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Switzerland. But France was easily the strongest of all the Great
Powers, and she was under a single command; while Spain and Austria
were lukewarm and weak against her, the many little German countries
could not act well together, and Great Britain had many Jacobites at
home besides still more in Ireland. Thus the Dutch and British friends
of King William were the only ones to be depended on through thick and
thin.

Moreover, the Navy had grown dangerously weak under the last two Stuart
kings; and some of its men were Jacobites who knew the French king
wished to put the Stuarts on the British throne again. So, when the
great French admiral, Tourville, defeated the Dutch and British fleets
off Beachy Head in 1690, the British fought far more feebly than the
Dutch, who did as well as the best of them had done when led by the
immortal van Tromp. Luckily for the British, Louis XIV did not want to
make them hate him more than he could help, because he hoped to use
them for his own ends when he had brought them under James again.
Better still, William beat James in Ireland about the same time. Best
of all, the Royal Navy began to renew its strength; while it made up
its mind to stop foreign invasions of every kind. Even Jacobite
officers swore they would stop the French fleet, even if James himself
was on board of it. Then the tide of fortune turned for good and all.

In the spring of 1692 Louis and James, with a French and a
Jacobite-Irish army, were at La Hogue, in the north-west corner of the
Normandy peninsula, ready for the invasion of England. They had to
wait for Tourville to clear the Dutch and British fleets away. But
they thought these fleets had not joined company and that the British
fleet would be so full of Jacobites as to be easily defeated again. At
the first streak of dawn on the 19th of May Admiral Russell was off
Harfleur, at the north-east corner of the Normandy peninsula. His own
British ships of the line (that is, the ships of the biggest and
strongest kind) numbered sixty-three; while his Dutch allies had
thirty-six. Against these ninety-nine Tourville had only forty-four.
Yet, having been ordered to attack, and not getting the counter-order
till after the battle was over, he made for the overwhelming Dutch and
British with a skill and gallantry beyond all praise.

[Illustration: LA HOGUE, 1692.]

The fury of the fight centred round the _Soleil Royal_, Tourville's
flagship, which at last had to be turned out of the line. Then, as at
Jutland in the Great War, mist veiled the fleets, so that friend and
foe were mixed together. But the battle went on here and there between
different parts of the fleets; while a hot action was fought after dark
by Admiral Carter, who, though a Jacobite, was determined that no
foreign army should ever set foot in England. Mortally wounded, he
called to his flag captain, "Fight the ship as long as she swims," and
then fell dead. All through the foggy 20th the battle was continued
whenever the French and Allies could see each other. Next morning the
_Soleil Royal_ became so disabled that she drifted ashore near
Cherbourg. But Tourville had meanwhile shifted his flag to another
ship and fought his way into La Hogue with twelve of his best
men-of-war. Some of the other French ships escaped by reaching St.
Malo through the dangerous channel between La Hogue and the island of
Alderney. Five others escaped to the eastward, and four went so far
that they rounded Scotland before getting home.

On the 23rd and 24th Admiral Rooke, the future hero of Gibraltar,
sailed up the bay of La Hogue with his lighter vessels; then took to
his boats and burnt Tourville's men-of-war, supply ships, and even
rowboats, in full view of King Louis and King James and of their whole
army of invasion. No other navy has seen so many strange sights,
afloat and ashore, as have been seen by the British. Yet even the
British never saw a stranger sight than when the French cavalry charged
into the shallow water where the Dutch and British sailors were
finishing their work. A soldier-and-sailor rough-and-tumble followed,
sabres and cutlasses slashing like mad, and some of the horsemen being
dragged off their saddles by well-handled boat-hooks.

La Hogue was not a glorious victory, like Trafalgar, because the odds
were nine to four in favour of the Dutch and British. But it was one
of the great decisive battles of the world, because, from that time on,
the British Isles, though often threatened, were never again in really
serious danger of invasion.




CHAPTER XIV

THE SECOND WAR AGAINST LOUIS XIV

(1702-1713)

King Charles II of Spain, having no children, made a will leaving his
throne to Philip V, a grandson of Louis XIV, whose wife was sister to
Charles. Louis declared that "the Pyrenees had ceased to exist"; by
which boast he meant that he would govern the Spanish Empire through
his grandson, turn the Mediterranean into "a French lake," and work his
will against British sea-power, both mercantile and naval.

