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Oh faithful and loyal City-when the tale of the War is done,
SURPRISES IN WAR: THEIR REASONS AND REMEDY.
Among the many varied in- civilised or uncivilised, are more cidents of the present war, with skilful than the Boers in that its ups and downs, its successes special kind of warfare. Surand reverses, there are surely prises, moreover, must occur, even now some lessons to be and always have occurred in learnt, some morals to be all warfare from the beginning drawn. Of course the chapter of time, no matter how highly has not yet been closed, the trained are troops or how skilauthentic and detailed history ful and watchful are the officers of any portion of the campaign who command them. Human has not yet been written, hence nature remains human nature there is a danger of jumping all the world
men at hasty conclusions, of bestow- come in tired and weary, after, ing indiscriminate praise or say, a twenty miles' march, exequally indiscriminate blame. hausted from want of food, and Nevertheless, it would
are immediately sent on outpost that there are one or two fea- duty,- perhaps they have had tures already so clearly defined but a few hours' sleep for that we can discuss them with- several days and nights: is it out fear of hazarding prema- astonishing if, under such cirture judgment or of jumping at cumstances, a picquet sentry hasty conclusions.
falls asleep, and the army is If there is one point more surprised ? than another which we must Apart, however, from such regard with the least satisfac- natural and, it is to be feared, tion, and which we should lay inevitable accidents, it would seriously to heart, it is the fre- seem as if our troops during the quency with which our troops present war have had more than have been surprised, and the their fair share of such mislamentable results which have fortunes. Take some instances only too frequently followed that we know: there may be Before, however, attempting to many others of which we have ascertain whether this succes
Our very first sion of unfortunate mistakes fight, that of Talana Hill, was can be traced, as in my belief of the nature of a surprise, since it can in a great measure be it is said that the first intimatraced, to radical defects in our tion of the presence of the Boers system of military training in was given by their big gun the past, it is only fair to point dropping a shell into the camp out that probably no country at Dundee.
Then the “unin the world has greater natural toward incident” at Nicholson's advantages for the laying of Nek was no doubt a surprise of traps than the portion of South the most unfortunate descripAfrica in which our troops have tion. Similarly, at the battle of been engaged, and that no enemy, Colenso on December 15, which resulted in the loss of eleven and, had he possessed some guns
and over eleven hundred more cavalry and a couple of hors de combat, it was undoubt- batteries of horse artillery, the edly a surprise to find a number defeat of the Boers would have of concealed trenches and the been converted into a rout. bed of the river swarming with Unfortunately, at the Modder Boers. Of the remaining opera- river the conditions were retions in Natal, culminating in versed as regards surprise. It the relief of Ladysmith, at was not suspected that the present we know but few de- banks of the river were occutails, except that there was pied at all, so much so that the great loss of life and several troops had started to march on failures, which in the face of an empty stomachs, being told that enterprising enemy might have they would breakfast on the been converted into crushing other side of the river: hence the disasters. There seems, how- force fought until night, so it is ever, no reason to doubt that said, without having had any several of the attempts at relief food since the previous day. were rendered abortive by ignor- One regiment, the Argyll and ance of the features of the Sutherland Highlanders, which ground and of the enemy's dis- had been hurried up by rail the positions. Whether, however, night before and had missed this ignorance was caused by their dinner, were absolutely the absence of proper maps, by without food for thirty-six the extreme difficulty of obtain- hours. That the
battle was ing reliable information through won under such conditions, the medium of spies, or by the fighting, as the troops did, from want of proper scouting, now sunrise to sunset in the heat of rendered a duty of extreme a tropical sun without food or difficulty and danger from the water, is a striking testimony to long range of modern firearms, the tenacity, bravery, and disit is impossible to say as yet. cipline of the British soldier, Sir Redvers Buller in one of officer and man. his despatches, which I cannot Of Magersfontein it is scarcely think ever intended for necessary here to speak, or of publication, comparatively early the terrible disaster which befel in the campaign, animadverted the Highland Brigade, due unin very strong terms on the doubtedly to a surprise of the neglect of proper scouting by most sudden and fatal descripthe officers under his command, tion. How it happened, or who so it is to be feared that this was to blame, we know not,-it all - important service cannot matters little. Many gallant have been entirely perfect. men, among them some relatives
Let us now turn to the other and dear friends of my own, theatre of war. From all ac- have gone to their long rest. counts, at Belmont we scored Nearly all might now have a distinct success, and Lord been alive had matters gone Methuen caught the Boers nap- differently. ping, his victory was complete, I will not refer to the reverse
at Stormberg: the details are even suspected ?
