HL Deb 04 May 1921 vol 45 cc151-80

VISCOUNT HALDANE rose to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty how the Naval War Staff is now composed, with what body the direction of operations rests, and what is the distribution of functions in the Naval War Staff; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence while I make some observations explanatory of the Question which I have put on the Paper, and of the Motion which follows it. The question of organisation for war is one of high importance, and I need hardly say that I have not risen to criticise in the least the noble Lord opposite, who is head of the Admiralty, awl has only recently entered upon his arduous and difficult duties. I know too well, from cognate experience, the intricacies of the problem which he has to face. I sat for eight years upon the Defence Committee, and was there engaged in the almost continuous study of relations between the Navy and the Army, and the principles of amphibious war, and I am well aware of the problems that consideration raised.

Some of your Lordships may ask why, in a time of peace, we should have to consider this subject. My answer is a simple one. It is only in time of peace that we have the time to consider it. In time of war, when you find yourself compelled to rely on improvised schemes, you discover that you are not ready. It is only if a long process of thought and research has preceded the event that you are prepared for that event. No one in this House wishes more firmly than I that the Navy may never have to fight again, but since in this uncertain world nothing can be absolutely predicted, even when the sky is of the clearest, I hold that it is a duty, so long as we have a Navy, that that Navy should be in order. Moreover, having regard to the character of our Islands, their dependence upon free access to arid from the sea, and to the scattered condition of the Empire, a Navy to some extent is a necessity of these Islands.

I do not rise, either, to make any criticism on the fighting Navy. In the great war that Navy fought magnificently, as of yore. In strength, in spirit, in courage, it maintained, as was evident, the old tradition unbroken. The investigations and disclosures made subsequently to the war revived certain great defects not in sheer fighting power, but in strategical preparation. The notable book written by Lord Jellicoe, and one written from such ay different point of view as that of Admiral Tirpitz in his "Memoirs," have- shown that there were certain things which had not been thought out, and which had not formed the subject of that continuous study and thought which are requisite. More recently, the other day, there appeared a book, which I read with the keenest interest, written by a laymen, but a layman gifted with a most graphic pen, Mr. Filson Young's book "With the Battle Cruisers." Mr. Filson Young gives a dramatic description of the various situations which arose on the battle cruisers that were engaged at the Dogger Bank and elsewhere, and, with a vividness which perhaps only a layman would allow himself, and with an unerring eye, he has drawn attention to difficulties and embarrassments which were obvious because of the want of that continuous and all-pervading school of thought which ought to be present in a great Service like the British Navy, and which ought to leave its imprint on the mind and the knowledge and the spirit of every one engaged, so that there might be community of action and understanding.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that, magnificent as our Navy was and completely successful as it was in wielding its great instrument of blockade, due to its power of commanding the sea, there were moments attended with a certain amount of anxiety, and moments in which we owed a great deal to the deficiencies of our enemies. The German Navy, although in some respects admirably organised, showed defects in its higher command. It had failed to grasp before the war the tremendous implication of sea power when accompanied with command of the sea, and it had also failed to realise the necessity for swift and determined action, such as might very well, in the partially unprotected condition of the Channel, have made it impossible—if the German Navy had acted swiftly —to transport the Expeditionary Force. However, we were spared these things by the defect of our enemies, and it is only investigation which has revealed the risks to which we were exposed.

We do not seem to have thought out the proportion in which destroyers were required to battleships and battle cruisers; nor were we adequately provided with submarines. Our mines were not only too few but were, rela7ively speaking, defective. Our harbour defences were far from perfect when the war broke out, as any one can see who reads Lord Jellicoe's book; and even in the matter of plans there was a great; deal of obscurity, arising from the gap between the centralised organisation at Whitehall and the naval officers who were in control of ships at a. distance, and under orders through wireless from Whitehall. Why was this? The answer is a very simple one. It arose from the want of systematic, organised and continuous study of naval strategy and the conditions of modern naval war by a sufficiency of highly trained officers. The reason why that was wanting is not difficult to find. In the Navy, even more than in the Army, the administrative side had not been marked out as distinct from the operations side, or the side which deals with. strategy. Administrators dealt with strategy, and strategists were up to their elbows in administration. You have but to look at the story revealed in the books I have mentioned to see to what an extent that was the case.

It is only recently that we have come to the consciousness that in the organisation of the fighting Services, whether military or naval, the separation of strategy from administration is of vital importance. Command and training belong to one side; and business, supply, transport, the raising of troops, the building of ships, and a host of other things, belong to the other side. The principle is no new one. It is quite true that it was introduced into the Army a comparatively short time ago. There was a well-known Committee, called the Esher Committee, of which Lord Sydenham is a prominent member, which put the principle in the forefront, and also the principle of a General Staff to deal with the strategic side and the training side, such as never existed in the Army before. But it is one thing to accept a principle, and another thing to work it out. It was not until 1906 that we had an organised Staff in the Army, and it took two years more to put bones in the flesh; but the results were very remarkable, as they always are when you see that principle carried out.

I had the good fortune to be invited, at a time when we were on perfectly peaceful relations with Germany, to go to Berlin —in the year 1906—and I had the unusual privilege of being permitted to sit in the chair of the Secretary of State at the German War Office, and see the principle of the separation of the two systems at work. I had an extremely competent expert with me, and we studied the system in all its details. It was so familiar to the Germans that there was no secrecy about it; and at the end, when we had seen a great deal, they smiled, and said: "You seem not to be aware that this great principle is a British principle. It was the, Duke of Wellington, above everybody else, who taught this lesson to our great Moltke." The Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula War separated command from administration so thoroughly that all his transport, commissariat and supply were in one set of hands, and the command of the troops and the executive work in another set of hands, in the hands of officers he had carefully picked.

