SECTION I. THE GENERAL WORK OF THE NAVY.
The duty of the Navy in this, as in all war was:--
(1) To acquire and keep the command of the sea. (2) To undertake, by full use of our great mercantile marine, all sea transport. (3) To carry out the instructions of Government for stopping the enemy's supplies by sea. (4) To render any local or temporary assistance to the Army that circumstances might require.
[Sidenote: Command of Sea.]
[Sidenote: Stopping supplies.]
During the Boer War the command of the sea was never disputed, so that it gave rise to no anxiety after the first few months. The second duty, that of transport, at once assumed extreme importance owing to the 6,000 miles distance of the base of operations (Cape Town) from England, the large number of men and animals, and the great quantity of stores to be dealt with. The third duty, involving the much disputed matter of contraband, etc., was, and is always likely to be, a difficult one, owing to the rather nebulous state of International Law on questions which were likely to, and did arise, and to the many interests, belligerent and neutral, which might be involved. It was further complicated by the fact that the enemy possessed no seaport and no carrying trade of his own, so that all goods for him from over sea had to be landed either at a neutral port or in a British colonial port. The fourth duty, that of local assistance, was a simpler matter. Owing to causes recorded elsewhere, the armed forces of Great Britain in South Africa were not anything like adequate for the task before them when the war broke out on October 9th, 1899. The grave differences that existed between England and the Dutch Republics, and the absolutely vital British interests involved, had, as the year 1899 wore on, been realised not only by the Government, but by all the world. It was inevitable that the delay in strengthening the garrison, due to extreme unwillingness to present even the appearance of forcing on the quarrel, should throw an exceptional responsibility on the Navy. It became necessary to develop to the utmost limit the strength that could be spared for work on shore in order to gain time for the arrival of reinforcements. Happily our public services, both civil and military, have grown up in the traditions that each branch and department, while it has special grooves in which its own particular duty runs, is at all times on the look-out to help any other department. The Navy and Army are no strangers to this practice of mutual aid. Their special duties have in times past so often led to each helping the other in some way, that perhaps there exists between them in a rather special degree that feeling of comradeship which is engendered by sharing the same duties and the same perils and hardships; just as boys who have gone through the same mill at school, and got into and out of the same scrapes together, are undoubtedly imbued with an esprit de corps which is often a valuable possession in after-life.
SECTION II. SEA TRANSPORT.
The Army Sea Transport work was carried out by the Admiralty through its Transport department, with the following exceptions. Arrangements for the Indian contingent, the Remounts, and all else sent from India, were made by the Director of Indian Marine, for the outward voyage; by the Admiralty for the return voyage. For the Colonial contingents, passage was provided partly in freight ships locally engaged by the Colonial Governments and partly in Admiralty transports sent from the Cape. The return voyage in all cases was regulated by the Admiralty. Remounts (horses) from ports abroad were conveyed in freight ships hired by the Remount department up to February, 1901; after that date they were conveyed by the Admiralty. Stores from ports abroad were delivered in South Africa by the contractors, from whom the War Office obtained them at "C.I.F." rates; that is to say, that the price which was paid for the stores included delivery. All other sea transport for men, animals, and stores was organised by the Admiralty. The services of the Admiralty shipping agents (Messrs. Hogg and Robinson) were utilised as regards stores, but these agents worked under the supervision of the Admiralty Transport department.
[Sidenote: "Freight" and "transport" ships.]
As the terms used above, "freight ships" and "transports," will frequently recur in this chapter, it is necessary to give an explanation of their meaning and of the distinction between them. Troops are carried either in a transport or a freight ship. A transport is a vessel wholly taken up by the Government on a time charter. A freight ship is one in which the whole or a portion of the accommodation is engaged at a rate per head, or for a lump sum for a definite voyage. For a single voyage, freight, when obtainable, is generally cheaper. But owners will not always divert their ships under other than a time charter, and it is necessary that the bulk of the engagements for the conveyance of troops should be on time charter in order to secure control over the ships. Transports, when continuously employed and utilised both ways, are cheaper than freight ships. Under the transport charter the vessel, though engaged for a named period certain, is at the disposal of the Admiralty so long as the Government choose to retain her, except when it is expressly stipulated otherwise.
[Sidenote: Govt. sea transport.]
The method by which the Government carries out the sea transport of the Army is as follows:
The Board of Admiralty, as agents for, and on the requisition of, the Secretary of State for War, undertakes all this work, except coastwise conveyance in the United Kingdom.
[Sidenote: Office method.]
Since 1st April, 1888, Army Sea Transport has been always charged to Army instead of to Navy Votes; but the control of the Admiralty over the Transport service remains unimpaired. The Admiralty has always held that the work can be efficiently and satisfactorily carried out only by an Admiralty department, in connection with similar work for the Navy. For convenience sake the Director of Transports is placed in direct communication with the War Office as to all ordinary matters. An officer of the Quartermaster-General's department visits the Transport department frequently in peace time, and in war time he is placed at the Admiralty to assist the Director of Transports in military questions. All claims chargeable to Army Votes, after examination in the Transport department, receive, before they are passed to the War Office for payment, the concurrence of Army examiners, who visit the Admiralty daily. The Director of Transports is responsible for the whole work; administration, claims and accounts, custody of Army Transport stores, such as troop-bedding, horse-gear, etc., etc. The system by which one department does the work, while another provides for the cost, seems somewhat anomalous. But the experience of the Boer War, in which it was put to a test of some magnitude, has conclusively proved that it works well. That experience has, moreover, fully shown the necessity of the Sea Transport service remaining as it always has been, under the control of the Admiralty.