These are well known. Enough has been questions which no doubt will said about it already.
some day: at We now come to the two last present they are certainly puzsurprises, perhaps the most un- zles. Of course it must be reaccountable, I will not say the membered that, although Lord most inexcusable, of any : I Roberts had nominally a very allude to Koorn Spruit, where large force of mounted men at seven guns with a valuable con- his disposal when these unforvoy were lost, besides a large tunate incidents occurred, the number of prisoners; and the great proportion of this force disaster of Reddersburg, where was practically dismounted, so
entire column, marching that the efficient screen of apparently “en l'air," was sur- cavalry covering the front and rounded by a force of Boers and flanks of the army could not entirely wiped out, every single be properly maintained. As man being put hors de combat as remounts were proor taken prisoner. We have vided, it was made clear that at present no idea who were to our cavalry and mounted men blame for these most lament- can show as much enterprise able incidents: it is, however, and as much observation, and safe to conclude that some one can perform their duties quite was to blame in both cases. It as efficiently, as those of any would be alike ungenerous and other army. premature to suggest that those Still it must be admitted actually in command of these that we have had some very different bodies thus lost were severe lessons, and the succesin fault. No doubt in course of sion of “untoward incidents' time we may hear more details, that has occurred—very many, and the unfortunate officers if not all, avoidable-caused in who are held responsible will the first instance a violent outonly too soon meet with their burst of depreciatory criticism punishment. There is, however, to be levelled against our officers, one point which, even at the their training, and their intelpresent stage of the war, seems ligence. The correspondent of to require explanation. How the Times' at Cape Town in did it happen that so large a the first instance led the attack, force of Boers, stated to number and his example was followed from 6000 to 8000 men, were by many letter-writers and other allowed to approach so close amateur critics and strategists. to Bloemfontein without their No one has ventured to question presence being discovered, and the devoted bravery, zeal, and without time being given either unflinching determination of the to withdraw or to reinforce officers of our army; but they Broadwood's Brigade? How, have been accused of being also, did it occur that the “stupid.” Not very long since presence of so formidable a body it was suggested in the House of the enemy near this ill-fated of Commons that what we remarching column was never quired was a professional and
not a “pleasure-seeking” army, cises. But the hot fit passed or words to that effect. No- away very quickly, and until thing could be more unjust or 1898 no general facilities have untrue than such an
been given to our army at home tion.
As regards actual in- to render themselves efficient for tellectual power, it is only the condition of actual warfare. necessary to refer to the severe The general officers cannot be competitive examination which, blamed: no powers were given until this war broke out, every them by Parliament to mancandidate for a commission had
over ground; and as to undergo. There is no call- regards money they were mising in civil life which exacted erably stinted, so much so that a more severe and searching in the exercises, which they test of intellectual capacity: managed with much energy and whether this test was judicious, by dint of great tact and trouble or calculated to secure the best to carry out, it was found necespossible material for officers, sary to lay it down as a condiis quite another question. As tion that officers attending them regards the disinclination of as staff, umpires, and suchlike officers at the present day to should bear all their own exstudy their profession, none but penses. It frequently happened the most ignorant could cast that many officers, quartered in such a reflection on them. various parts of the country,
Then why, it may very per- were very anxious to improve tinently be asked, have such their professional efficiency, but mistakes been made ? The could not afford the
expense answer is simple. The science which attendance at manoeuvres of war requires constant prac- without forage or allowances tice, like every other science, entailed. Can any one realise
, and the opportunity of this con- such short - sighted parsimony stant practice has not been even from a purely commercial afforded by the Government to point of view! It would be the larger proportion of our difficult to estimate how much officers and
Foreign some of these “untoward incicountries have long since rec- dents" have cost the country, ognised that only by annual quite apart from the valuable manoeuvres, and by constant lives sacrificed. It is computed exercise of every portion of that the war now costs the troops in small bodies, can any country two millions & -week. army be trained efficiently to Each one of these reverses has fulfil the part which they will most probably prolonged the be called to play in the event of war at least half a week, and
How differently have we at the lowest estimate has cost treated our soldiers ! It is true the country a million. The that after the French and Ger- ruinous effect of such a policy, man war we had a hot fit for a in which the training of officers couple of years, a Mancuvre was starved and stinted, does Act was passed, and a certain not seem to have occurred either sum of money voted by Parlia- to the military or civilian side of ment to carry out these exer
the War Office in former years.