Even in the Navy, in the days of Lord Barham the principle, in a rather less crystallised form, was present, but between that date and the beginning of the present century it had fallen out of sight, and fallen out of sight more in the Navy than it had in the Army. Indeed, it is not until the year 1911 that we find any separation definitely made at all. In that year, for the first time, a War Staff was instituted in the Navy. A change was made in the Board of Admiralty. There had been much discussion in the Imperial Defence Committee., and it was decided that there should be a War Staff, just as there had been a General Staff for five years in the Army. Mr. Churchill, who then became First Lord, and to whom we owe a great deal for the number of ships he added to the Navy between 1911 and the outbreak of the war, took the matter in hand, along with a very distinguished sailor to whom the country owes more than it knows, and whose name I should like to mention because it has been too much forgotten. I refer to the Marquis of Milford Haven, then known as Prince Louis of Battenburg. He was at that time Second Sea Lord and afterwards became First Sea Lord. He had a thorough grasp of this great question of principle. I am speaking not merely from rumour. I was privileged to be familiar with the principle of a General Staff, and I had the distinction to be asked to go over. I sat with the Board of Admiralty for some days while it was working out the new system. I remember being impressed with the mense knowledge that Prince Louis showed in his grip of working out all the details.

Then there came further changes. There has always been in the Admiralty something which, in those days, amounted almost, I think, to an obsession, an obsession of secrecy about war objectives. You may have as much secrecy as you like about particular battle plans—the more the better—but about great objectives there cannot be very much secrecy, because they are deductions from very great principles which are the same in war at all times, and under all conditions, and in every country. The result is that even if you are careful not to announce them your enemy will at once deduce what you are doing. If you make these objectives a great flatter of secrecy it is quite certain that no school of thought will he in the dark about them. Accordingly, the tradition arose—I think it was due largely to the fact that staff questions were in the hands of administrators—that the thinking out of this particular branch of naval warfare was, I will not say neglected, but very much concentrated in the hands of men who had not given to it any very profound study. It was really the same to some extent with both the Army and the Navy if you take the older men.

Some of these men were magnificent. The country owes an enormous debt to Lord Fisher and to Lord Kitchener. These were men of commanding personality and stature, who put courage, energy and driving power into their work, and did a great deal. But they did it in their own ways, and in ways which perhaps were not in all respects adapted to the exigencies of modern warfare. Modern war had become, not only a great art but a great science, and you could not study its principles in the light merely of traditions inherited from the days of the Seven Years War. The old notion that the Navy should carry troops on its back and dump them down somewhere on the north coast of Germany had become an absolutely obsolete notion. If turned out that in the Admiralty of those days there was not even a map of the Prussian strategic railways which would have shown that within 48 hours of troops being dumped down on the coast they would have been surrounded by 500,000 men. All that shows what new and complicated problems arose and how little they had been the subject of systematic study.

How is that study possible? Not, certainly, if it is in the hands of a First Sea Lord who is also up to his elbows in administration. The First Sea Lord ought to be somebody who has been rendered perfectly free from consideration of administration. I know that the noble Lord opposite will say that he is to-day. To a great extent he is, and I am very glad of it, but I will show in a moment that the principle has not even yet been quite thoroughly carried out of defining exactly the responsibility of the First Sea Lord—saddling him with the full responsibility for thinking out war plans, for the consequences which follow from those war plans, and for the schemes which are necessary to give effect to them—and that he is still in a position where he is hampered in certain respects. I only judge from outside, from what appears in Orders in Council in the papers, but Orders in Council in the papers are often very significant.

What ought to be the position of a War Staff with its Chief? It may be opportune in a sentence or two to sketch that before contrasting it with the present position. The Chief of the War Staff of the Admiralty would naturally he the First Sea Lord. I have no doubt the noble Lord opposite agrees with me that the real course, in the interests of efficiency, for the First Lord of the Admitalty, or the Secretary for War, is to put the full responsibility on the shoulders of the Chief of the War Staff and the First Sea Lord to hold them free and at the same time highly responsible. The First Sea Lord must pick his own people and shape his own means to his end, and his consultations must be concerned rather with objectives than with the means of getting to those objectives. You must get the best school of thought and the best type of mind applied to the work. If that were carried out the First Sea Lord would find his work divided into two parts. I am now drawing a great deal upon my War Office experience, but I think the principles are the same and apply exactly in this case. Part of his work would consist of the practical operations—a comprehensive arm with a Director over them with whom he would work. The other part would be concerned entirely with training.

I will say a word or two about training first because it is of vital importance. There is nothing in which I think the Navy is more defective to-day than in the system of training officers. To begin with, it has not a Staff College. There is the War College at Greenwich, but that is a very poor substitute for an ideal Staff College. The courses are short and are largely attended by senior officers. What officer in the Navy has a chance of getting one year's or two years' class work at a properly equipped college on the level of the Staff College? I will give one instance only which brings the matter out. Oar wars are almost essentially amphibious. Soldiers and sailors must study together in consultation with one another, and the Staff College for the Navy should be near to the Staff College for the Army, so that ideas could be interchanged, lectures taken, and studies worked out in common. Greenwich is a very long way from Camberley, and it is practically impossible for two Staff Colleges geographically so situated to work together, even if—which I doubt being the case—the War College at Greenwich is upon the level, as to equipment or the class of officers who go there, with the Staff College at Camberley.

But it does not end there. Look at the system of education in the Navy as it is to-day. I am considering it with a view to seeing how you can pick out officers for this highly expert staff work for which so much training is necessary. Sonic years ago—and it looked a very good plan at the time—Osborne College was started. I gather, that Osborne College is now obsolescent. But there still remains Dartmouth College, which takes on the students from Osborne and gives them a certain training, after which they go into ships and their education practically ceases. I have been at some pains to talk to the professors at the Universities to whom a certain number of young naval officers have recently been going, and to ask them about the sort of education these men had received. They said that those young officers were very admirable and most interesting, but that they showed signs of not having been put through the mill. The training even at Osborne, they say, is not equal to the training which can be got from a first rate public school, if full advantage has been taken of the educational instruction that can be obtained there.

When I was at the War Office I found something of the same difficulty. Sand-hurst men were not quite of the quality we wanted, particularly for staff purposes. So I asked the headmasters of certain public schools to meet me, and I said: "I am going to ask you to undertake a responsibility; if you will pick out young men of 17 or 1.8 whom you think are specially qualified for the Army—qualified in all sorts of ways; not only in book knowledge and character and physical capacity—I will trust to you, take them and put them quickly into Sandhurst, and they shall have a full chance." That was done, and we got a very fine class of young officer, who trained up admirably as an officer, and who was typical in the Expeditionary Force at the commencement of the war.

