Chapter 103920001

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Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103920001
Full Date1871-09-09
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Word Count2757
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Last Corrected2018-04-20
Newspaper TitleWagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverine Reporter
Trove TitleThe Second Armada: A Chapter of Future History
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THE SECOND ARMADA.

(A Chapter of Future History.)

" 'Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,

'And coming events cast their shadows before."

Shortly after the close of the war

between France and Germany in 1871, the English alarmists seemed unreason- able to an extent that verged on foolishness. Never was there a period when; to all outward seeming, an in-, vasion of England was less probable or feasible. France was stricken down and disabled. We had amicably arranged our differences with the United States, and tho greatest military nation of tho Continent had apparently neither the disposition nor the power

to become a formidable assailant of our

independence. If ever there was a country whoso interests and constitu- tion pointed to a pacific policy, it was United Germany. She required peace to consolidate her empire, and she could not make war without calling the mercantile man from his desk, the professional or literary man from his study; the shopkeeper from his counter, and the agriculturist from the plough. Then, all-powerful on land, she was powerless on the seas. A contest be- tween her and the maritime population of an island must resemble a contest

between a dog and a fish, in which neither could quit its proper element for aggressive purposes without im- minent risk of discomfiture or destruc-

tion. Germany would no more think of sending an armament across the North Sea to invade England than England would think of landing an army at Hamburg to advance on Berlin. Nor was the navy of the United States sufficiently strong in seagoing ironclads like the Minotaur or Monarch, to cross the Atlantic and encounter the English

in their own waters.

So thought and argued the wise men of England in 1871. They thought and argued well, but wise men, how ever well they argue, will sometimes turn out wrong; and they, turned out substantially wrong in this instance as wrong as the late lamented Cobden when he made the tour of Europe to announce that, for all time to come, Free Trade had rendered war a moral impossibility. Unluckily, mankind are more swayed by their passions, their prejudices, their caprices, and their vanity than by their well-understood interests; and so it fell out that, in the year 1874, the greatest of the Continental Powers, having taken umbrage at the tone and attitude of England in reference to sundry fresh parcellings out of territory, a League, including the most powerful States, was formed for the avowed purpose of reducing the British Isles to the con- dition of conquered provinces to be divided among the conquerors. The best mode of invading England had been so often the subject of competi- tive examinations at the military schools that an eager desire to test theory by practice was felt by every young officer of promise, and a saying of the greatest of modern strategists had got abroad to the effect that the capture of London, as compared with that of Paris, would be child's play (Kinderspiel). The time was opportune; for the long-smouldering hostility.of the United States to Great Britain, through a series of untoward accidents, was again kindling into flame. Ac- cordingly, all tho shipping of the Baltic, all the naval resources of the League, were put under requisition,

and a sufficient number of vessels was

built especially adapted for the landing of troops, including cavalry and artil- lery. In particular, a large provision

was made of flat-bottomed boats car-

rying 100 or 150 men, the sides of which could be let down when they were in shallow water or bad been run oh shore. A formidable force of

ironclads,was to precede the transports and engage any opposing force while the landing was effected, which, it was calculated, would be easily accomp- lished in six hours. As the Army of Invasion was computed at from 150,000 to 200,000 men, the allotted time seemed short to those who had wit- nessed the landing of the French and English army in the Crimea, which oc- cupied two days, although that army did not exceed 55,000 men, and the landing was unopposed. But the great Strategist had pronounced six hours sufficient; and the great Strategist could not possibly have miscalculated such a problem.

In recent histories, claiming to be as veracious and trustworthy as this, it has been confidently assumed that

we thick-skulled islanders would wait quietly to be knocked on the head like the birds called boobies, or caught, like sparrows, by putting salt upon our tails.. But although we are constantly running into extremes, although we are by turns profuse from groundless alarm and niggardly, from undue con- fidence; although Representative insti- tutions are by no means favourable to the production of good administrators, we are not altogether wanting in an emergency, and we had profited some what from the erors of our neighbours

in 1870-71. Our army had been placed

on a respectable footing in point of numbers; it was well officered under the new system of selection ; both Regulars and Irregulars had been sup- plied with the most improved pattern of breechloaders ; our artillery, as re- gards quality, was (what Bugeaud said of our infantry) the best in Europe ; the coast had been carefully surveyed, earthworks thrown up in some places, rifle pits dug in others, and railway communication rendered so complete that a large force might be concen- trated at the shortest notice on a point. It need hardly be added that our diplo- matic agents were on the alert, so