[Sidenote: Transport department at work.]
Ever since 1876 the Transport department has been organised in such a manner as to be ready to ship a considerable force overseas at short notice. The office establishment, both clerical and professional, was intended to be a sufficient nucleus to admit of rapid expansion in time of war. Full particulars of all ships suitable for the conveyance of men and animals were kept recorded in special books. A stock of troop-bedding, horse fittings, etc., etc., was kept in the Government depôts, and standing contracts for putting these fittings in place, etc., were in existence. Arrangements had been made with the Director of Victualling and the War Office respectively for the food supply of the troops to be embarked, and for the forage of the horses. Stocks of printed forms ready for issue to the transports were also kept in hand. All calculations were based on the understanding that the Admiralty would not be called upon to convey much more than an army corps without due warning. Bedding and horse fittings (of the old kind) for 55,000 men and 10,000 horses were immediately available. Moreover, a committee had recently met to provide for an increase of the stocks in hand in consequence of information from the War Office that two army corps could be ready to go abroad if required.
[Sidenote: Time needed.]
In August, 1899, the Director of Transports was asked how long it would take to despatch 49,000 men and 8,000 horses. His reply was that in the then state of the labour market, four to five weeks would be required. Tentative enquiries of this kind, and the evidently critical state of affairs in South Africa, had led the Transport department, as early as July, to make for eventualities every preparation that was possible within the department--such as conferring with contractors, marine shipping superintendents, etc., and having all troop-bedding and hammocks washed and overhauled, so that on receipt of any definite instructions work might be commenced within an hour.
[Sidenote: 23rd Sept./99 First grant.]
On the 23rd September, 1899, the Secretary of State for War authorised the expenditure of £25,000. This included money for a new pattern of horse fittings which had been approved. On the same date came a requisition for the conveyance of 7,000 mules from various foreign ports. On 20th September the Quartermaster-General had sent to the department a list giving details of the force proposed to be embarked if it should become necessary. This list showed ports of embarkation, and on receipt of it the Admiralty, without waiting for formal requisition, and on their own responsibility, decided to engage two large vessels of the Union-Castle Steamship Company, and to hold them in readiness, and this was done. Also on their own initiative the Admiralty issued that same evening confidential circulars to thirty-five leading ship owners, asking what ships now ready, or to be ready shortly, they were prepared to place at Government disposal for use as troop-transports, etc., for two months certain, asking for a reply the following day.
[Footnote 83: It is impossible, of course, to engage a ship beforehand without incurring expenditure.]
[Sidenote: Ships engaged Sept. 30/99.]
On 30th September there was a conference at the War Office, at which the Admiralty was represented, and verbal authority was then given to the Director of Transports to engage vessels for the conveyance of the force. It was there stated by the Commander-in-Chief (Lord Wolseley) that the troops would not be ready to begin embarking before the 21st October. That same night, 30th September, twenty vessels were engaged from those of which particulars were given in the replies already received; and from that time the work of engaging and preparing the vessels proceeded continuously. Immediately, additions were made to the professional and clerical staff, and more office accommodation was provided at the Admiralty. On the 9th October, 1899, an official requisition was received for the conveyance of 46,000 men and 8,600 horses, and a notice that 24,000 of the men and 4,000 horses would be ready to embark between the 21st October and the 25th October. By the middle of November this whole force was embarked.
[Sidenote: Time for fitting up.]
A certain amount of time (ten to twelve days) and money (£2,000 to £5,000, according to the kind of ship) is required to fit a vessel for carrying either troops or animals after she is empty of cargo. The vessel having been selected (sometimes even while she is still at sea), has to be surveyed in order to decide details of the work necessary, and also in order to obtain the Board of Trade's passenger certificate if she is to carry men. Troops and horses cannot be carried in ready-fitted accommodation. The space ordinarily devoted to cargo or cattle is appropriated, and the requisite accommodation built up. In the best cavalry ships, which are generally cattle ships adapted, saloon and cabin accommodation has to be increased. This is done at the owner's expense as part of the bargain. Height between decks is an important factor. Even more height is required for horses than for men. Ships otherwise good often have to be rejected for failure in this respect. Mounted troops always travel men and horses together. The men are for sanitary reasons placed on a deck below the horses. In such cases the horses are not, as a rule, carried on exposed decks. This is both for the sake of the horses and because the deck space is required for exercising the men. For remount and mule freight-ships the exposed decks are utilised, unless the nature of the voyage renders it undesirable.
[Sidenote: Provision for horses.]
Horses must be carried either on wooden or wood-sheathed decks, or on cemented decks, or on platforms over metal decks with the gangways cemented. For men, in all cases, the decks must be wood or wood-sheathed. As modern vessels, other than passenger ships, usually have steel decks, this becomes a considerable item in the time and cost of fitting. It is also frequently necessary to cut such extra side-lights as are essential for carrying men or horses. Extra lighting, ventilation and distilling apparatus, mess tables, stools, and provision for men's hammocks must all be obtained. Latrines have to be built, as well as a prison, a hospital, and the numerous store-rooms and issue-rooms that are required. Horse stalls have to be fitted, and sometimes even an extra deck has to be laid. A considerable number of horse stalls are kept at the Government depôts, and the contractors who work for the Government are bound to be ready to fit up a certain number of transports at short notice. For this war the stock of horse fittings in hand was only utilised to a small extent, as it had been decided, a short time before the war broke out, to adopt a longer stall (eight feet) without horse hammocks, instead of the existing six feet six inches stall with hammock. There is no doubt that the new fitting was a great improvement.
[Sidenote: "Transports." Mode of fitting up.]
[Sidenote: "Freight" ships. Different method.]