The Navy has no room for that. You cannot take the best youth from the public schools in that fashion., because you want them early, so that they may imbibe the traditions of the sea—traditions set going by Marryat's novels. I never despised Marryat's novels, because I know they formed part of the study of German officers before the war, and were very highly thought of by them. But still you must consider what you lose. If you had young men who had a thoroughly first rate general education, and took them to Dartmouth and taught them the technical things which they are required to know before going on board ship, and afterwards, on board ship, made some provision for the expansion of their education, which could very easily be done, because they would educate themselves if their studies were directed, then you would have a class of young officer from whore, having been to sea and having been observed, you could select in order to get those who promised well for staff work. You could select those who promised best and send them to a proper Staff College— not merely for a short course hut a proper Staff College, at the sort of age at which they go in the Army. They could then go through a real course, and afterwards come to the Director of Operations or the Director of Training under the First Sea Lord, and there get their positions on the Staff.

It is obvious that that could only be done if you had a Director of Training who had given his mind to the matter, but at present the unfortunate officer charged with training in the Navy can do nothing but make schemes. As I understand, the administration of education and training of the officer rests not with the First but with the. Second Sea Lord, who is responsible for personnel. I have no doubt that with the admirable good sense which characterises people the Second Sea Lord consults the Director of Training before he does things, but he makes appointments and is responsible for the course of the training. That is absolutely wrong, and if you have it wrong on paper, it is certain that it will go wrong in practice. I have no doubt it is responsible for a good deal of the deficiency of training which characterises the great bulk of young officers.

That is training. Now T conic to operations, which is the other branch which ought to he under the First Sea Lord and be quite separate. It comprises intelligence, plans, and many things of that kind, but at present—I have not, of course, the accurate knowledge which the noble Lord has —so far as I can make out from. a study of the names in the Navy List, under the Director who is responsible for these things to the First Sea Lord, there is a whole basketful of fragments, collected together without any organic relation. There is trade route defence, local defence, and all sorts of things. Now, the defence of trade routes, and not only their defence but aggressive operations on trade routes, form perhaps the largest part of naval warfare in modern times. They are essentially a part of strategy. They are not things to be taken and isolated, or treated as fragments of operations with other fragments. But what can a Director do who is loaded up with all these things and, in addition, has to look after the vast subject of training?—because, if I am right, under the Director responsible for operations is placed the subject of training.

I would ask this question. Is it not the case that instead of having two Directors, one of operations and one of training; as I have suggested, the First Sea Lord has to-day a Deputy Chief of the Staff and an Assistant Chief of the Staff? The Deputy Chief of the Staff has all those things to which I have referred lumped together, and the Assistant Chief of the Staff has all sorts of curious subjects such as gunnery, torpedoes, and so On. Those either belong to training, or have no business to be there at all. Of course, it is the necessity of the War Stall that it should make plans for the use of weapons, and the patterns of those weapons, but the work is limited so far as it trains officers who direct the using of them, and all these subjects are put together without any reference to strategy or training. Then what happens is that the unfortunate officer responsible for them noleus voleus collies in for a certain amount of administration, and that is how confusion arises.

It does not end there. Looking at the Navy List, apparently the Deputy Chief of Staff and the Assistant Chief of Staff sit together with the First Sea Lord on the Board of Admiralty—a most extraordinary and an astounding thing. You want to make somebody responsible. You want him to work out and direct, and you put his two assistants to sit along with him. It is a most curious arrangement, even if it existed on paper only, and I have no doubt the relations are most amicable, but it is a state of things which can give rise only to confusion. Unless you have the principles, and the expression of those principles, right, you are sure to get into trouble. But it does not even end there. "Operations" is the general name for all the work for which the First Sea Lord ought to be responsible. Of course, the First Lord himself is responsible to Parliament. His great function is to get it all together and see that everybody does his duty, but something much more than that happens here. The First Lord, the Deputy Chief of the Staff, and the Assistant Chief of the Staff, as I am informed—possibly incorrectly, but it is rumoured—sit on another body called the Operations Committee, over which the First Lord himself presides, and which may be extended, when there is important business, by the introgression not only of the other Sea Lords, who have nothing to do with operations, but even civilian elements, such as the Secretary of the Admiralty. If that is so there is nothing more calculated to kill the spirit of the War Staff, and to prevent it from obtaining that stature without which you cannot have a really efficient War Staff.

I am not reproaching the noble Lord opposite for this. He has inherited it; it is a tradition grown up from the day when they did not distinguish functions and apportion responsibility; when strategy and tactics were not distinguished from administration, and when all these things grew up sporadically. I am not referring in this Motion to anything connected with the other branches of the Admiralty. I will only say this, that the introgression of the civilian to which I have referred is a thing which has always caused me -a good deal of concern. I have had much to do with generals, and I found that when you told them they had just so much money to spend and it was their responsibility for making the most of it, they were the best economists. 'You got most for your money if you trusted the soldiers; and I believe you get most for your money if you trust the sailors. They will put things in order of Urgency much better than anybody else can. But I also found that it was most important, in order to get that done, that you should give them their own financial advisers. I never succeeded in carrying this out perfectly: the weight of tradition was adverse to it. If the noble Lord finds it difficult I shall deeply sympathise with him. But I went as far as I could, and I suggest to the noble Lord that the administration Lords—the Second, Third and Fourth—ought to have on their own staffs their own financial advisers, adequately trained, whose functions it would be to translate into sovereigns, or Treasury notes as we should say to-day, the meaning of whatever proposition is brought up.

Let the officer responsible know at the earliest moment what his ideas are going to mean in money. That he will get only if he has his own people and his own staff to which to go. If you send him to the Finance Branch outside, or the Secretary of the Admiralty, it is certain that he will not go, and the result is that you will get confused estimates and overlapping and extravagance. At least that was my experience, arid it may be that the noble Lord opposite has had enough experience already to show him that something of the kind tends to exist whenever the like conditions prevail. Trust the soldiers and sailors; they are the best economists; tell them exactly what you want from them, but do not intermeddle more than you can with their means of attaining the object to which they are working up. So will you best get economy as well as efficiency And, of course, that applies to the whole system of costing. Now-a-days, since the war, we are getting quite new notions about costing, and I gather that these have -been taken into account in the Admiralty as well as elsewhere. But you want a thorough finance system which will show what everything means in money at every turn.