that an enormous armament could not

be got together in any quarter of Europe without creating an alarm. In point of fact, our Government were opportunely advised that the invasion

was seriously meditated, and that they must be simultaneously on their guard against an American squadron which

was to co-operate in a Fenian insur- rection of Ireland. The bulk of the English Navy was, as usual, scattered abroad, but the Channel Fleet, com-, plete in numbers and equipment, was in the Downs, and a number of gun- boats and other vessels had been equipped and put to sea under orders similar to those issued by Nelson when Napoleon was meditating an invasion

from Boulogne :—

" Do not throw away your lives use- lessly ; retreat towards your own shores before an overwhelming force ; but if the enemy attempt to land, dash among them at all hazards, and fight on till you sink them or are sunk."

It was on the evening of the 17th of June, 1874, that the Admiralty re- ceived intelligence that an American squadron had been sighted off Milford Haven on its way to the Irish Sea, and my Lords immediately telegraphed to the Commander of the Channel Fleet, Admiral Sir Henry Keppel, to be on the look out. Three hours after- wards arrived the news that the Armada had been descried, and sub- sequent reports coming in rapidly left little doubt that tho Suffolk coast had been chosen for the landing. Tho very locality might be inferred with toler- able certainty from its almost exclusive adaptation to the purpose, and from the ascertained fact that foreign officers disguised as artists had been seen

sketching it. We also, with all our talk about un-English practices, had not disdained to employ spies. Fouché certainly sent the Duke of Wellington Napoleon's plan of the Waterloo cam- paign, though it came too late ; and it was shrewdly suspected, from the unusual foresight shown by the English Government that there was a Fouché in the military Cabinet of the League.

So soon as the course of the head most ships left no doubt of the precise destination of the expedition, the tele- graphs were set to work, and all the available troops were brought down without delay. His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief was present in person, but the detailed arrange- ments were left to Lord Strathnairn and Lord Sandhurst, assisted by General Wolseley and a well-appointed Staff. A couple of hours sufficed to dig in the sand such rifle pits and trenches as were still wanting; and these were manned with the Guards,

the Rifles, a battalion of Marines, and the Inns of Court Volunteers. The rocky and uneven ground behind the beach was occupied by a strong body of Volunteers, under the direction of Lord Elcho, whose dispositions were an improvement on those of Roderick

Dhu .-—

" —-he waved his hand,

" Down sank tho disappearing band.

" Each warrior vanished where he stood,

" In broom or bracken, hearth or wood."

Taking advantage of every inequality of the ground, he placed his men so as

to be within easy range of the boats : when they should near the shore, and

under shelter from the covering fire of the ships. A brigade, consisting of three regiments of the Line, the Sher- wood Rangers, and two batteries of horse artillery, was kept in reserve under Sir Richard Airey. The rest of the artillery, with the exception of one masked battery, was placed on a mound or eminence commanding a large portion of the beach, and the cavalry, including the Blues and 2d Life Guards, under Lieutenant-General Sir James Scarlett, were placed behind the heights on the extreme left, where they could easily reach the shore. In the contingency of the enemy effecting a landing in force, the cavalry were to charge along the beach, and roll them up before they had time to form. With them, at the head of his Hussar regiment, was the Heir Apparent to the Throne, irresistibly impelled by the hereditary courage of his race: to disobey a royal order (issued from Bal- moral) not to leave the capital. Tor- pedoes were laid down by a flotilla of gun-boats under Rear-Admiral Sherard Osborn, which withdrew when this duty was performed, prepared to operate on the flank of the Armada when the landing should commence.

It was a time of agitating suspense to the bravest while the ships of war were taking up their positions to cover the landing, and the transports were transferring their armed cargoes to the boats. After ascertaining by careful sounding that they could approach no nearer, they opened thoer fire at about the distance of a mile. The rocks were shelled, and the strand was swept with round-shot, causing little or no loss to the English, who never showed a finger above rifle pit or trench, till the landing boats intervened and the iron hail necessarily ceased. Then a signal gun was heard ; the battery in the centre of their position was un- masked ; shells and plunging shot from the mounds fell thick and fast among the boats ; a line of fire ran along tho beach ; the rocks and heights were all in a blaze with musketry.