Transports are always fitted at the expense of Government. The work is done either by (a) contractors who hold a standing contract, (b) special supplementary contractors, or (c) the owners on behalf of the Government. Freight ships, on the contrary, are fitted by the shipowners, the cost being covered by the rate per head, whether they take troops or animals. Horses in freight ships were provided with the long stall under a modified specification. The fittings on these ships were often required for one voyage only, whereas in the transports they were used again and again. Mules were in all cases placed in pens. These held, as a rule, five mules, and no detailed specifications were necessary. Trade fittings were accepted if satisfactory to the shipping officer. In all ships carrying animals, whether transports or freight ships, spare stalls to the extent of five per cent, were allowed to provide for sick animals and for shifting the animals for cleaning purposes.
Hospital Ships.--Eight transports in all were fitted up as hospital ships. Two, the Spartan and Trojan, each of about 3,500 tons gross, were prepared in England for local service at the Cape. The other six, ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 tons gross, were infantry transports converted at Durban, as they were required, for bringing sick and wounded from the Cape to England. All were equipped in concert with the Army Medical Officers, in accordance with plans which had been found suitable on previous expeditions. All ordinary fittings were cleared out, and the ship was arranged in "wards," with special cots; operating rooms, laundries, ice room, special cooking appliances, radiators for warming, punkahs and electric fans, cot lifts, and everything else that medical science suggested, were added.
[Sidenote: Special gifts to nation.]
These ships were not officially declared under the Geneva Convention and did not fly the Red Cross flag, as they were occasionally employed during the return voyage for the conveyance of combatants. Besides these eight vessels there were available the Maine, lent by the Atlantic Transport Company, and most generously and at great cost fitted out and maintained by the American Ladies' Committee, who spared no time, trouble, or expense in making her most efficient and comfortable. Their kindly action will not soon be forgotten by the officers and men who benefited by her, by their immediate friends, or by the British nation. There was also the Princess of Wales, similarly sent out by the Central Red Cross Society, to whom much gratitude was naturally felt. H.M. Queen Alexandra, then H.R.H. the Princess of Wales, took special interest in the equipment of this vessel.
[Sidenote: Not a ship available at once.]
It will be seen, therefore, that no ships exist which can be utilised for sea transport without extensive adaptation and alteration. It is perhaps hardly realised generally how much work has to be done both by Government and the shipowner before a transport can be ready for sea. In addition to all that has been described the ship must be docked and her bottom coated with anti-fouling composition, and she must be ballasted as needed. Boats, awnings and crews, efficient services of fresh and salt water, and provision against fire, have to be secured, and before any of the work can be started the ship herself must be definitely engaged.
Animals.--The units to be employed in the war were not carried by sea complete with their transport animals. The cavalry and artillery were accompanied by their horses, but nearly all the transport animals were taken direct to South Africa from ports abroad. Remounts and mules from abroad were conveyed by freight ships at rates per animal, which included forage, attendance, horse-gear and fittings, and all expenses.
Stores.--It was decided from the first not to utilise the spare space in the transports for conveying stores, because on arrival it might well be that the stores were urgently required at the first port, while the troops were wanted elsewhere with equal urgency. This would have led to delay and confusion. Moreover, if the cargo could not be at once received, the transport would be hampered in her movements and inconvenience and expense would follow. Stores from England were therefore carried in freight ships, either in full cargo ships engaged at a lump sum, with special terms for varying ports and demurrage, or in the regular liners at rates per ton.
[Sidenote: Infantry and mounted troops.]
For infantry, passenger ships or large fast cargo boats are selected. The latter are preferred as the former require more extensive alterations. Mounted troops are usually carried in ships specially designed for the conveyance of live stock; remounts and mules in similar vessels, or in specially roomy cargo ships. The vessels employed for infantry and mounted troops were, in fact, running ships belonging to good lines, and they had to possess, or take out, a Board of Trade passenger certificate. The owners naturally do not keep such ships waiting on the off-chance of Government employment. They are in full work and have to sacrifice their own lucrative business to accept an Admiralty contract.
Coaling Arrangements.--Whenever possible, space was appropriated in the holds of the transports for additional coal bunkers, so that the quantity of coal taken from England might be as great as possible. The contractors at St. Vincent, Las Palmas and Teneriffe were also given special instructions, and a constant stream of colliers was kept going to the Cape. The transports were made to call at the three first-named places in such rotation as should ensure there being no block at any of them. A man-of-war was stationed at St. Vincent, one at Las Palmas, and one at Teneriffe to supervise the arrangements and to make such preparation and give such help as should preclude delay in dealing with each of the ships as they arrived. This system proved to be a good one. There was plenty of coal and no delay, but it was found that the high-speed vessels, owing to their enormous coal consumption, were not so suitable as others of more moderate speed. Eminently suited as they were for the short run across the Atlantic, it was really hardly worth while using them for the long voyage to the Cape.
Victualling.--The first batch of troops sent out was victualled from the Navy Yards, and this practice was partially continued till early in 1900. But, owing to considerations of the reserve of stores, and to the fact that the Navy salt meat ration was new to the troops and not liked by them, this was then changed. The owners contracted to victual the men at a rate per head per day, and this, though more expensive, worked well. Moreover, it gave greater satisfaction to the men, as it was more like what they were accustomed to on shore; and it was an important point to land them in the best possible condition. Volunteers and yeomanry when carried separate from the regulars were fed on a slightly better scale than the latter. If carried in the same ship all were fed alike on the better scale.
Forage in transports was in all cases supplied from the Government stores. In freight ships it was supplied by the owners, and was included in the rate per animal.
