« PreviousContinue »
and, as we have shown, unusual constructive power, yet somehow one cannot look forward confidently to any such advance as would give her a permanent place in literature. Still we recognise gratefully that her books are not only pleasant to read, but are likely to exercise a salutary influence on morals and manners, for they are written by a woman who is evidently in touch, socially and intellectually, with the best culture of the day. Her philosophy of conduct and opinion is not paraded in detached passages, but it underlies the whole texture of her work, and there is nothing cheap or secondhand about it; such as it is, it is genuinely assimilated.
ART. XI.-See Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, January 14, 1900,
and English Newspapers. Now ow that we are in a position to sum up the broad
conclusions to be drawn from the Boer War it will be well to carry our minds back to the period which followed the week of disasters—the time which included the three failures of Magersfontein, of Stormberg, and of Colenso. The change in the situation which has taken place since then can hardly be better illustrated than by quoting the language of an experienced and able foreign officer, who just about that time contributed to the pages of the ' Berliner • Lokal-Anzeiger' an estimate of our prospects in the campaign. Just five months after the article was written, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, and Pretoria were in our hands. We are not prepared to make ourselves responsible for the quotation which Major-General von Schmeling makes from an alleged conversation of Lord Kitchener's. Lord Kitchener, like most public men, has been often made to say many things which he never uttered; but the words attributed to him were a very natural text for General von Schmeling to take under the circumstances. We think we shall do our readers a service by giving a free translation of the substance of this interesting article and by then inquiring how it has happened that this shrewd observer so completely miscalculated the conditions of the war.
The general is an officer on the active list of the German army, and in selecting his article as a test specimen of much of the criticism which has passed current abroad and at home we do so because it attracted considerable attention at the time, because the writer, from his position, is more worthy of the expenditure of ammunition than any other of the critics we have read, and because it is easy, from the form the article took, to bring it to the test of facts. Our home critics are exceedingly fond of making loose statements on which they found elaborate arguments. When brought to book as to their facts, they maintain their conclusions and take refuge in the well-worn plea that if the facts do not support them it is so much the worse for the facts.
Whether Lord Kitchener ever used the words or not, there can be no doubt that on January 14, when the article was written, the cart' was sticking in the mud.' It will be seen that it was the purpose of General von Schmeling to
demonstrate that not all the Queen's horses and all the Queen's men could ever draw it out again. If an Englishman were to attempt to set forth the difficulties of the problem which then lay before us he might be suspected of desiring only to magnify the achievement now that it has been accomplished. General Schmeling cannot be suspected of any such purpose. We do not attribute to him the least malevolence towards England as a cause of his mistake. We believe him to hav been partly deceived by a misunderstanding of the English Army and of the strength of the British Empire such as at the time was almost universal upon the Continent. It would hardly be unfair to say that almost all his mistakes were borrowed from English sources, though no doubt the imperfect information which reached the Continent tended to magnify these causes of error. Some of the points of his indictment are true, and ought not to be forgotten in the triumph of the sequel. In reading his comments it is well to bear in mind that, though the estimate he attributes to Lord Kitchener of 150,000 as required to finish the war by the end of the present year has been very greatly exceeded by the numbers that have been landed in South Africa, that fact does not cover his necessary retreat from an untenable position. His whole point consisted in showing that the British Empire had not resources in men or material that would enable us to bring the struggle to a triumphant conclusion either in one year from January 14, 1900, or in any time at all.
Let us with this preface now allow General von Schmeling to speak for himself. There is, we think, only one point in the paper that requires to be cleared up by recalling the historical facts. He is writing just when Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener had been sent for to take up the direction of affairs. He refers to certain expected raids of the Boers across the Tugela. These must not be confused with the actual invasion of Natal by the Boers which considerably preceded the battle of Colenso. It refers only to certain attempted movements which never attained to any importance, and were easily repulsed by Sir Redvers Buller :
«« The cart sticks in the mud!” With these words General Kitchener is said to have characterised the position in South Africa. He is also said to have added, “ We shall accustom our troops to another way of fight“ ing, and within a year and with 150,000 men we shall “succeed.” Yes, indeed, the cart sticks thoroughly in the
mud-sticks there finally, as we shall see. The first period
«« Our troops will get accustomed to another way of
fighting.” Not the least doubt about it. The brigades, on their own initiative, will not attack in the same way as on the Modder and Tugela; but how are they to make matters better and use their own power effectively ? For this training in time of peace and the teaching staff do not exist at present. The bivouac in face of the enemy is not a drill-ground.
The English officer at the front does not know of any danger for himself when he is in a fight, but he has not been taught how to look round-how to find the right moment, the right place for his independent action as his own particular contribution to the operations as a whole. The commanders lack practice in the commanding of troops. If in a peace manæuvre a commander of a Prussian detachment took up a position with his batteries 880 yards from the hostile riflemen, if the commander of a battalion marching in column allowed himself to be covered by hostile infantry fire, if a major of cavalry did not, quite on his own responsibility, protect the nearest infantry and artillery, if he did not inform them, if he did not send perpetual reports to them—these gentlemen, especially if the offence were repeated, would be placed where, in war, they could not do any damage; for it is well known that defective handling of troops in drill and manæuvring is always repeated in warfare. If a modern training for fighting is not possessed
by the troops
at all, it is impossible to make up for it in a war, as the English learnt during the American War of Independence.
• The battalions who have paid dear for their wisdom will go more cautiously into a second fight, and the fresh battalions will do the same after them.
The consequences will be much firing at long distances, wasting of ammunition, and minimum losses for the adversary. Firing and hitting at long ranges require training, indeed, just as much as does getting near enough to the enemy before firing, and of this English infantry have no idea, according to their own and their enemy's war reports. Nor will they learn it in this campaign, because it requires a detailed, minute training of the soldiers and an education of the officers, such as may enter into their very flesh and blood in a decade, but not in a few weeks. A frontal fight will not be successful in Africa until the artillery has prepared the ground to such an extent that the assailing infantry has only, when they attack, to find out any men who may be still concealed in a few places on the other side.
* Infantry and artillery will fulfil this task even with their present training for war, as soon as they have learnt how to help one another out of sore straits. But in South Africa, as elsewhere, he will win the day who, at the decisive point, brings forward the last battalion, and the long, thin lines of the Boer riflemen will be forced to a rapid retreat by a welldirected attack on their flank, similar to that in the Soudan. Yes, it is a pity that it is more easy to say that than to carry it out. Things have turned out to be even more difficult for the English cavalry. It would be different if dashing charges would do-if there were no need for their supporting the other arms. But in South Africa, in scouting, such as is their duty everywhere, they have to make up for a quite inadequate supply of maps. How can they, then, enable the commander to make his dispositions for many days in advance, according to the sketches and reports which are made as a result of their reconnaissances? How far the officers and non-commissioned officers are capable of fulfilling this task we are not able to say, but certainly the squadrons have not in them that high indispensable percentage of educated men who have been carefully trained for such service, a shortcoming to which General Gatacre may, perhaps, attribute his bad success. Such leaders of patrols cannot be trained off hand, during a campaign.