All these subjects constitute parts of an organic whole. Even designs of ships depend profoundly upon strategy. You cannot take them in isolation. And therefore it is quite wrong when there is an agitation and people say, "Oh, the United States, or somebody, is building ships faster than we are; we must build more and faster." If you do that, you find that you have built upon the wrong design ships that are obsolescent almost from the very beginning, and that you have wasted a vast. amount of money. The very function of a War Staff is to tell you what you are going to do, how you are to lay out your money, and what not to do, just as much as what to do. It is by that method and taking the full advantage of such a Staff that you get the best results and reduce your misfits to the smallest proportion. Mistakes you will make, even in the best regulated Admiralty, but you will make many fewer mistakes if the designs of the ships, the weapons you are going to use, have been first carefully tested in the light of the principles of war, which have been the subject of continuous study.

That brings me very nearly to a conclusion. I want to add this. I have seen what seem to me to be wild proposals lately for one Joint or General War Staff for the Army and Navy, to take the place of the Defence Committee. I think that would be a profound mistake. Each Service has its own traditions, its own objective, and its own work. The Navy has its own problems, problems so difficult —I am talking mainly of strategical problems just now—that they never can be mastered unless a very long period is given to their study. It is only by taking promising officers, training them very highly in an adequate Staff College, and then setting them to work, that you can pick out the men you want, and that you can get the kind of knowledge that can be made to circulate through the entire Navy, It is the same with the Army. And the functions of the Army and the Navy, although they conic together in amphibious war, are functions which they had much better study as two independent Staffs, but in constant consultation, bringing together and co-ordinating their views under the, Defence Committee, a body which, I think, will never become obsolete.

Our national strategy is a very simple one. It is a great thing to have first principles quite simple. Command of the sea is a necessity for this nation until there comes that better state of things in which all Armies and Navies are no longer necessary. But, so long as any Navy is necessary, command of the sea is more important to us than to anybody else. The other thing that is necessary is an. Expeditionary Force, which can be transported by the Navy. As rapidity in mobilisation and concentration is of its very essence, as it must be always ready, it must, I think, of necessity be professional, and therefore voluntary. It is not always realised how much this Empire owes, in material prosperity and expansion, to the fact that we always have had a Navy which could command the sea and a professional Army. If you have got a conscript Army, well, you raise it for the defence of the country or for a great war under a great agitation, but you cannot send an expedition straight off. And if your Lordships choose to turn up the history books and look at the parts painted red on the map of the world, you will find how much has been due to the prompt efficiency of the Navy in being able to transport what was, perhaps, apparently a small but a sufficient force for the purpose to the vacant territory. I am not saying it is a good thing. There may be an argument from the point of view of eternity against this weapon, but it is the most effective weapon this country can possess; and therefore, as the noble Lord is concerned with naval and military rather than ethical considerations, I commend it to him as a principle which we must always keep in view.

And if we do keep it in view, then it has a very important bearing on a problem which must presently conic before him. There is going to be a Dominion Conference, which will soon be formed into an Imperial Cabinet. At that possibly—I do not know —naval considerations will come up; they may come up very prominently. I remember what the experience was in the year 1909 at the then Dominion Conference in which I took part. The Dominions arc now, as Mr. Bonar Law has said, a group of self-governing Commonwealths; they will not part either with the command of troops or of ships. That came even more plainly home to us at the War Office than it could come home to the Navy in those days, and we saw a way of solving the problem, which was to take the new General Staff and make it Imperial. And we did make it Imperial.

We said to the Dominion Premiers, "Here is a school of thought, consisting of picked and highly trained officers. Would you like to have some of them? If so, take them, and give us some of yours in exchange, and we will train them, and send them back to you. And our purpose, that of your officers and ours, shall be to elaborate in co-operation a scheme of Imperial defence which shall apply all over I the Empire, but which shall not involve the least interference with the complete power of every Dominion to do what it likes with its own. Turn out our Imperial Staff afterwards if you like from your territory; only then you will find yourselves cut off from the Imperial General Staff. If you want them, let them advise you on types of weapons and all sorts of things, and consider their advice, whether it is good or is not good, and see what your own people say about it." That went with the utmost smoothness and it led to the various Dominions of the Empire organising with the same types of weapons, of military formations and divisions, and so on.

I have often thought what a solution of naval problems it would be if you could have a Naval Imperial War Staff with highly trained men—you would require for that a really first-rate Naval Staff College to which your remaining officers might go and take the training—so that you had one body for the whole Empire, all thinking alike on the same principles, trained in the same school, breathing the same air, with the same traditions, and shaping that unity of the Navy of the Empire which comes from the spirit not from the letter, and which is far greater than any friction which can be opposed to it from the smaller jealousies that obtain between independent sections.

I am not one of those who take at all a gloomy view of the future of the British Empire or the British nation, if we only work on proper principles. If we did that our naval and military power would be, and would remain, enormous. The Empire is growing, and if we can only keep this cohesion of ideas not merely in military and naval matters but in other matters, we shall become such a power in the world as the world has never seen before. I am not arguing whether that is a good or a bad thing. I am only saying that it is on community of ideas, well thought out and organised ideas, that unity and strength depend. I think, perhaps, the best illustration of that is the subject that we have been discussing this afternoon. In this quiet period we have to sit down and think. It may be that we shall never have another war, but we cannot reckon on it. We ought to be thinking—the problem being a specialist one for thoroughly-trained minds —what possible enemies we may have, what ought to be our objectives in dealing with trade routes, or whatever else these objectives may be, what co-operation of Armies and Navies will be wanted for them, and what weapons and types of ship will be required. When the first three of these questions are answered, the last question —what our shipbuilding programme should be—becomes a much simpler one, and one with which we can deal not only effectually but economically. It may be we shall find we can postpone certain things until the position becomes clearer. But I am sure it is only in that way that we can secure avoidance of waste and so economise.

