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quarters, to divert the fire of the artillery, and to give employment to the reserves. It is in the absence of the counterstroke that the reason for the astonishing success in the earlier battles of the British skirmish-line is to be sought-in that and in lack of discipline; and it is because they are prepared for counterstroke that Continental armies give so much depth to the attack.
The very fact that the Boers believed that they were going to win a decisive battle by fortifying themselves on the bank of the Modder River, where counterstroke was manifestly impracticable, is sufficient evidence that, despite their natural cunning, they are but indifferent tacticians.
And now what of our own soldiers? Have they proved themselves masters of their trade? There can be no question that whenever the artillery and infantry have been permitted to work in combination the results have been excellent, and the skill of the regimental officers and men, whenever they have been judiciously handled, has been as conspicuous as their gallantry. But what of the grand tactics, the work of the Staff, the inferior leading, the general direction of the different battles, the manoeuvres to outwit the enemy and to force him to fight at a disadvantage, the arrangements for ensuring co-operation between all parts of the force engaged? The time has not yet come to speak. Blunders have certainly been committed, and the responsibility will have to be fixed. It is to be recognised, however, that generals of all ranks have been most severely tried. The difficulties of the situation, the despatch of reinforcements by driblets to the front, and the imminent danger, not only of the garrisons, but of the railways and the magazines, were such that even better men might have made mistakes.
The question pow arises : To whom, or to what causes, were our original dispositions due? It has been said that the Government should have sent more men to South Africa in the early spring, directly it intervened on behalf of the Uitlanders. But in the first place, without calling out the Reserves or denuding India, the army was incapable of providing a garrison of 20,000 men for South Africa without unduly weakening other portions of the Empire, and in the second place, it would have been impolitic very largely and suddenly to increase the garrisons while Sir Alfred Milner and Mr. Reitz were exchanging notes. Negotiations with a person who is openly loading a revolver are hardly likely to have an amicable issue, and for this the Government always hoped. We cannot believe that the absence of young
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grass on the veldt would have delayed the ultimatum. If the Boers can bring up food by railway they can bring up forage. And in the third place, even if the garrisons had been reinforced, the enemy, unless the dispositions had been bettered, would still have been offered an opportunity. It was not want of men that produced an unfavourable situation, but want of forethought due to a very inadequate appreciation of the fighting capacity of the Boers. As a matter of fact, the frontier garrisons, together with their stores, were placed in such positions as to jeopardise the campaign. The information of the Intelligence Department was not at fault. As regards the numbers and armament of the enemy, there has been no evidence to throw doubt in any material degree upon the accuracy of the reports of Sir John Ardagh. It is difficult to blame the Colonial Governments, for defensive measures cost money, and if important industries, such as the Dundee coal-pits and the Kimberley diamond mines, demand the presence of troops it is difficult to refuse, especially when the likelihood of war is most remote. For, be it remembered, the Colonial Governments believed throughout that President Kruger would yield to diplomatic pressure. That they were wrong is probable, but Downing Street was no wiser. Moreover, unless these Governments and their military advisers were in full possession, long before the war, of the plan of campaign that would be adopted, of the number of troops that would form the invading force, of the time that force would take to mobilise and concentrate, it would be impossible for them to make proper preparations. Nor was it their business to suggest them. Colonial Governments are not responsible for Imperial defence, and all preparations for the protection of the frontier must emanate from the fountainhead. The man who works out the scheme of operations is responsible that the different phases dovetail, and that no failure in the preliminaries shall compromise concentration and give the enemy an advantage. The root of the matter is now laid bare. Preliminaries and concentration were not in harmony because no scheme of operations had been worked out. Had this been done, the danger of jsolating a detachment at Glencoe, the insecurity of Ladysmith, and the unprotected condition of the railways would have been so strongly impressed upon the Natal Government that Sir George White would have found the whole of the field force concentrated, the stores collected at Estcourt or Pietermaritzburg, the railway bridges covered by bombproof blockhouses, and the ponts' over the rivers in his own hands. But it was not done because in the first place the Government believed, until it was too late, that the Boers would yield to their demands and that peace would be preserved. It might be argued, however, that it was the duty of the military authorities, whether war was imminent or not, to have made these preparations long beforehand. But such preparations, which must have cost money, could only be the result of a detailed plan of operations, sanctioned by the Cabinet, and communicated by them to the Colonies concerned. Undoubtedly this would have been the wisest and most economical course. It could not have prevented accidents, but it would have reduced the chance of accident to a minimum. Unfortunately, however, it has not been the custom for the Secretary of State for War to provide plans for offensive operations in all parts of our enormous Empire. They have never been called for, so far as our knowledge goes, by any Cabinet whatsoever until war was within measurable distance. No machinery exists at the War Office for drawing up such projects, except as regards the defence of the United Kingdom, as the Prussian Headquarter Staff drew up for a war with France. Proper strategical preparation, even when a single theatre of war is in question, is not a question of days or weeks, but of months and even years. Plans of operations, although they cannot go further than the preliminary measures--the strength of the force to be employed, the selection of the line of advance, and the mobilisation and concentration of the troops-require constant alteration. In France and Germany their maintenance in an effective condition provides ample employment for a large Staff department; and such a department not only ensures readiness for war, but forms a school for strategists.
Strategy—and therefore strategical preparation—is an art which most Englishmen and English soldiers hold in small estimation. And yet to brilliant strategy the success of many of our recent campaigns has been directly due. The operations of 1882 are a conspicuous instance, and we are certainly not amongst those who regard Lord Kitchener's conquest of the Soudan as a mere triumph of organisation. Organisation, in our opinion, was triumphant because it was in harmony with a fine strategical conception. In all proba.
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bility a long series of savage campaigns-in which, as a general rule, strategy is of small account-has had much to say to our want of strategical preparation. Let us hope, however, that the object-lesson so lately before us will not be lost. The need of such preparation was brought home to the French by the disasters of 1870.
No. CCCXCII. will be published in April.
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