Troop-bedding and horse-gear are supplied by Government in all transports. Though a large stock is always kept on hand, special purchases of both had also to be made from time to time as the war went on to meet unexpectedly great demands.
Staff of the Transport Department.--To meet the requirements of this sudden expansion of work, Naval staffs were sent out to Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London, under Captain Sir Edward Chichester, R.N., and at home--to assist the normal peace establishment (which consisted of the Director of Transports, Rear-Admiral Bouverie F. Clark, Captain F. J. Pitt, R.N., the Naval Assistant, and Mr. Stephen J. Graff, the Civil Assistant, with their respective staffs)--the clerical establishment was enlarged and two captains, four lieutenants, engineers, and paymasters, and the requisite staff were appointed--some to each of the three districts, the Thames, Liverpool, and Southampton. These three places are, by reason of local considerations such as dock and repair accommodation, railway service and tidal conditions, the most suitable for such work, and with few exceptions the embarking was done in those districts.
General Remarks and Statistics.--Tables are given on pages 108-9, showing the number of vessels employed and of the troops, etc., carried. The total number of voyages out and home with troops, animals or stores was about 1,500, representing over 9,000,000 miles steaming, exclusive of coast movements at the Cape, and in addition to about 1,000,000 miles of cross voyages by the transports to India, Australia, Bermuda, etc. The ships selected for the conveyance of troops were chosen as the best adapted for the special work they had to perform, viz.: to deliver them at their destination with the least risk and in healthy condition, fit to take the field at once. That the choice was not unsuccessful is evidenced by the fact that throughout these vast operations not a single life was lost at sea from causes due to the ship, and the only serious casualties were the loss of one cavalry transport, the Ismore, with guns and 315 horses; one mule freight ship, the Carinthea, with 400 mules; and two store freight ships, the Denton Grange and the Madura, the latter by fire. Looking to the mileage run, this is a wonderful record, and one which reflects the highest credit on the mercantile marine in general, and on the management of the shipping lines concerned in particular.
[Sidenote: The voyage to and fro.]
There was no delay in getting the troops off. From 20th October, 1899, when the first units of the army corps were ready to embark, to the 30th November, 1899, no less than 58,000 men and 9,000 horses left England, and a steady stream continued month after month, the largest shipment in one month being February, 1900, when 33,500 men and 5,500 horses left this country. The removal from South Africa was even more speedy. From 1st June, 1902, to 31st July, 53,800 men embarked. By the end of August the number was 94,000 men, and by the end of September, 133,000 men had left South Africa. The homeward move was simplified by there being no horses, and by the Government being able to utilise to their full extent the resources of the Union-Castle Company, whose large fleet of vessels, specially suitable for carrying troops, had an important share in the work.
[Sidenote: Patriotism of shipowners.]
The shipowners, as a body, showed every desire throughout the war to meet the wishes of the Admiralty, often (in the early days) placing their ships at the disposal of the Government at great inconvenience to their own trade, and making great personal exertions to expedite the despatch of the troops and to ensure their comfort. In no case was any vessel engaged, either for troops, animals, or stores, which was not a registered British ship, and as far as possible the crews were British subjects; practically the crews of all troop transports were then exclusively so.
[Sidenote: Numbers conveyed.]
The following figures will convey an idea of the extent of the Sea Transport work in connection with the war, from its commencement up to the 31st December, 1902.
The numbers conveyed were:
|To South Africa.||Personnel.||Horses.||Mules.|
|From Home and Mediterranean:|
|South African Constabulary||8,482||—||—|
|British South Africa Police||353||—||—|
|Imperial Military Railways||320||—||—|
|Colonial Office Details||59||—||—|
|From Ceylon, Mauritius, &c.:|
|South African Constabulary||1,249||—||—|
|From other countries:|
|Prisoners of War and Escorts||22,790||—||—|
|From South Africa:|
|To United Kingdom, Colonies, India, &c., including Boer prisoners||372,320||2,460||—|
|Grand Total||804,692 persons.||459,336 animals.|
The tonnage of stores carried to South Africa was as follows, exclusive of wagons, guns, baggage, and equipment accompanying the troops, and of the vast quantities of supplies delivered by contractors from abroad at rates inclusive of freight:
|In the Transports||4,990||tons.|
The number of specially engaged ships employed on the work was as follows:
|Transports engaged by the Admiralty||117|
|Transports engaged in India||41|
Troop freight ships:
|Outwards.||Engaged by Admiralty||115|
|Engaged by Colonial Governments||13|
|Homewards.||Engaged by Admiralty||104|
|Engaged by P.T.O., South Africa||21|
Remount freight ships:
|Engaged by Remount Department||107|
|Engaged by Admiralty||201|
|Mule Freight Ships engaged by Admiralty||98|
|Full Cargo Freight Ships engaged by Admiralty||210|
Nearly all the transports made several voyages, and some of them were in continuous employment for over three years, and went to the Cape and back as many as ten times besides coastal and colonial voyages.[Sidenote: Tonnage, transports and owners.]
[Sidenote: Report of Royal Commission.]
The 210 full cargo ships carried 974,000 tons of the stores, besides 3,745 oxen. The remainder was conveyed in running ships at current rates. The transports engaged by the Admiralty were the property of thirty-six owners, mostly Liverpool or London firms; their average size was 6,400 tons gross, ranging from 12,600 to 3,500 tons, the range of speed from nineteen to eleven knots. The proportion of tonnage per man and per horse turns out, over the whole, four tons per man, twelve and a half tons per horse. This estimate is made by calculating the tonnage per man on the infantry ships alone, and allowing for the men at that rate by casting out the tonnage per horse over the transports which conveyed both men and horses. The following is an extract from the report of His Majesty's Commissioners appointed to enquire into matters in connection with the war in South Africa, dated 9th July, 1903, pp. 125, 126.