I would far rather spend money upon a real Naval Staff College than have another battle cruiser. We should gain much more in strength, as well as in prospective efficiency, and I only hope that the noble Lord, in what. I trust, will prove to be a long career at the head of the Admiralty, will be able to initiate that as one of his great reforms. If so, I think he will have distinguished himself. I hope, further, that he will obtain a new Order in Council and new paper documents which will put the organisation of the Navy I do not say just in the form I have suggested to him, because I may be very far wrong in detail, but in sonic new form more up to modern requirements than can be one in which civilian functions are so closely mixed up as they appear to me to be at the present time. It is with the desire of getting further information upon a subject which interests me very deeply but which I feel I am not sure of for want of the material, that I now move for Papers.


My Lords, the Army General Staff, to which the noble and learned Viscount has referred, was the direct result of the South African War. The exhaustive inquiry which was held after that war showed that the Staff arrangements were in many respects almost chaotic, and traced the causes of some of our failures to that situation. Then it was that Mr. Balfour determined that the War Office must be reconstructed, and in 1904 the first foundations of a real General Staff were laid. The noble and learned Viscount took charge of this infant institution in 1906 and gave the greatest possible attention, care, and assistance to it. It must be a great satisfaction to him now to have seen during the recent war the result of his care and attention.

Ten years is not a long time in which to build up a General Staff, but before August, 1914, it had been possible so to organise and prepare the Expeditionary Force that it was able to go out to France in an extraordinarily short time. That may fairly be called a triumph of good staff work. I think it can truly he said that the reconstruction of the War Office in 1901 bore good fruit throughout the late war, and I know that the military authorities of America and of Italy were both impressed by the smooth working of our Staff arrangements in the field. But in the. earlier stage of the war there was a certain set-back to the General Staff at the War Office. Officers were taken away who were very much wanted in London, and there arose a tendency to trust over much to improvisation, which led to insufficient use being made of the General Staff. It became necessary for Mr. Asquith to restore the General Staff at the War Office to its proper position, and after that, under that most distinguished officer, Sir William Robertson, it did extraordinarily good work in raising, organising, and training the large forces that we were subsequently able to put into the field.

Before the war, the Navy had no real, properly constituted General Staff at the Admiralty and, as the noble and learned Viscount has said, the time and attention of the First Sea Lord, who should have been its natural chief, were often taken up with, and absorbed in, matters which ought never to have come near him. The result was a certain loss of power in the early stages of the war, although we commenced with the very finest Navy that the country ever had. I know of no war in which the Navy more brilliantly distinguished itself than it did in the great war which is just over. But there had been a certain over-concentration upon?matériel and insufficient study of the higher branches of the art, or, as the noble and learned Viscount calls it, the science of war, and among the serious consequences of those deficiencies I trace distinctly the escape of the Goeben and Breslau. which led to grave results affecting the whole course of the war. I also believe that the loss of the Crecys, with the sad tale of gallant lives sacrificed, was due to the same cause. I feel quite sure that the purely naval attack on the forts of Gallipoli would never have been undertaken if there had been a trained Naval General Staff, with the innumerable instances of the failure of operations of that kind before it. I believe also that if there had been a competent Naval General Staff in existence the very misleading account of the Battle of Jutland would never have been issued. Few of us, I imagine, will ever forget the feelings with which we read that unfortunate account.

I am very glad to know that one result of the great war is that there is to be at least the foundation of a real General Staff at the Admiralty. I think the noble Lord, when he replies, will be able to show that the situation is not quite so bad as the noble and learned Viscount has suggested. I am sure that he realises that the great thing is a perfectly clear definition of duties, and then to keep everybody to those duties, but I hope he will remember that it must take some years, perhaps many years, to build up the kind of structure which is essential to the maintenance of our sea power, and to its effective handling in war. Habits of thought, traditions, and methods are not easily formed, and they are of the essence of a good working General Staff. I hope there will never be such a reaction at the Admiralty as occurred for a short time at the War Office. Naval war, as the noble and learned Viscount has justly said, is much more complex than it was in the past, and our national security absolutely demands a highly trained body continuously studying all its problems, and also educating officers in the higher branches of that most exacting Service of the sea.


My Lords, I merely desire to supplement shortly what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount, and by the noble Lord on the cross benches, both of whom are so fully qualified to discuss this Question. I am sure it will be a satisfaction to everybody, not least to the noble Lord, the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the Question has been raised by my noble and learned friend. We do not have many naval debates in this House. There have not been many in the past, owing partly, no doubt, to the fact that there were far fewer naval officers than military officers in your Lordships' number, and it is not always that we have been favoured with a direct representative of the Admiralty. It was not until the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, represented the Admiralty here that we could be ensured of a direct Admiralty reply. Now we have the noble Lord, the First Lord, giving up ploughing the land and taking to ploughing the seas, and we can be sure of a reply of the highest possible authority.

My noble and learned friend said that this, in a sense, is a new question, and so it is, but for a good many years past there has been a groping and seeking after the institution of a body that would be in fact a War Staff —although it was not at the time technically so named—which would bring about that division of functions to which my noble and learned friend attaches supreme importance. Thirty years ago what was known as the Hartington Commission sat to inquire into the state of the Navy, following the Naval Defence Act, of, I think, 1889, passed under Lord George Hamilton's administration, by which such a large increase of the Navy was secured. Lord Randolph Churchill, who was a member of that Commission, in a separate Report which he made, stated that there was evidence that no conceived plan for defence of the Empire in any given contingency had ever been worked out or decided as between the Departments.

I think it was Sir Geoffrey Hornby who, about the same time, said very much what has been said by my noble and learned friend to-night, that if it were possible successfully to institute what was then called an Intelligence Branch—which is practically the same thing as a War Staff; that is to say, it was to be concerned with operations and strategy and war plans—it would mean more to the Navy than even the great addition to the Fleet which had just been consummated by the Naval Defence Act of 1889. It is also, I think, right to mention that nobody was more active in pressing for such a reform than the noble Lord whose loss to the House we all greatly regret, Lord Beresford. At that time, as Lord Charles Beresford, he did sometimes run his head against constituted authority, but there is no doubt that he brought to bear a freshness of inspiration and an energy of intention which were of the highest value at a time when interest in naval affairs was undoubtedly somewhat dormant.

