HL Deb 06 March 1912 vol 11 cc314-23

*THE. DUKE OF BEDFORD rose to call attention to the statement of the Under-Secretary of State for War on 6th March, 1911— That the total number of Regular Infantry officers required for the six Divisions of the Expeditionary Force is 2,461, exclusive of those required for Staff appointments. That the number of Regular Infantry officers serving at home in the 82 battalions, and who were by the January Army List of 1911 not seconded, was 1,998. That the number of Infantry officers required for the four battalions remaining at home after the departure of the Expeditionary Force is 112. That these figures show a deficiency of 575 Regular Infantry officers, exclusive of Staff and of any allowance for temporary unfitness; and to ask the Secretary of State for War how the deficiency of 575 Regular Infantry officers for the six Divisions of the Expeditionary Force will be made good on mobilisation.

The noble Duke said: These figures are now a year old, but there is no appreciable variation. I have referred to the Army List of last January and find that the number of Regular Infantry officers serving at home and not seconded is almost the same. There are still six Divisions in the Expeditionary Force, so that the demands made upon that number remain unaltered. I therefore use precisely the same table of figures as that given to me by the Under-Secretary of State for War on March 6, 1011. It is to the deficiency in the numbers of Regular Infantry officers trained with their battalions for the requirements of the Expeditionary Force to which I beg to draw attention. The War Office figures show a shortage of 463 Regular Infantry officers, and to this number must be added 112 officers required for the four home battalions, as mentioned by the Under-Secretary of State for War, making the total deficit 575 for the Expeditionary Force. This number must be an underestimate. No allowance is made for temporary unfitness for active service. If such unfitness amounted to but one per cent. of the 2,500 officers, the deficiency would be more than 600. Again, a number of company officers—I cannot give the exact figures—must be employed on mobilisation as Brigade Majors, as Brigade Signalling Officers, as A.D.Cs., and on other extra regimental duties, thereby creating vacancies in their battalions. In short, the deficiency of Regular Infantry officers on mobilisation for the requirements of the Expeditionary Force, as shown by War Office figures, must be well over 600.

I should explain that this large deficiency in Regular Infantry officers arises in great measure from the fact that the noble Viscount has not got Regular Cavalry sufficient for his Expeditionary Force, and consequently is compelled to employ Regular Mounted Infantry to act as Divisional Cavalry—that is in place of the Cavalry attached to an Infantry Division. The noble Viscount is compelled to deplete his Infantry battalions of both officers and men in order to create makeshift Divisional Cavalry. On the average the 78 battalions of the Infantry of the Expeditionary Force will find themselves 6 Regular officers short on mobilisation—that is a deficiency of one-quarter of the total complement of company officers per battalion. The noble Viscount, in dealing with the Army Estimates on March 14 of last year, said— There is no difficulty at all in mobilising as far as officers of the Expeditionary Force are concerned. But, of course, you would deplete to a very considerable extent the depots and the home estublishment. But when we come to go into details and take the Infantry arm by itself we find, by figures supplied by the Under-Secretary of State for War, a deficiency of at least 600 Regular Infantry officers. I am anxious to learn from the noble Viscount himself how— mean from what sources—he proposes to supply the deficiency of 600 Regular Infantry officers as shown by the figures given last year by the Under-Secretary.


The figures given by the noble Duke are substantially accurate. They are a little old, but the figures to-day, as he stated, are not materially different from those at the date he takes. The question which he asks is, in substance, this—How on mobilisation is the deficiency of officers, which, of course, will exist, to be made up? The peace establishment of officers is different from the war establishment. That state of things is true, not only in the British Army but in every Army, anti I think it always has been true of every army which has moved from a peace to a war footing at all times. Napoleon filled up his deficiency from non-commissioned officers, and, of course, if you do that you can do easily what is required. In the Peninsular War we had to make up a deficiency of officers on mobilisation, and we promoted a large number of non-commissioned officers in those days. In the South African War so many people came forward from all sources that it was not necessary to promote noncommissioned officers to fill up the deficiency, but that source always remains.

What I propose to do is to answer the noble Duke now for the moment apart from that source of supply, which is one that we undoubtedly should reserve to ourselves full liberty to resort to, getting as we should some extremely competent company officers from those who had passed through the ranks and had become noncommissioned officers. The Infantry officers in the General Reserve of Officers—which the noble Duke, of course, has not taken into account, because that exists only for mobilisation—number at present 791, after allowing 40 per cent. for officers who for various reasons may not be forthcoming. That figure by itself would wipe out his 575. But then ho would say, and say truly, that a number of these officers are of rather senior rank, of rank senior to the subaltern officers who would be required, and therefore you must not treat the whole of them as if they were readily available. But after deducting 40 per cent. there are 791 there. We are taking steps to increase this number by offering General Reserve commissions to ex-cadets of the Officers Training Corps. We have the more encouragement to do this because those who take commissions from the Officers Training Corps are now beginning to come in fairly fast. Already not far off 300 of the cadets of that corps have taken commissions in the Special Reserve—a very great change from the state of things eighteen months ago. The Infantry officers in the Special Reserve number 1,540 of all ranks, and allowance has been made in their establishment to admit of four subalterns per battalion passing to the Regulars on mobilisation. There are, outside those referred to in the noble Duke's question, 780 Regular Infantry officers with the Special Reserve battalions. These are the Infantry officers who were posted to those battalions to look after the training at the depot. If an order to mobilise were given, we should certainly take the course which we have always taken before of giving commissions to members of the senior class of Sandhurst, and that will probably provide between 100 and 200 Infantry officers. These sources, taken by themselves, will give enough to provide for mobilisation, but we still have behind that the possibility—a very practical one—of resorting to the class of non-commissioned officers; and, further, we have what proved to be a great resource in the South African War—I refer to the number of people who came forward without being under any obligation to do so, and many of whom rendered very useful service.