The war that followed was mostly fought on land; and the great British
hero of it was the famous Duke of Marlborough, who was a soldier, not a
sailor. But the facts that England, as usual, could not be invaded,
and that her armies, also as usual, fought victoriously on the
continent of Europe, prove how well British sea-power worked: closing
the sea to enemies, opening it for friends, moving armies to the best
bases on the coast, and keeping them supplied with all they needed at
the front - men, munitions, clothing, food, and everything else.

The great naval feat of this war was the daring attack Rooke made on
Gibraltar in 1704 with the help of some very gallant Dutch. Landing
all the Marines ("Soldier and Sailor too") on the narrow neck of ground
joining the famous Rock of Gibraltar to the mainland of Spain, and
ranging all his broadsides against the batteries on the seaward front,
Rooke soon beat the Spaniards from their guns and forced them to
surrender a place which, if properly defended, should have kept out a
fleet ten times as strong. No sooner had Gibraltar fallen than a
French fleet came to win it back. But, after a fierce battle off
Malaga, with over fifty ships a side, the French gave up the idea; and
from that day to this Gibraltar has been British.

British sea-power won many advantages by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
France and Spain agreed that one king should never rule both countries.
The British kept Gibraltar and Minorca, which together made two
splendid bases for their fleet in the Mediterranean; while France gave
up all her claims to Newfoundland and the Territory of Hudson Bay,
besides ceding Acadia (Nova Scotia), to the British Crown.




CHAPTER XV

WAR AGAINST FRANCE AND SPAIN

(1739-1748)

Though the same king did not reign over both countries the same family
did. So the French and Spanish Bourbons made a Family Compact against
British sea-power. Spain promised to take away from the British all
the trading rights she had been forced to grant them in America, while
France promised to help Spain to win Gibraltar back again.

When the secret began to leak out the feeling against the Bourbons ran
high; and when a merchant skipper called Jenkins paraded London,
showing the ear he said the Spaniards had cut off him in South America,
the people clamoured for immediate war. Admiral Vernon became
immensely popular when he took Porto Bello in the Spanish Main. But he
was beaten before Cartagena. He was a good admiral; but the Navy had
been shamefully neglected by the government during the long peace; and
no neglected navy can send out good fleets in a hurry.

Still, the Navy and mercantile marine were good enough to enable
British sea-power to turn the scale against Prince Charlie in Scotland
and against the French in Canada. The French tried to help the last of
the Stuarts by sending supply ships and men-of-war to Scotland. But
the British fleet kept off the men-of-war, seized the supply ships, and
advanced along the coast to support the army that was running the
Jacobites down. Prince Charlie's Jacobites had to carry everything by
land. The British army had most of its stores carried fen times better
by sea. Therefore, when the two armies met for their last fight at
Culloden, the Jacobites were worn out, while the British army was quite
fresh. In Canada it was the same story when the French fortress of
Louisbourg was entirely cut off from the sea by a British fleet and
forced to surrender or starve. In both cases the fleets and armies
worked together like the different parts of one body. At Louisbourg
the British land force was entirely made up of American colonists,
mostly from enlightened Massachusetts.

A fleet sent against the French in India failed to beat that excellent
French admiral, La Bourdonnais. But Anson's famous four years voyage
round the world (1740-44) was a wonderful success. The Navy having
been so much neglected by the government for so many years before the
war, Anson had to put up with some bad ships and worse men. Even poor
old pensioners were sent on board at the last minute to make up the
number required. Of course they soon died off like flies. But his
famous flagship, the _Centurion_, got through, beat everything that
stood up to her, and took vast quantities of Spanish gold and silver.
Yet this is by no means the most wonderful fact about the _Centurion_.
The most wonderful thing of all is, that, though she was only a
one-thousand-tonner (smaller than many a destroyer of the present day)
she had no fewer than eight officers who rose to high and well-won rank
in after years, and three - Anson, Saunders, and Keppel - who all became
First Lords of the Admiralty, and thus heads of the whole Navy.