"TRANSPORT BY SEA.
"The transport by sea to South Africa from the United Kingdom and the Colonies of a force much larger than any which had ever crossed the seas before in the service of this or any other country affords a remarkable illustration not only of the greatness of British maritime resources, but also of what can be done when careful forethought and preparation is applied to the object of utilising rapidly in war instruments which are in peace solely engaged in the purposes of civil life. If the same forethought had been applied throughout, there would have been little criticism to make with regard to the South African War. A full account of the Sea Transport organisation will be found in the evidence of Mr. Stephen Graff, Assistant Director of Transports at the Admiralty, and of Captain F. J. Pitt, R.N., Naval Assistant Director of Transports.
* * * * *
"It had been represented by the Admiralty in a letter of the 4th April, 1898 (in continuation of earlier representations), that the stock of horse fittings and water tanks was inadequate even for one Army Corps, inasmuch as one Army Corps, with a Cavalry Brigade and Line of Communication troops, requires over 15,000 horses, and it was represented that an expenditure of £25,000 to provide complete fittings would be necessary. In April, 1899, there was a conference between the Admiralty and War Office officials, who came to the conclusion that 'the present stock of fittings, horse-gear, etc., is dangerously insufficient and inadequate to ensure the rapid despatch of even one Army Corps, one Cavalry Brigade and Line of Communication troops.' At this time it had been intimated by the War Office that transport for two Army Corps might be needed. On the 19th July, 1899, the Committee recommended the purchase of 6,000 new pattern stalls, and on the 23rd September the Secretary of State for War authorised the expenditure of £25,000. The engagement and preparation of ships began on the 30th September. It does not appear that the absence of a sufficient stock of horse fittings caused any appreciable delay. To a large extent the difficulty was met by fitting up with lighter fittings the Liverpool cattle ships, which are in many ways so constructed as to be admirable conveyances for horses. The plan of using these ships, and the kind of fittings to be used on them, had been worked out some time before the war by Captain Pitt, R.N.
* * * * *
"The adjustment of ships to transport purposes involves much labour, but the ships appear to have been ready as soon, or almost as soon, as the troops were ready to start. The arrangements between the War Office and the Admiralty for the embarkation of troops worked with great success. Sir Charles M. Clarke, then Quartermaster-General, stated that the demands of the War Office were 'most admirably met.' The accommodation on the ships appears to have been well calculated. The timing of the departures and arrivals, so as to regulate the pressure on intermediate coaling stations and terminal ports, also seems to have been satisfactory. The delays in disembarkation of men and stores were slight, and, when they occurred, were due to insufficient berthing accommodation at Cape Town. The accidents on voyage were few, and only one ship, the Ismore, was entirely lost, together with a battery of artillery."
NOTE BY THE OFFICIAL HISTORIAN.
[Sidenote: Effect on Army.]
[Sidenote: Questions of above record.]
The record above given of the splendid triumph of the Admiralty administration of Sea Transport during the war has been compiled by Capt. A. H. Limpus, R.N., with the cordial assistance of the Transport department of the Admiralty. The conclusion that the work of carrying the Army by sea could not have been in more competent hands is one which admits of no doubt in the mind of any reader who studies it. There are, nevertheless, certain deductions to be made in regard to the passengers carried--the greatest army ever delivered by any country over 6,000 miles of sea-way--which closely concern the efficiency of the instrument with which the blow of Britain has to be struck, at points so distant from her shores. It is essential that the management of railways shall be in the hands of the officials of the particular company which conveys an excursion; but in order that the undertaking may be a great success many things are needed besides the perfect management of the trains. No one who has seen the amount of labour and the kind of organisation required by those who yearly send to the country the holiday-children, for instance, will fail to know that the passengers also need to be prepared beforehand for their part in the day. Moreover, some knowledge on the part of the most admirable railway officials of the special needs of those they carry is required; and, further, if any sudden change is made in the carriages themselves, in the sequence of trains, or in other matters strictly belonging to the functions of the company, this, if not communicated to the managers of the excursion, may introduce dire confusion.
[Sidenote: A new experience needs special training.]
An army has over the holiday travellers the advantage of its long-established unity, its discipline, and its training, but embarkation and disembarkation are entirely outside its ordinary experience. It needs, therefore, being much accustomed to work by habit, to be prepared both for getting on board ship, and, still more, for getting off it, in the manner that will best enable it to fulfil its duties, and, as time is very precious, to do this with the least possible delay, both in order to play completely into the hands of the officers in charge of the ships and in order to be itself at its best when it lands. This is the more easily accomplished because a ship in dock is virtually a part of the mainland. Everything that has to be done by troops in embarking can be imitated perfectly on shore, if the ordinary fittings of a ship are placed in a hut or other building outside which such a gangway is erected as that over which men and horses have to be passed in entering a ship. Now, by the willing assistance of the Admiralty in furnishing the exact fittings used in transports, this practice had been carried out by all arms--cavalry, horse and field artillery, army service corps and infantry--at least in some instances. Practical adaptations in the training of each corps had been made by the experiments conducted on shore by each. Printed regulations embodying these had been framed.
[Sidenote: Necessity for mutual understanding shown by incident.]