Tho effect was withering when volley after volley by practised marksmen, each taking an individual aim, poured into boats crowded with men whose orders were to land and rush to close quarters without: returning a shot. And gallantly did they struggle to carry out the programme. Half of one boat's crew and a third of another, some 150 men at the most, did actually reach dry land and make a rush at the trench held by the Guards ; who shot down most of them as they approached, then sprang up and drove the re- mainder back into the water with the bayonet. Here occurred one of those incidents which show that modern warfare, with all its mechanical con- trivances for wholesale and cold- blooded butchery, still affords scope for chivalry and romance. An officer of distinguished mien,. the scion of a

princely house, was pushed to the water's edge, overpowered and ex- hausted, though still fighting desper- ately, when his situation was seen by a young lieutenant of the invading navy from a ship's launch in which he had been carrying orders. Without a moment's hesitation, he commanded tho crew to pull back, and they obeyed with such a will that in a few seconds the boat was run aground not many yards from their gallant countryman, and they were springing to the rescue, when a.ball struck the lieutenant and he fell. He sacrificed his life to his chivalry, and not a man of the heroic boat's crew got away.

Among the many casualties which added to the confusion, a shell exploded

in the boat which carried the leader of the headmost division and his staff, kill- ing and wounding most of them ; and two transports, carrying artillery, ran upon torpedoes and were blown up. Things began to look very unlike Kinderspiel. But largo sacrifices had been counted on ; it was known and felt that a first landing on the British coast must be effected in the spirit of a forlorn hope, and fresh boats were hurrying in or loading from the trans- ports ; when, hark ! a low rumbling sound, like intermitting thunder, is heard from far off, across the sea. It is the sound of cannon on the extreme left of the Armada. It can be nothing but the English Channel Fleet. A fast steamer had in fact overtaken the Admiral, and, dispatching two of his ships to watch the Americans, he had come back (like Desaix at Marengo) to give a decisive turn to the wavering fortunes of the day—the day big with the fate of England, of Europe, of the world. He brought with him seven first-class ironclads, with more than twice as many others of heavy metal; and it was a grand and fearful spectacle, the approach of those magnificent machines, instinct with life and motion, cleaving their way right onward through the thick of the hostile arma- ment without stopping to engage the ships of war, and running down trans- port after transport; while almost every shot from their enormous guns sent a ship to the bottom, or left a boatload of gallant men struggling for life in the waves. If such a fate is appalling to think of or contemplate at a safe distance, what it must it have been to those who saw and felt that their own turn was coming—who watched with fixed and fascinated gaze the rush of the iron monster that was about to pass crashing over them ?

The military organisation of the invading army was beyond all praise ;

an order emanating from head-quarters might be said to live along the line, and the skill to restore a losing battle or effect a retreat was never wanting, any more than the strategy which wins or improves a victory. But what did such skill avail here, on an untried element, where soldiers and generals were equally helpless, where strategy was useless and bravery thrown away ? All hope of carrying out any pre-organised plan was at an end. Sauve qui peut became the word among the hired or pressed masters of transports, who, such of them as escaped being run down, made off without waiting to take in their original freights. The wind rose and

soon freshened to a gale. The gun boats which had fallen back before the advancing armament now assailed it on every side. The fire of shells was continued from the heights. A desper- ate sea-fight was prolonged till dark, and partially continued through the night. When morning broke, the catastrophe was made clear in all its horrors. The second Armada had shared the fate of the first. Most of the hostile ironclads were missing. That which carried Caesar and his for- tunes—in other words, the Admiral- Generalissimo and his suite had received a six-hundred-pound steel- headed shot between wind and water,

and had no alternative but to strike. Princes, Archdukes, and Dukes were made prisoners by the score. The renowned Chief of a brilliant Staff was picked up in an exhausted state while endeavouring to regain his ship by swimming, after the boat in which he was trying to remedy the confusion had been swamped by the surge ; and a Serene Highness, who had made his way to the shore at the head of his contingent, was with difficulty per- suaded to give up his sword to Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, who enacted the part of Bayard to Francis ?. at

Pavia. But we reserve for another chapter the various episodes of this over - memorable triumph and its

results.