There is no difficulty in mobilising the Expeditionary Force. I admit that to do so we should have, in the first instance, to draw very heavily upon the Regular officers who may be left, but their places would be filled up from the General Reserve and from the other sources of which I have spoken, and there will also be a good provision for wastage. Mobilisation so far as officers are concerned is a ragged business in all armies. It is true that Germany is better off in this direction because of the system under which it gets the one-year trained officers who have gone on to the Reserve. Germany can use Reserve officers freely, but I think that is the only country which can put its hand on the exact number of officers required on mobilisation. In other countries you have to draw upon other classes. I will give the figures of the cadets of the Officers Training Corps who have taken commissions in the Special Reserve. Virtually the Officers Traning Corps had not become operative for this purpose until the end of 1908, but between July 1 of that year and March 31, 1911, 128 came forward and took commissions; between March 31, 1911, and July 1, 1911, 52 more had come in; and between July of last year and February 29 of this year 103 more had come in; so that 283 in all have taken commissions in the Special Reserve. Besides that there are a large number—well on to 500—who have taken A and B certificates and who have left the corps but who are on our list, many of whom will come forward in time of emergency although they do not want to train specially in the Special Reserve. The exact number of Infantry officers serving at home on January 1, 1912, was 2,788, which is rather more than the figure in the return quoted by the noble Duke. Though, as I have said, mobilisation is always a troublesome business, as regards officers we are better off than, so far as I know, we have ever been before; and behind all that we have the power of resorting to that most valuable class of non-commissioned officers on whom we have drawn in the past, and on whom we can draw, and no doubt always shall draw, if emergency requires it.


The noble Viscount mentioned the fact that all armies need expansion on mobilisation, but that fact will not supply us with 600 Regular Infantry officers. Then the noble Viscount relies on the Reserve of Officers. I see by the Army List that more than half of these are Lieutenant-Colonels and Majors— that is, Field Officers. Then there are many senior captains who have retired from the Army years ago and are now no longer young. These Field Officers and senior captains are elderly warriors who have been on the shelf for some years and are impossible for company duties. Of the remainder many are now serving in the Yeomanry, in the Special Reserve, and in the Territorial Army. Others are seconded for service abroad. Others, again, are ex-Militia and ex-Volunteer officers who have passed to the Reserve on the abolition of these forces by the noble Viscount. These are not liable for foreign service.

Then the noble Viscount comes to the officers of the Special Reserve, which includes officers from the Officers Training Corps. By the Return of February 27, 1911, of Special Reserve subalterns, the number ought to be 1,915 but it is nothing of the kind, because the Return shows a shortage of 1,267. The number actually serving is given by the Return as 648. The January Army List shows no appreciable variation. By the Army Order of December 23, 1907, each Special Reserve battalion must send one subaltern to the depot on mobilisation. This means the withdrawal of 74 Special Reserve subalterns from their battalions for depot duties, leaving available 574. But 600 officers are required—result, a deficit of 26 and no Special Reserve subaltern left in any one of the Special Reserve battalions. As a source of supply the Special Reserve is insufficient, even if you chose to take every single subaltern away from the Force.

I have mentioned Special Reserve subalterns because to employ Special Reserve captains with the battalions of the Expeditionary Force would be not only most detrimental to the efficiency of the Army but grossly unfair to the Line officers. The Special Reserve officer is to rank on joining the Line as the junior of his rank—that is to say, a Special Reserve major would rank above the senior captain in a Line regiment, a Special Reserve captain above the senior Lieutenant in a Line regiment. In the latter case the senior subaltern in the Line will be deprived of the promotion which is due to him and for which he has qualified. That is hard lines on him. The Service will suffer by the supersession of a professional soldier by an amateur who has not served as many months continuously as the man over whose head he goes has served years.