Unfortunately, the sudden improvement in the ship fittings mentioned above, coming as it did at the very moment of war, completely, for the Army, upset the conditions on which the drill had been framed. It had been devised to make the passage of horses on board as rapid as it could be when the horses had to be placed in slings. Men, specially trained in slinging, were in each corps detailed to do the work. To find, when the embarkation began, that there were no slings, naturally involved at the last moment a change in method. Moreover, horses always obey more kindly, especially in strange circumstances, the men to whom they are accustomed, those by whom they are groomed and fed. It was, nevertheless, not surprising that the shipping authorities, unaware that the soldiers were dealing with conditions already familiar to them, should have detailed men of the ship to place the horses in their stalls. The horses did not like the unfamiliar hands; the soldiers were puzzled by their horses being taken from them. In some cases much delay and confusion occurred, and, indeed, it needed all the tact and good-fellowship of the navy and army officers to adjust things satisfactorily. Relatively to other matters the incident was a small one, but it illustrates the importance of a thorough understanding between the two services such as can only be gained by continued practice during peace-time for war.
[Sidenote: Importance of the right stores being on top.]
In the matter of stores a difficulty, which had been very strongly commented upon in the case of the Egyptian expedition of 1882, again presented itself. In 1882, in the disembarkation at Ismailia in the Suez Canal, where the facilities were much less than they were in the several harbours of South Africa, it became a very serious point that the stores required by the Army at once on landing were at the bottom of the holds. The ample landing capacities of Cape Town, of Durban, and almost, relatively to Ismailia, of East London and Port Elizabeth, made this in the present war less serious; but even in this case it drew a strongly-worded telegram of remonstrance. It would be impossible to reckon upon our having always at our disposal conveniences so great as these for disembarking an army. It becomes, therefore, for future expeditions, important to note that the trouble which became so grave in 1882 was not removed at the ports of embarkation when this war began. To say the least, it was not the universally established practice to give to the naval officer in charge or to any one else a list showing the order in which the material embarked would be required on landing; and to ask that those things which would be first needed should be put in last, so that they might be on the top.
[Sidenote: Co-operation in forcing a landing.]
The army in South Africa had not to land against an opposing enemy. It is obviously important that in conjoint practice of the two services the possibility of an opposed landing should be taken into account. It was unfortunate, therefore, that as a consequence of the limited time at disposal, the other duties of the fleet, and the cost of demurrage, it became necessary for the Admiralty, when it was wisely decided to have combined manoeuvres of navy and army in the autumn of 1904, in order to practise embarkation and disembarkation, to direct that the landing should be carried out under peace conditions. As a consequence of this the first party landed on a shore, supposed to be hostile, was one of unarmed sailors; and orders, at least in one instance, filled the foremost boats with the clerks and clerkly paraphernalia of a divisional Headquarters. That may have been the routine rightly followed in many cases at Cape Town, but the true application of the lessons of history does not consist in blind imitation of precedent from the past in those respects in which the conditions have changed. Joint action in manoeuvre will be valueless unless it is used to familiarise each service with the work of the other as it will be in the actual fighting of the time. During the great war at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century failure followed failure because the services had not practised together. At last they did so and the result was a brilliant success. The Japanese have undoubtedly owed many of their triumphs to their having profited by our historical records. Their disembarkations have been models of combined action.
[Sidenote: Causes of delay, real and imaginary.]
[Sidenote: Limit of striking force.]
On one other point the Naval triumph is of great importance to the Army. The passage quoted above (page 111) from the report of the Commission on the War marks well the facts. "The ships appear to have been ready as soon, or almost as soon, as the troops were ready to start." It follows that the shipping was just ready and no more for the Army, after mobilisation, when the reserves had been called in and incorporated. Moreover, it is to be noticed (page 100) that this result was only secured by a splendid audacity in expenditure by the Naval authorities, supplementing an admirable organisation. Now, as in every war we carry out abroad, the earliest time at which any armed force can move towards its object is the hour when the ships are ready to convey it, it follows that no delay whatever was caused by the necessity for summoning to the colours trained men retained for service by a small fee. On the other hand very great delay was caused by the impossibility of preparing for the particular campaign without threatening those whom we desired to conciliate. It, therefore, further follows that if there were ready at all times a force which did not need to be ostentatiously prepared, we should avoid the crux of not being able to make war without preparing for it and of not being able to prepare lest we should provoke war. On the other hand, this instance admirably illustrates the invariable law that the strength that can be so used is strictly limited by the number of properly fitted ships that the Admiralty can have ready at any given moment. An examination of Captain Limpus' careful statement will show how very small this inevitably is, and how much time is needed to fit those that are not available. Moreover, there is, on the Army side, as has been shown in Chapter V., this further restriction, that the equipment and transport, without which a campaign cannot be carried on, must be of the kind suited to the particular case.
SECTION III. THE WORK OF THE NAVY.
THE STOPPAGE OF CONTRABAND.
The task of the Navy in this matter lay so entirely outside the sphere of the military operations on land that it will be sufficient to say here that, despite the extreme delicacy of the situation created by the fact that it was only through neutral ports that the Boers could obtain supplies after the war had begun, the vigilance exercised was remarkably effective. The amount of contraband which reached the enemy was insignificant, yet very few claims for compensation were successfully sustained by neutrals. Ordinary trade, through Lourenço Marques, including, unfortunately, British trade, was uninterrupted till, towards the end of 1900, in consequence of the progress of the war, it died a natural death. In their careful watching of the coast and river-mouths the sailors, under Captain W. B. Fisher, of the Magicienne, had some trying experiences. Lieut. Massy Dawson, of the Forte, and Lieut. H. S. Leckie, of H.M.S. Widgeon, who received the Albert medal, did most gallant service.
SECTION IV. THE ASSISTANCE OF THE NAVY ON SHORE.
[Sidenote: The Navy on shore.]
