guns of the Royal Artillery. He had written to Lord Wolseley on this subject, putting two questions to him—namely, whether he thought it necessary that there should be Field Artillery for the Reserve Forces, and whether from his experience in America he thought that Volunteer Artillery could be got to do efficient service. Lord Wolseley, in reply to the first question, said— My own opinion is entirely in favour of creating out of the existing Volunteer Force at least 40 field batteries. We have no field batteries for either our Yeomanry, Militia, or Volunteer Infantry, and it is out of the question to imagine that we can ever add any considerable number of field batteries to the Royal Artillery. Hence, on the highest authority, the only practical way of supplying these wants was by the creation of field batteries in the Volunteer Force. They existed once, though Heaven knew why they were suppressed in the year 1873. At that time they numbered 50. As to the question of getting efficiency out of the Volunteer Force, he had seen the Volunteer battery which used to be commanded by Colonel Shakespeare—a name well known for good service in the Crimean War—cross that boggy ravine that intersects Wimbledom Common, and he had said to him that the Royal Artillery could not cross rough ground in better style. In answer to his (the Earl of Wemyss's) second question, as to the possible efficiency of Volunteer Field Artillery, Lord Wolseley said— In 1859 the great hulk of the Army disbelieved in the possibility of the Volunteer Infantry ever reaching their present state of efficiency. The same prejudice now holds good on the question of field artillery, though some of our ablest officers think otherwise. To successfully resist an invasion a large Artillery Force is necessary, and that can only be had by creating Volunteer Field Artillery. Driving is no longer now so important as a long range and concentration of fire. The concluding paragraph of Lord Wolseley's letter ran as follows:— You ask me about the Field Artillery of the Northern and Southern Armies during the great civil war in America. You have only to read the history of that war to learn the great service done by the Artillery on both sides, yet it was all improvised in less than a year from the civil population. If they could make an excellent Artillery from untrained, undrilled men, how much more easily could we do so from our well-organized Volunteer Force. He (the Earl of Wemyss) thought he need say no more to prove his case, except to recapitulate his points, which were four—namely, (1) the great want of more Artillery; (2) the impossibility of increasing the Regular Force; (3) that the want can only be supplied from the Volunteer Force; and (4) that it was the opinion of such an authority as Lord Wolseley that Volunteer batteries could be made amply efficient for all useful purposes. He gave the Government every credit for endeavouring to work out this critical problem. The importance of the duty before them, that of putting the country in a proper state of defence, could not be over-estimated. In Lord Wolseley's article on the Army, in the recently published volumns, entitled, The Reign of Queen Victoria, he quoted an extract from a letter of Lord Palmerston when Foreign Minister to the Cabinet. Writing on December 17, 1846, Lord Palmerston said— Surely there can be no duty more urgently pressing upon a Government than to place the country which it governs in a position to defend itself, and if any mischance were to happen what possible excuse could be made for the Ministers by whose apathy and neglect the country had been left without adequate means of defence? Her Majesty's Government wore, he believed, honestly and faithfully doing their duty in this matter. He gave them every credit, and he knew that their path was beset by prejudices and an unwillingness to recognize the gravity of the situation. It was with the view not to criticize, not to interfere with the action of the Government, which, he thought, was worthy of praise, but with a view to help them and to bring public opinion to bear on this question that he brought forward this subject. He would conclude by making the Motion which stood in his name— Moved, ''That the statement regarding Army organization recently made by Major General Brackenbury by authority of the Secretary of State for War at the Royal United Service Institution, be laid upon the Table."—([The Earl of Wemyss.)


said, that before the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for War (Lord Harris) replied to his noble Friend he wished to ask a question. In his opinion this was quite a new departure, for hitherto cold water had been thrown upon field guns for the Volunteers. Some years ago Volunteer field batteries were abolished. Colonel Shakespeare's battery had been dispersed, and in this House Lord Truro was always complaining that he could not get field guns although he was willing to pay for them. General Brackenbury, on the authority of the Secretary of State, had stated that 84 guns were to be given to 21 corps of Artillery Volunteers who were some distance from the seaboard. General Brackenbury went a great deal further, and expressed a hope that every year guns would be furnished to the Volunteers until the proportion was brought up to three per 1,000 men of the Auxiliary Forces. Of course, everyone would prefer to have regular Artillery, but a battery of Royal Artillery cost £13,000 a-year, and what War Minister would propose a Vote for 84 Royal Artillery guns? What was the alternative? The Duke of Wellington in his famous letter to Sir John Burgoyne said—"I know I cannot get Regulars, so I must be content with Militia." He (Viscount Hardinge) would like to ask the noble Lord the Under Secretary where the money was to come from to keep up these batteries? They would be expensive to support, and surely the Government did not intend to come down upon the officers of Volunteer Artillery to make good this cost. Major Thompson, of the Artillery, at the meeting to which the noble Earl referred, thought a grant of £2 would suffice for horses and extra expenses. At any rate, some allowance ought to be made by Government beyond the Capitation Grant. Another question he wished to put was as to what calibre these guns were to be. Forty-pounders, in his opinion, would be too heavy, and 20-pounders would be preferable. He thought the step now taken by the Government was an experiment in the right direction.