[Illustration: H.M.S. _Centurion_ engaged and took the Spanish Galleon
_Nuestra Senhora de Capadongo_, from Acapulco bound to Manila, off Cape
Espiritu Santo, Philippine Islands, June 20, 1743.]

Three years after his return Anson won a victory over the French off
Cape Finisterre, while Hawke won another near the same place a few
months later. In both the French fought very well indeed; but, with
less skill in handling fleets and smaller numbers than the British,
they had no chance. One of Hawke's best captains was Saunders. Thus
twelve years before Pitt's conquest of Canada the three great admirals
most concerned with it had already been brought together.

The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war in 1748, settled
nothing and satisfied nobody. It was, in fact, only a truce to let the
tired opponents get their breath and prepare for the world-wide
struggle which was to settle the question of oversea empire.

The British in America were very angry with the Mother Country for
giving back Louisbourg. But they were much too narrow in their views;
for their own fate in America depended entirely on the strength of the
Royal Navy, which itself depended on having a safe base in the Mother
Country. Now, France had conquered those parts of the once Spanish but
then Austrian Netherlands which included the present coast of Belgium;
and Britain could no more allow the French to threaten her naval base
from the coast of Belgium then than she could allow the Spaniards
before or the Germans in our own time. Therefore both she and her
colonists won many points in the game, when playing for safety, by
giving up Louisbourg, from which there could be no real danger, and so
getting France out of Belgium, from which the whole Empire might some
day have been struck a mortal blow.

CHAPTER XVI

PITT'S IMPERIAL WAR

(1756-1763)

The British part of the Seven Years War was rightly known as The
Maritime War, because Pitt, the greatest of British empire-builders,
based it entirely on British sea-power, both mercantile and naval.
Pitt had a four-fold plan. First, it is needless to say that he made
the Navy strong enough to keep the seaways open to friends and closed
to enemies; for once the seaways are cut the Empire will bleed to death
just as surely as a man will if you cut his veins and arteries. This
being always and everywhere the Navy's plainest duty it need not have
been mentioned here unless each other part of Pitt's fourfold plan had
not only depended on it but helped to make it work. The second part of
his plan was this: not to send British armies into the middle of
Europe, but to help Frederick the Great and other allies to pay their
own armies - a thing made possible by the wealth brought into Britain by
oversea trade. The third part was to attack the enemy wherever British
fleets and armies, acting together in "joint expeditions," could strike
the best blows from the sea. The fourth was to send joint expeditions
to conquer the French dominions overseas.

But lesser men than Pitt were at the head of the Government when the
fighting began; and it took some time to bring the ship of state on to
her proper course even after his mighty hand began to steer.

In 1754 "the shot heard round the world" was fired by the French at
Washington's American militiamen, who were building a fort on the spot
where Pittsburg stands today. The Americans were determined to stop
the French from "joining hands behind their backs" and thus closing
every road to the West all the way from Canada to New Orleans. So they
sent young George Washington to build a fort at the best junction of
the western trails. But he was defeated and had to surrender. Then
Braddock was sent out from England in 1755. But the French defeated
him too. Then France sent out to Canada as great a master of the art
of war on land as Drake had been by sea. This was the gallant and
noble Montcalm, who, after taking Oswego in 1756 and Fort William Henry
in 1757, utterly defeated a badly led British army, four times the size
of his own, at Ticonderoga in 1758.

Meanwhile war had been declared in Europe on the 18th of May, 1756. On
one side stood France, Austria, Saxony, Russia, and Sweden; on the
other, Great Britain, Prussia, and a few smaller German states, among
them Hanover and Hesse. Things went as badly here as overseas; for the
meaner kind of party politicians had been long in power, and the Fleet
and Army had both been neglected. There was almost a panic in England
while the French were preparing a joint expedition against Minorca in
the Mediterranean lest this might be turned against England herself.
Minorca was taken, a British fleet having failed to help it. Hawke and
Saunders were then sent to the Mediterranean as a "cargo of courage."
But the fortunes of war could not be changed at once; and they became
even worse next year (1757). The Austrians drove Frederick the Great
out of Bohemia. The French took Hanover. And, though Frederick ended
the year with two victories, Pitt's own first joint expedition failed
to take Rochefort on the west coast of France. Clive's great victory
at Plassey, which laid the foundation of our Indian Empire, was the
only silver lining to the British clouds of war.