This is incorporated in the accounts of the several campaigns and battles, but there were certain preparations made beforehand on board-ship which must here be recorded. During a cruise up the east coast in the month of July, 1899, Admiral Harris, the Naval Commander-in-Chief, was convinced that there would be war and that the Boers were only waiting till the grass was in fit condition for their cattle, to invade the colonies. He therefore took steps to have all the ships ready for service. He concentrated the fleet within easy reach of call. Early in October he sent to the G.O.C. at the Cape a list of small guns, etc., which he could furnish if needful. He was then told that it was not anticipated that such assistance would be necessary. Nevertheless, a Naval brigade of 500 men was exercised and prepared for landing. When the ultimatum was delivered it was clear enough that the troops were not in adequate strength to resist the forces the Boers could place against them, and that the enemy were bringing into the field guns of unusual calibre and range. The utmost numbers which it was possible to land were about 2,500, but heavy guns were the very weapons with which the sailors were most familiar. It seemed likely that these might prove to be of great value. On September 19th, the Admiral was informed that the Terrible, which was to have relieved the Powerful, viâ the Canal, would, instead, meet her on her voyage home at the Cape. On the 14th October the Terrible reached Simon's Bay. By October 21st, Captain Scott, her commanding officer, had devised a field mounting for a long-range 12-pr. and, having put it through a satisfactory firing trial, was authorised by the Commander-in-Chief to make several more. When, on October 24th, the Admiralty telegraphed that the War Office would be glad of all the assistance that the Navy could render, and that all was to be given that would not cripple the ships, the order had been so far anticipated that the upper decks of the Terrible, Powerful, Monarch and Doris, as well as the dockyard itself, had already assumed the appearance of a gun-carriage factory.
[Sidenote: Preparation of heavy guns for landing.]
On October 24th, the day when this message was received from home, the Admiral arranged with Sir A. Milner that the Powerful should go to Durban on the 26th. On October 25th the Governor of Natal telegraphed to the Admiral that "Sir George White suggests that, in view of the heavy guns with Joubert, the Navy should be consulted with the view of sending a detachment of bluejackets with long-range guns firing heavy projectiles." He also revealed to the Admiral the gravity of the situation, and the scanty means available for defending Maritzburg and even Durban itself. The Admiral replied at once, saying, "Powerful arrives Durban 29th. She can on emergency land four 12-prs. and 9 Maxims." He then saw Captain Scott of the Terrible, and enquired if he could design a mounting to take a 4·7-in. and have two ready for the following afternoon, 26th. This Captain Scott did. By the next evening two such mountings had been put on board the Powerful, and before midnight she sailed for Durban. These 4·7-in. mountings were meant for use as guns of position, and not as field guns. They consisted--briefly described--of four 12-in. baulks of timber 14 feet long, bolted together in the form of a double cross. This made a rough platform to which was secured the plate and spindle which was used to carry the ordinary ship mounting of the 4·7-in. guns. They were intended to be placed in a hole in the ground 15 feet square and 2 feet deep, and the ends of the timber baulks were to be secured with chains to weights sunk in the ground. But this securing of the timbers was found to be quite unnecessary when a mounting of this kind was put through a firing trial near Simon's Town, and so it was not subsequently employed with these "platform" mountings, as they came to be called. Sir George White, in Ladysmith, to which place the first two "platform" mountings had been promptly taken by the Powerful's Naval brigade, was, on October 30th, informed by telegram of the result of the firing trial, also that no moorings had been found necessary.
[Sidenote: Scott's travelling carriage.]
Captain Scott now obtained permission to make a travelling carriage for a 4·7-in. gun. It consisted of a double trail of 14-inch timber fitted with plates and bearings to carry the cradle of the ordinary ship mounting. A pair of steel wheels and a heavy axle were required, and all the work was done in the dockyard under Captain Scott's supervision. This mounting was satisfactorily tried and embarked on the Terrible for Durban on November 3rd.
In giving this brief description of the mountings which enabled long-range guns to be put at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, the events which led to their use have been anticipated. The foregoing explanation is necessary, because, though the warships were already supplied with field mountings for the 12-pr. 8-cwt. and some smaller guns, and these were therefore available, and to a certain extent were used during the war, yet when more powerful guns were required it became necessary to extemporise a carriage for them.
[Sidenote: Numbers employed.]
The first long 12-pr. was tried on October 21st, and by November 3rd there were already prepared for use, or actually in use:--
21 field mountings for 12-pr. 12-cwt. guns. 3 platform mountings for 4·7-in. 1 travelling carriage for 4·7-in.
[Sidenote: Later developments.]
This number was, soon afterwards, largely increased, and a 6-in. Q.F. 7-ton gun was also mounted on a travelling carriage at the Durban Locomotive Works under Captain Scott's supervision. As more mountings were made and other people's ideas were enlisted, modifications were introduced; some mountings, entirely of steel, were indeed used for 4.7-in. guns; but in the main these mountings resembled those which were so hurriedly prepared in the last ten days of October.
To resume the sequence of Naval events at the Cape.
[Sidenote: Difficulties of Naval C.-in-C.]