Some substitutes for the Regular officers deficient from the Expeditionary Force may be obtained, but not in sufficient quantity. Now as to their quality—I mean their value as officers of the First Line. No one would deny that it is quite impossible to make good to our Regular Infantry on the very eve of battle the lack of 600 Regular officers who ought, under any proper war organisation, to have been trained continuously with their companies. Sir John French, commenting on the Infantry training in 1909, stated that— The absence of officers during company training when employed on signalling and mounted infantry duties was most injurious to efficiency. But the noble Viscount proposes to supply the Infantry of the Expeditionary Force with 600 non-Regular officers, strangers alike to their regiments as well as to their duties, without any knowledge of the interior economy of a battalion and absolutely- ignorant of what the discipline of the Regular Army means. By the plan of the noble Viscount 600 non-Regular officers are assumed within three weeks or less of joining the Infantry of the Expeditionary Force to be capable of commanding a company in a decisive battle on the Continent. Now this is to assume an absurdity. I know it will be said that of course such non-Regular officers will only be employed as junior subalterns and that they will certainly not be put in any place of responsibility. That may be; but we are dealing with war and not peace conditions, and a junior subaltern may find himself commanding his company within twenty minutes of going into his first battle. Does the noble Viscount really suppose that the serving-non-commissioned officers and men of a Regular battalion would have any confidence in the leading of an officer just conic from some non-Regular contingent, about whom they know nothing save that he is obviously incompetent? In no concern outside our Regular Army as at present organised by the noble Viscount would experienced men and foremen who know their work well be expected to take their orders at a moment of supreme crisis from a boy who knows nothing at all about the business.

During the South African war, officers of the Regular Army were continually reproached, and most unjustly, with a lack of professional knowledge. Now it seems that the moment you go outside the Regular Army it is impossible to find a boy, though he has scarcely studied soldiering except as a pastime, who is not fit straight away to command a company of Regular Infantry in a general action. We spend millions a year on the training of the Regular Army and its officers because we say that training is essential, and then we send the Infantry battalions of our. Expeditionary Force into action with 600 non-Regular and untrained company officers, if they can be obtained, and even that is doubtful. Moreover, we are expected to accept them as of just the same value and as perfect substitutes for Regular officers. If that is not the organisation of defeat I know not what is.


The noble Viscount has told us that a certain number of the officers to go abroad will be those trained in the Officers Training Corps. As the noble Duke said, 600 of them will be officers of the Special Reserve. Would the noble Viscount tell the House whether there is any limit within which officers of the Special Reserve may attain the rank of: captain, or, rather, whether there is any limit before which they may not attain the rank of captain; also what would be the minimum service in the Special Reserve which would enable a man to go abroad as a captain commanding subalterns in the Regular Army?


The question of the noble Viscount has arisen, I think, through my not having made myself clear. There is no deficiency in the peace establishment of Regular officers for the Expeditionary Force at the present time. The deficiency arises on mobilisation, and you would make that up by sending the best officers you could get. You would not, at any rate to any large extent, take officers from the Officers Training Corps of the Special Reserve for that purpose. What you would do would be to draw upon the Regular officers belonging to the other establishments at home. There are 780 of them with the Special Reserve battalions. You would make your Expeditionary Force as perfect in officers as possible. For stationary work, such as training and so on, you would get a certain number of older officers from the General Reserve of officers, of whom there are 791 available after allowing 40 per cent. for those who would not come up. Then for the rest you would put officers who had gone through the Officers Training Corps and taken commissions in the Special Reserve. Some of those who are not attached to battalions but are on what is called the unattached lis—that is to say, they have been trained with Regular battalions at times of the year which suited them, and they have got their promotion and their commissions in the Special Reserve though not attached to the battalions. You have in that way a reservoir to draw on of those officers for Special Reserve work. There are already some 283 of them; and besides there are nearly 500 who have taken their certificates and are, therefore, to a certain extent trained, many of whom would be ready to come up in time of war, though they have not taken commissions, and would be available.

The effect of that would be that you would put the cream of what you had available into the Expeditionary Force. You would fill up according to the necessities, using the best men for the more important places and using your less trained men for the less important places; and where there is a shortage we intend to make use of some of these highly trained non-commissioned officers in whom the Army of this country excels. There is no doubt our non-commissioned officers, what ever our deficiencies are, are very good indeed, and many of them are admirably fitted to be promoted. The substance of the whole thing is that mobilisation is always rather a ragged business and would be so with us, but not more ragged with us than it is with other countries except Germany—which, as I have said, has an admirable system of Reserve officers—and certainly much less ragged than it used to be in the old wars which we managed successfully and in which we relied entirely on promoting non-commissioned officers. The Army Council has been at work hard on this problem for eighteen months past, and we are satisfied that we can mobilise and supply wastage. This answer is subject to the reservation that there is that amount of raggedness which I admit arises on the figures and organisation which I have given, and which is not peculiar to the army of this country; it applies to the army of almost every other country, and is due to the fact that there is a difference between peace establishment and war establishment. I have stated to the House the way in which the difference is to be made up.


The answer of the noble Viscount, then, amounts to this, does it not? That in order to supply the gap in the Regular Army it will be necessary to do by the Special Reserve just what was done by the old Militia with regard to men, and to take some of the best of the officers in order to fill up the gap in the Line.


The noble Viscount is right about that. But the battalions of the Special Reserve from which they will be taken will be the 74 battalions which do not go abroad. They will be the 74 battalions at the depots whose function is largely that of training, though they do defence work. It is not like taking them from a unit which is going abroad.