Then came what has been alluded to by my noble and learned friend, the institution of the Imperial Defence Committee. Those of us who, like myself, had the honour of sitting for many years on that body, realise what an important part it has played. Mr. Balfour's name will be remembered, I am sure, for many things, but for nothing inure deservedly than for the institution of the Committee of Imperial Defence. We all know also how much that institution owes to the fostering care in turn of the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, Sir Charles Ottley, and Sir Maurice Hankey. I desire to express:Inv strongest concurrence with what fell from my noble and learned friend—namely, the hope that, whatever happens, the Imperial Defence Committee will continue to exist and to be an active part of our system of Government. I am certain, like my noble and learned friend, that it could not be profitably replaced by any junction of the Naval, Military and Air Departments under a single head, and with a combined Staff. Those who know how much the work previously done by the Defence Committee contributed to winning the war will, I am certain, not be disposed to hold a different opinion.

My noble and learned friend said that this time of peace—a time of peace in the midst of disturbance, as one is obliged to admit— is an appropriate moment for considering this question of the reorganisation of the Naval Staff. I entirely agree with him, and, if one comes to think of it, it is a singular fact that for the first time within the memory of any of us here we are without a potential enemy by sea or land. Those of us who are no longer young carry back our recollection over the different potential enemies that we have had. At one time it was Russia. For a number of years it was thought there might be war with Russia. At another time, and for a considerable period, although it now seems unbelievable, it was France. There was a time when the United States was very mach a potential enemy, although, happily, not for long. And then Germany, with the building of her great fleet and the inception of her policy of world dominion in place of the old Prussian conception of the dominion of the Continent of Europe, became not merely a potential but a probable enemy; and we know how that ended.

Now we have, and it is a happy reflection, no potential enemy to consider. That does not relieve the country, or the Government, from the most careful and sober consideration of the needs of imperial defence. We all hope, when the present fever of the world gives place to a lower temperature, that the possibility of a general, if gradual, disarmament may be brought into view. But in the meantime I entirely agree with my noble friend that it is impossible to ignore the situation as it exists, and, while pressing forward the need for national economy and the avoidance of anything like a forward policy in foreign or colonial affairs which could lead, of itself, to a large expenditure upon armaments, it is clear that none of the three Services can be starved. There is all the more need, therefore, for a joint consideration by the different Departments of a system not merely of national, but of Imperial defence. If the hope—I think it was more than 'a dream—to which Lord Haldane alluded of the establishment of an Imperial Naval Staff could be realised, it would be an advantage from every point of view, Imperial an I economical, and would also prove to be one addition to the power, which this country would always desire to preserve, of acting in the interest of the peace of the world.


My Lords, it is not often that a Minister has to thank his critics for bringing forward a debate in which the administration of his Department is brought into public review and its composition rigorously analysed, but I feel Under considerable obligation to noble Lords who have spoken on this subject, and particularly to Lord Haldane who, I know, has given a life-long study to this question and made it peculiarly his own. I hope I can be fairly impartial in my reply for the very reason he gave—namely, that I have not been long enough in my present position to be really responsible for the system that has grown up, or unduly wedded to it by long use and association. He very handsomely acquitted me of being jons el origo—I am afraid to add mali; I trust it is not:;o bad as that.

I hope I may be able to reassure Lord Sydenham that the system is not perhaps quite so bad in some respects as has been feared by Lord Haldane. The noble and learned Viscount commenced with a very interesting historical retrospect of the creation of the Staff idea in the Military and Naval Forces of this country, and he took, quite justly, a sort of parental pride in the growth of the General Staff idea at the War Office, which coincided largely with his own administration. He naturally held it up, I will not say as a perfect model, but at any rate as an Unproved design which the Admiralty ought to follow more closely than they perhaps have done in the past. At the same time he and Lord Crewe disclaimed any idea of advocating a sort of coalition of the. Military and Naval Staffs, and there I am, I need hardly say, in entire agreement. If you try to combine the two you get something which is neither "fish, fowl, nor good red herring"; and you would really destroy the incentive to a full development along individual lines, which is essential if you are going to produce the best results.

That, however, does not preclude, but rather enhances, the importance of there being the closest and most constant cooperation between the Naval and Military Staffs. Their problem is the same in this respect—that it is to carry out the defence of their common Empire. There are many things that can be done short of a coalition Staff—I use the jargon of the day. Amongst other things there are the arrangements to which Lord Haldane alluded, of Staff Colleges in close proximity, sending military officers to Naval Staff Colleges for special courses, and naval officers to Military Staff Colleges for special courses; in fact, everything which would bring the two Services in sympathy with regard to joint operations in future war. That necessity is very present to the mind not only of the Admiralty but of the War. Office, and every effort is being made in the direction of bringing the two Staffs into the closest contact, without in any way tampering with their special identity, and by an exchange of officers to bring about as much common thought as is possible upon the common problem of defence.

I should like to thank Lord Haldane for the tribute he paid to the work of the Navy during the war. It is, of course, freely admitted that many defects in our organisation, in our Staff system, in our thinking out of problems, not only before but at the time, were revealed; but I am sure he will not suppose for a moment that continuous effort has not since been made to remedy those defects. They are under the constant and anxious consideration of the Naval Staff at the Admiralty, and already I venture to think that improvements have been effected which will save us in future wars from many mistakes which we made in the course of the late war. In particular, the reform which he presses—that is, the separation of the strategic from the administrative side— has been already effected almost to as full an extent, I think, as is possible in present conditions. He urged that the First Sea Lord should be kept free from the hampering of administration, that he should be able to devote his whole time and thought to problems of strategy, historical study, and so forth, and that he should not be diverted by the ordinary administrative work of the office.

So far as is practicable, I think that has already been effected. It is not practicable to do it altogether. You cannot keep the First Sea Lord living, so to speak, in a sort of vacuum, doing nothing but think out strategic problems. He is first, after all, the head of the sea Service. He represents the fighting Navy on the Board of Admiralty, and it is essential that he should be called into counsel, and should advise, on all matters affecting the welfare of the great Service which he represents. But if that limitation is recognised, the list of his duties which I will very briefly give shows, I think, that what the noble Viscount wishes has been duly effected in the distribution of the work.