said, that when he saw a Notice on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) it always gave him some apprehension as to whether he would be prepared to meet him on all points. Every speech of the noble Earl's invariably bristled with points, and he was not quite certain whether he was prepared to cover all the points now raised by him. He wished to-night to direct his attention to the question of the supply of field batteries of position to the Auxiliary Forces. The noble Earl had alluded to the speech of Major General Brackenbury, at the United Service Institution, as being of an exceptional character, and as having the sanction of the Secretary of State for War. The fact of the matter at that time was this—on account of the mobi lization scheme having been practically accepted, certain steps had had to be taken in regard to the Volunteer Force. Up to that time the Volunteer Force had increased—he used the term in no invidious sense—in a somewhat haphazard way. The zeal and loyalty of the officers in various parts of the country had induced them to apply to have an increase of the Force, and sanction had been given to that without regard to whether the increase was in due proportion or not to the other arms of the Service, or whether in that particular part of the country more Volunteers were wanted, or whether more Volunteers were required in that particular arm. The consequence was that just at that time it was found that the Force was within some 20,000 of the authorized establishment of the Volunteers, and that we were entirely short of Field Artillery. It so happened that at the War Office most of the business connected with the Auxiliary Forces came before the Under Secretary of State. He had deemed it to be his duty to point out to the Secretary for War that all increase of the Volunteer Force should be in the direction of the particular arms which the country required to be strengthened. It was feared that this Order might be misunderstood as evidencing on the part of the War Office that they either doubted or undervalued the efficiency and zeal of the Volunteer Force or were tired of it; but he could assure the noble Earl that that idea was altogether unfounded in fact. The Secretary of State for War, therefore, gave his sanction to Major General Bracken-bury making the speech referred to, in order that there might be no misapprehension in the minds of the Volunteers. It was the intention of the Secretary for War to issue at an early date such an announcement as would remove the impression, and would show that the War Department fully appreciated both the willingness and the efficiency of the Volunteers. The noble Earl had made out a very strong case indeed for the increase in the supply of field guns and guns of position to the Volunteers, and he had nothing to say in objection to that demand. It was a fact that for some reason which it was impossible to account for there had been differences of opinion among the highest authorities as to whether it was wise to supply field artillery to the Volunteers; but he could assure the noble Earl that that time was now past, and that the Government were now willing to encourage by every means in their power the Volunteers practising their artillery drill. He was sure, however, that the Volunteers would consent to join in the scheme for mobilizing the whole of the Forces in the Kingdom, and would not object in some cases to be changed from field into garrison Artillery. It had been found that there were only 21 Volunteer Artillery Corps in the Northern and North British Districts with whom these guns might be placed. The mobilization scheme had already absorbed for garrison purposes all the Volunteer Artillery, with the exceptions he had named. The mobilization scheme was based on the calculation that one-third of the Volunteers would be available for garrison duty, and it was only by a re-arrangement of that scheme that it had been found practicable to find other corps in counties more South, where Field Artillery would be of more use than in the more Northern counties. The War Office were prepared to issue 84 guns of position to Volunteer Artillery Corps—namely, 24 40-pounder breechloaders, 30 20-pounder breechloaders, and 30 40-pounder muzzle-loaders. These guns would only be issued on certain conditions. The Government were prepared to make a grant in excess of the Capitation Grant—entirely exclusive of that grant—but only on the clear understanding that those corps who took these guns would make themselves efficient. It was not expected that the Volunteers would at present find drivers or field harness; but they would be required to keep the guns in good order, and to undertake to turn out a full complement whenever required to join the Regular Forces. It was absolutely essential, if this mobilization scheme was to be perfect, that the Volunteers should readily agree to it, and come forward, with that loyalty they had always shown, to back it up. If in certain districts the Government found it necessary to make a conversion from Infantry into Artillery, he believed the Volunteers would be perfectly prepared to undertake that change. He asked the noble Earl not to press his Motion, first, because General Brackenbury's speech was intended for private circulation, and it would be an inconve- nient precedent for Papers such as that to be moved for; and, secondly, because the speech gave but an incomplete idea of the mobilization scheme. It was the intention of the Secretary of State, before Parliament rose, to lay on the Table of both Houses as clear a statement as he could of the mobilization scheme and of its intentions.


said, that, after the satisfactory statement of the noble Lord, he should have much pleasure in asking leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.