The Commander-in-Chief found himself, when war broke out, with his small squadron of ships ready for any service, and a Naval brigade of 500 of their crews ready whenever called for. He had informed the military Commander-in-Chief to what extent he could give help on shore, and his squadron was shortly increased as told above. He was none too strong for the purely Naval duties which war would involve, though a sufficient staff of officers was sent out to relieve him to a large extent of the Sea Transport duty. Still he found himself with the considerable responsibility of keeping the seaports--Table Bay, Simon's Bay, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban, secure and available for our troops, and in the case of Durban, as the situation developed, this promised to be no light matter. The timely distribution of the coal supply, both for his own reinforced squadron and for the transports, had to be arranged. At one time the unfortunate grounding of a transport, the Ismore, caused extra work and anxiety. The enemy's supplies by sea had also to be stopped. There were precautions to be taken for the safety of H.M. ships while lying in harbour, for the arriving transports, and the Naval establishments. Later on there was the care of a considerable number of Boer prisoners until regular camps could be formed for them. Altogether, therefore, if the squadron was to be kept always fit for sea, some circumspection was required when determining to land men and guns for service on shore.
[Sidenote: The Naval brigades.]
Although in detail the record of the services of the men actually landed falls into its place in the course of the campaigns, it should here be noticed that these contingents resolved themselves eventually into three Naval brigades.
[Sidenote: Western brigade.]
First, the Western brigade, a force of 357 of all ranks and two short 12-pounders under Commander Ethelston of the Powerful. This was originally employed to garrison Stormberg, was then withdrawn to Queenstown, and finally recalled to Simon's Bay viâ East London, to be reorganised, strengthened, and sent up under Captain Prothero with four long 12-prs., and about 400 men, to join Lord Methuen's force for the relief of Kimberley. It left behind two short 12-pr. field guns at Queenstown for the use of the Army. After Graspan, where it suffered considerably, Captain J. E. Bearcroft was sent to replace Captain Prothero, who was wounded, and the brigade was much augmented. It then accompanied Lord Roberts' main advance; parties with guns being sent on various detached services--until by 17th October, 1900, the men of this brigade had all been recalled to their ships.
[Sidenote: Ladysmith brigade.]
Second, the Ladysmith brigade. The Powerful having been sent to Durban to comply with Sir George White's request for guns, there were landed on arrival on October 29th, and taken at once to Ladysmith, two 4·7-in. guns on platform mountings, three long 12-pounders, one short 12-pounder, and four Maxims, with 283 of all ranks under Captain the Hon. Hedworth Lambton. They arrived on the 30th October, 9.30 a.m., in time to take part in the action of Lombards Kop, and remained in Ladysmith during the siege.
[Sidenote: Natal brigade.]
The third, or Natal brigade, had its origin in the Terrible being sent to Durban, where she arrived on November 6th. Her Captain, Percy Scott, at once became Commandant and organised--from the Terrible, Thetis, Forte, Philomel, and Tartar, the defence of that town. Over thirty guns were placed in position and put under the command of Commander Limpus, of the Terrible, while a pair of 12-pounders, drawn from the Powerful, had been pushed on to Maritzburg and placed under Lieutenant James, of the Tartar, with the men of that ship already up there. It was from this force that, as troops arrived, Sir Redvers Buller drew the Naval brigade which accompanied the Ladysmith relief column. Captain E. P. Jones, of the Forte, commanded this brigade, with Commander A. H. Limpus, of the Terrible, second in command. After the relief of Ladysmith, Captain Jones reorganised the Naval brigade with ranks and ratings from the Forte, Philomel, and Tartar. The Terribles and Powerfuls rejoined their ships by March 13th. So reconstituted, the brigade served on with the Natal Field Force until June 24th, 1900, when all but the Philomel's and Tartar's men, under Lieutenant Halsey, were recalled to their ships. Lieutenant Halsey, with four officers and thirty-eight men of the Philomel, one officer and eighteen men of the Tartar, remained until October, 1900, when they also returned.
[Sidenote: All Naval brigades within recall.]
Essential as were the services rendered on shore it was always arranged that, if it had become advisable at any time to recall officers and men to their ships, they should be able to rejoin them long before their presence was needed on board. Also as soon as any article, including guns and ammunition, was landed from the fleet it was replaced from England. When it became clear that the safety of Durban was assured, its naval defence force was re-embarked; but Captain Percy Scott remained on shore with his staff as Commandant until 14th March, 1900. His work there, in preparing and sending additional guns to General Buller--among them a 6-in. gun on a wheeled carriage--and also as an able Commandant of Durban under martial law, was highly appreciated.
[Footnote 84: See despatches giving the views of Sir Redvers Buller, etc., on these.]
[Footnote 85: See despatch from the Governor of Natal to Admiral Harris, dated 9.3.00, and letter from the Colonial Office to the Admiralty, dated 7.5.00.]
[Sidenote: Natal Naval Volunteers.]
A welcome addition was made to the strength of the Natal brigade by a party of Natal Naval Volunteers, under Lieutenants T. Anderton and Nicholas Chiazzari, who with forty-eight men of all ratings, joined Captain Jones' force at Frere on 10th December, and reinforced the crews of the 4·7-in. guns. Lieut. Barrett, N.N.V., also joined the Naval brigade with the Natal Field Force after the relief of Ladysmith. The Natal Naval Volunteers proved to be a most valuable addition to the brigade, composed as they were of intelligent, resourceful men, who were familiar with the ways of the country, and many of whom spoke both the Taal and native languages. They were part of a corps which had its origin in the previous scheme for the defence of Durban, and possessed muzzle-loading 9-prs.
[Sidenote: Why they joined.]
They had been stationed at Colenso when the southward advance of the Boers compelled the evacuation of that position on 3rd November, 1899. Although told to abandon their guns they had carried them bodily away with them in the retirement. Forced to recognise that such guns were quite useless in the field, and unable to obtain better weapons locally, they had eagerly volunteered to join the Naval brigade under Captain Jones. Fortunately they obtained their wish, and the Naval brigade gained the services of a body of men who soon proved their sterling worth, and whose traditions will henceforth always be closely associated with those of the Royal Navy.