The duties assigned by the First Lord of the Admiralty to the First Sea Lord are thus defined:—All large questions of naval policy and maritime warfare; the organisation, distribution and fighting and seagoing efficiency of the Fleet; advice as to, and general direction of, operations of war: internal organisation and general direction of the Naval Staff; and cooperation of the Naval Staff with the matériel side of the Admiralty. It is impossible to keep the two things in watertight compartments altogether. Those are the principal functions with which he is concerned, except in so far as he is the head of the sea Service and a member of the Board of Admiralty, and, therefore, has to come into consultation on all large questions of policy.

Before I pass from the First Sea Lord himself I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my heartiest agreement with the tribute which Lord Haldane paid to a very distinguished First Sea Lord at the beginning of the war—Lord Milford Haven, who was then Prince Louis of Battenberg. I agree with him that the Navy and the Admiralty owe to his guidance and his wide and exceptional experience in all these matters, a debt which it would be difficult to exaggerate, and I know no more unnecessary tragedy than his withdrawal from the counsels of the Admiralty at an early stage of the war, owing, as I think, to a totally unnecessary and ridiculous prejudice. At ally rate, his name is honoured and revered thoughout the Navy, and will always stand out as one to which the Admiralty and the Naval Service of this country owe a particular debt.

Lord Haldane then proceeded to criticise or deplore the absence of adequate Staff College arrangements. I agree that the Naval Staff College is not at present as developed either in size or in its location or, possibly, in the length of its course, as we should wish, and. I hope that before long, and as opportunity offers, the matter will be put right. But I think it would be going altogether too far to suggest to your Lordships that there is not in existence at the present time a Naval Staff College on the right lines. I may be mistaken, but there seems to me to be some confusion in the noble Viscount's mind between the Staff College at Greenwich and the War College.


Oh, no.


Then I misunderstood my noble friend's remarks. He spoke particularly of senior officers. The Staff College is quite a separate thing from the War College course which is attended by senior officers. The Staff College is an institution which happens also to be at Greenwich at. present—largely for financial reasons—and which provides a course for young officers, the limits of age being, I think, almost precisely those which obtain in the Army—namely, 25 to 34. Officers who have shown promise are selected for this course and go through it in much the same way in which Army officers go through the course at Camberley.


How long is the course?


At present it is only a year, as compared with two years at Camberley. I admit that it would be desirable, if possible, that the length of that course should be extended. The reason for the length of course adopted is that the need of the trained staff officer is so great that at the institution of this system of college training it is essential that we should get men passed through in as large numbers and as rapidly as possible, in order to have a sufficient nucleus in case of emergency— as large a pool, so to speak as possible. I hope it may be possible to lengthen the course, and also to move the Staff College to Camberley in close proximity to the Army Staff College, so that there may be an even closer liaison between the two trainings than there is at the present time. But this is an age of economy, and for the moment the very heavy expenditure that would be incurred in building and equipping a new Staff College at Camberley has compelled the scheme to be deferred. But I can assure your Lordships it is only deferred, and it will be proceeded with at the earliest possible opportunity.

Then Lord Haldane, as I understand him, to a certain extent falls foul of the method under which we take our young officers and train them, first of all, until recently, at Osborne, which now, as he knows, is given up, and at Dartmouth. He seemed to infer that they did not receive as good a general education, and as widening an education, as they would receive in the public schools outside, and that it would be better if we took more of our young officers from the public schools, and at a later age. I imagine that Lord Haldane is aware, as many of your Lordships must be aware, that that system is already running parallel with the Dartmouth system; that we already take a number of the best boys from the public schools every year, at the age of eighteen, and bring them straight into the Navy. After considerable experience, and comparing that material with the material which comes through Dartmouth, and which is taken at an earlier age, I will not go so far as to say that it is superior—I do not think it can be said that it is superior—but it is excellent material and an excellent amalgam for the young officers' corps.


Can the noble Lord tell us something about the numbers and the proportions?


I may be able to tell the noble Lord a little later, but I cannot give him the figures on the spur of the moment. The value of that source of young officers is very keenly recognised in the Navy. A special investigation was made, as a result of the war, as to the records of the young officers who came from the different sources, and I say that, on the whole, the public school officer stood well in comparison with, although I am not prepared to admit that he was in any way superior to, the officer coming from Dartmouth. I am able to inform the noble Viscount that the proportions are forty a term from Dartmouth and fifteen from the public schools. Those are proportions which may be varied as experience shows it to be desirable.

Moreover, so convinced have we been of the importance of continuing the education of young officers on somewhat broader lines than is possible on board ship, that, as I think the noble Viscount knows, for Mlle time we have been giving opportunities to a number of young sub-lieutenants to proceed to Cambridge University and there go through practically the life of an undergraduate. That has undoubtedly been of enormous advantage to the young officer himself in broadening his general outlook on life, and, we are convinced, it will be of enormous value to the future of the Navy. That development we would wish to continue and, if possible, to expand. Therefore, I think I may claim that the Admiralty are not showing any obscurantism in the matter of the education of the young officer, and that every effort is made at all stages to give him the best and most up-to-date training. When I come to this question of training I am unable to follow the noble Viscount in his criticisms, because he seemed to suggest that training, while nominally under the Naval Staff, was practically under the Second Sea Lord.


What I really meant was that training was so great a subject that it really needed a Director of its own, and that at present training and staff duties are lumped with operations under the Deputy Chief of Staff, instead of being under a separate Director.


There I think the noble Viscount is under a misapprehension. The training is under a Director of Training and Staff Duties.


But he is under the control of the Deputy Chief of Staff.


Some one must co-ordinate the different branches.


But the Director of Training is a very important person. At the War Office the D.M.T. is now amal- gamated with the Director of Staff Duties. The two subjects together are so important that they have a special Director, on the same level as the Director of Operations. I want to see the importance of training recognised by being put under a Director on the same level as the Director of Operations.


Which is precisely the position at the Admiralty. The Director of Training is exactly on an equality with those of other branches co-ordinated by the Deputy Chief of Staff, who is a Vice-Admiral. The noble Viscount may not approve of that system, but it is comparable with the system at the War Office, where both officers are under a member of the Army Council.


Under the Chief of General Staff.