But in 1758 Pitt was at last managing the war in his own perfect way;
and everything began to change for the better.

The enemy had already felt the force of British sea-power in three
different ways. They had felt it by losing hundreds of merchant
vessels on the outbreak of war. They had felt it in Hanover, where
they were ready to grant the Hanoverians any terms if the surrender
would only be made before a British fleet should appear on their flank.
And they had felt it during the Rochefort expedition, because, though
that was a wretched failure, they could not tell beforehand when or
where the blow would fall, or whether the fleet and army might not be
only feinting against Rochefort and then going on somewhere else.

There is no end to the advantages a joint fleet and army possesses over
an army alone, even when the army alone has many more men. It is ten
times easier to supply armies with what they need in the way of men,
guns, munitions, food, clothes, and other stores, when these supplies
can be carried by sea. It is ten times easier to keep your movements
secret at sea, where nobody lives and where the weaker sea-power can
never have the best of lookouts, than it is on land, where thousands of
eyes are watching you and thousands of tongues are talking. So, if
your army fights near a coast against an enemy who commands the sea,
you can never tell when or where he may suddenly attack your line of
supply by landing an army to cut it. The French generals, though they
had the best army in the world, were always looking over their
shoulders to see if some British joint expedition was not hovering
round the flank exposed to the coast. The French Navy, though very
gallant, could only help French shipping here and there, by fits and
starts, and at the greatest risk. So, while the British forces used
the highways of the sea the whole time, the French forces could only
use them now and then by great good luck. Thus British sea-power
hampered, spoilt, or ruined all the powers of the land.

The French wanted to save Louisbourg, the fall of which they knew would
be the first step to the British conquest of Canada. But they could
not send a fleet through the English Channel right under the eyes of
the British naval headquarters, from which they were themselves
expecting an attack. So they tried one from the Mediterranean. But
Osborne and Saunders shut the door in their faces at Gibraltar and
broke up their Toulon fleet as well. Then the French tried the Bay of
Biscay. But Hawke swooped down on the big convoy of supply vessels
sheltering at Aix and forced both them and their escorting men-of-war
to run aground in order to save themselves from being burnt. Meanwhile
large numbers of French farmers and fishermen had to be kept under arms
to guard the shores along the Channel. This, of course, was bad for
the harvest of both sea and land, on which the feeding of the men at
the front so greatly depended. But there was no help for it, as the
British fleet was watching its chance to pounce down on the first point
left unguarded, and the French fleet was not strong enough to fight it
out at sea. St. Malo and Cherbourg were successfully attacked. The
only failure was at St. Cast, where a silly old general made mistakes
of which a clever French one quickly took advantage.

Thus harassed, blockaded, and weakened on every coast, France could do
nothing to save Louisbourg, the first link in the long, thin chain of
French posts in America, where the fortunes of war were bound to follow
the side that had the greater sea-power. No army could fight in
America if cut off from Europe; because the powder and shot, muskets
and bayonets, cannons and cannon-balls, swords and pistols, all came
out from France and England. More than this, the backbone of both
armies were the French and British regulars, who also came from France
and England. Most of all, fleets were quite as important at Quebec and
Montreal as at Louisbourg, for ocean navigation went all those hundreds
of miles inland. Beyond these three great points, again, sea-power, of
a wholly inland kind, was all-important; for the French lived along
another line of waterways - from Montreal, across the Great Lakes, and
down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. You might as well expect
an army to march without legs as to carry on a war in America without
fleets of sea-going ships and flotillas of inland small craft, even
down to the birchbark canoe.