But there is a Deputy Chief of Staff at the War Office, and his position is exactly analogous to that of the Deputy Chief of Staff at the Admiralty.


It was not so in my time.


Many things have happened since then, among others, the war, and as a result of the experiences of the war it was found absolutely essential that the Chief of Staff should have a deputy, who would set him free for some of this high thinking to which the noble Viscount attaches so much importance. Let me assure the noble Viscount that they are treated at the Admiralty as two great, separate subjects, each with a Director, in exactly the same relative positions as the corresponding Directors at the War Office, and the activities of these Directors are co-ordinated by the Deputy Chief of General Staff, who is a member of the Board of Admiralty, and who is relieving the Chief of Staff of some of his responsibility, though always responsible to him. To that extent I think that the system which the noble Viscount desires is really being carried out at the present time. I do not say that it is not capable of some improvement. We shall digest the observations coming from the wide experience of the noble Viscount, and if we find any means of making improvements we shall not proceed with closed minds.

Then, as I understood, the noble Viscount somewhat ridiculed the system of responsibility for operations which exists at the Admiralty at the present time, but I should like to explain that because it is a matter Of some considerable importance. He particularly, I thought, cast ridicule upon what was called the. Operations Committee, which was set up some time ago, during the war, and which consisted then of the First Lord, the First Sea Lord, the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff and the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff. I was not responsible, of course, for the creation of that Committee, but I understand that the reason for the creation of it was that the First Lord, after all, must be officially responsible for all things that are done by the Board of Admiralty, even for operations in the last resort. It was therefore thought desirable that when necessary the more important operations should be brought within his purview, and that it should be done in a. body which was small enough, and at the same time responsible enough, to give him all the advice and explanation that was necessary.

In the last resort a question of that kind might be big enough to be considered by the whole Board of Admiralty, which, I must remind the noble Viscount, holds a rather more historical and corporate position than the Army Council, and which has always acted more as a unit, to which the whole of the Fleet and the Naval Service looks for authority and guidance. But in practice, in almost every case, the decision with regard to operations is the real responsibility (delegated, it is true, by the First Lord) of the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the Naval Staff. And his responsibility is carried very far. This is the position. Under the Order in Council the First Sea Lord, as Chief of the Naval Staff, is responsible to the First Lord for the issue of orders to the Fleet affecting war operations and the movements of ships, which orders may be issued in his own name in his capacity as Chief of the Naval Staff. He, in effect, is the member of the Board who is solely responsible for the operations. The ultimate chain of responsibility to Parliament and. to the nation must, of course, be maintained through the Board and. the First Lord, and to that extent the question of operations may come before the consideration either of the smaller Operations Committee or even of the full Board itself.

So far, I am informed, there never has been the slightest difficulty arising from this system, and I see no reason for questioning the soundness of the principle which was laid down when it was adopted. It clearly leaves the direction of operations with the First Sea Lord as Chief of the Naval Staff, whilst at the same time retaining general Ministerial responsibility, which is inseparable from the position of the First Lord and of the Board of Admiralty. I have dealt with that at some length, because it seems to be perhaps the most serious criticism the noble Viscount made.

The rest of his criticism appeared to be directed against what he called dividing the work of the Naval Staff into fragments, or odds and ends I think he said, and putting them into one basket. Really, I cannot quite follow his objections, because the eight divisions into which the Naval Staff is divided—and in regard to which I will give full details, if he wishes, in the Papers, but with which I will not weary your Lordships by detailing them now—all deal with branches of Naval Staff work which are, so far as practicable, separate. Of course, they must be harmonised and co-ordinated by someone. One group is co-ordinated by the Deputy-Chief of the Naval Staff, who is a Vice-Admiral; the other group deals with the more material side of questions—that is, strategy as applied to design as distinct from the mere material side of the Controller's Department—and that is coordinated by the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff; those two officers, who are members of the Board, being in turn coordinated and responsible to the First Sea Lord, who is the Chief of the Naval Staff and responsible for the whole. With regard to that I venture to say that there is a perfectly coherent and normal chain of responsibility, leading up to the First Sea Lord, and I am unable to see how any other system could be workable.

But there is one improvement suggested by the noble Viscount, which I must say commends itself very much to me, and has done so for some time. That is that all these technical advisers should have associated with them some financial advisers dealing with their particular problems. I agree with that in principle; the extent to which it is practicable depends, of course, a good deal upon Treasury con siderations. But the value of it, I think, was shown very much in some of the War Ministries, notably the Ministry of Transport, where one of the most distinguished financial authorities in the country, Sir Hardman Lever, was associated as a financial adviser, dealing only with the affairs of the Ministry, and with enormous benefit, I think, to the Exchequer and to the officials concerned. We all know that the expert in any branch, concentrated, in his enthusiasm, on the perfection of his weapon, may be adding only an inch here or an inch there, and at the same time adding tens of millions to the national expenditure, unless the financial consequences are brought home to him at the time by a special adviser.


On his own staff


On his own staff. To that extent I am in entire agreement with the noble Viscount in wishing to make that system more general. The last point with which he dealt was the importance of the Imperial Staff. Again, I am in complete agreement with him And we have made a beginning in that direction. We have already invited the Dominions to send their officers to our Naval Staff College, to take part in actual administrative work at the Admiralty, to become thoroughly acquainted with our whole system, administrative, educational, and Staff, in order to produce, so far as practicable, that community of ideas upon which, as he rightly says, possibly the very future existence of the Empire might depend. That matter will be more fully explored at the coming Imperial Conference, but it is undoubtedly a matter of the utmost importance and significance in the future, and one which engages the wholehearted approval of the Board of Admiralty.

I think I have answered, so far as is possible in the time, the general criticisms of the noble Viscount, and of the other noble Lords who have spoken. With regard to the actual Questions on the Paper, if the noble Viscount wishes I will circulate a Paper giving the detailed information for which he asks. I think it would be more convenient, possibly, to do it in that form, rather than that I should now proceed to read a somewhat long statement giving the exact duties of the various officers concerned.


After the very full and frank response of the noble Lord, I should not think of pressing the Motion for Papers, but if he will do what he says and let us have a Paper showing, with a conspectus, the organisation as it is at the present time, it will be of great assistance and will, I think., relieve a good deal of anxiety.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.