Pitt's plan for 1758 was to attack Canada on both flanks and work into
place for attacking her centre the following year. Louisbourg on the
coast of Cape Breton guarded her sea flank. Fort Duquesne (now
Pittsburg) at the forks of the Ohio guarded her land flank and her door
to the Golden West. Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain guarded her gateway
into the St. Lawrence from the south. Here the British attack, though
made with vastly superior numbers, was beaten back by the heroic and
skilful Montcalm. But Fort Duquesne, where Washington and Braddock had
been defeated, was taken by Forbes and re-named Pittshurg in honour of
the mighty Minister of War. Louisbourg likewise fell. So Canada was
beaten on both wings, though saved, for the moment, in the centre.

Louisbourg never had the slightest chance; for Boscawen's great fleet
cut it off from the sea so completely that no help the French could
spare could have forced its way in, even if it had been able to dodge
past the British off the coast of France. The British army, being well
supplied from the sea, not only cut Louisbourg off by land as well as
the fleet had cut it off by sea but was able to press the siege home
with such vigour that the French had to surrender after a brave defence
of no more than eight weeks. The hero of the British army at
Louisbourg was a young general of whom we shall soon hear more - Wolfe.

If we ever want to choose an Empire Year, then the one to choose,
beyond all shadow of a doubt, is 1759; and the hero of it, also beyond
all shadow of a doubt, is Pitt. Hardwicke, Pitt's chief civilian
adviser, was a truly magnificent statesman for war. Anson was a great
man at the head of the Navy. Ligonier was equally good at the head of
the Army, with a commission as "Commander-in-Chief of all His Majesty's
Forces in Great Britain and America," which showed how much Pitt
thought of the Canadian campaigns. The silent Saunders was one of the
best admirals that even England ever had. And when people drank to
"the eye of a Hawke, and the heart of a Wolfe!" they showed they knew
of other first-rate leaders too. But by far the greatest head and
heart, by far the most inspiring soul, of this whole vast Empire War
was Pitt. In many and many a war, down to our own day, the warriors
who have led the fleets and armies have been greater and nobler than
the statesmen who managed the government. But Pitt was greater, though
even he could not be nobler, than any of the warriors who served the
Empire under him; for he knew, better than any one else, how to make
fleets and armies work together as a single United Service, and how to
make the people who were not warriors work with the warriors for the
welfare of the whole United Empire. Of course he had a wonderful head
and a wonderful heart. But his crowning glory as an Empire-maker is
that he could rise above all the petty strife of party politicians and
give himself wholly to the Empire in the same spirit of self-sacrifice
as warriors show upon the field of battle.

In choosing commanders by land and sea Pitt always took the best, no
matter who or what their friends or parties were; and no commander left
Pitt's inspiring presence without feeling the fitter for the work in
hand. In planning the conquest of Canada, Pitt and Ligonier agreed
that Amherst and Wolfe were the men for the army, while Pitt and Anson
agreed that Saunders and Holmes were the men for the fleet. This was
all settled at the beginning of Empire Year - 1759.

But this was only a part, though the most important part, of Pitt's
Imperial plan. No point of vantage, the whole world round, escaped his
eagle eye. The French and Dutch were beaten in India; though both
fought well, and though the French fleet fought a drawn battle with the
British off Ceylon. On the continent of Europe our allies were helped
by a British army at the decisive victory of Minden, which drove the
French away from Hanover. And in the West Indies the island of
Guadaloupe was taken by a joint expedition of the usual kind; but only
after the French had made a splendid resistance of over three months.

Stung to the quick by these sudden blows from the sea France planned a
great invasion of the British Isles. She did not hide it, hoping
thereby to make the British keep their fleets at home in self-defence.
But though, as always happens, there were people weak enough to want to
keep the Navy close beside the coast and stupidly divided up, so that
plenty of timid folk could see the ships in front of them, just where
the enemy with one well handled fleet could beat them bit by bit, Pitt
paid no attention at all to any silly nonsense of the kind. He and
Anson knew, of course, that, when you have the stronger fleet, the only
right way is to defend yourself by attacking the enemy before he can
attack you. So, instead of wasting force at home, Pitt sent joint
expeditions all over the seaboard world, wherever they were needed to
guard or make the Empire overseas; while he sent fleets to beat or
blockade the French fleets off their own, not off the British, coasts.


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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 9 of 19)