A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

IV THE NAVAL SITUATION AT THE BEGINNING OF WAR

I

IT seems at first sight far easier to gauge the relative strength of fleets than of armies. As a satirical writer put it, each great Power claimed to have the best army in the world, but its navy was inexorably graded according to the number of capital ships and big guns which it possessed.

On such a comparison the strength of the Entente, after the adhesion of Japan and the neutrality of Italy, appeared absolutely overwhelming. The British fleet alone was considerably superior to that of the two Central Powers combined, while Austrian naval strength was inferior to that of France or Japan or even Russia.

Yet the sea is far larger than the land, and almost every part of it is a highway for ships. And while the conflict on land must be confined to comparatively small areas Within which the defence could be concentrated almost as rapidly as the attack, the vital interests of the Entente were flung about and scattered over all the oceans. One error in strategy, perhaps even a grave tactical mistake, might expose all these interests to immediate and irretrievable ruin.

Moreover, the whole conditions of naval warfare seemed to be in the melting-pot of a wholly untested revolution. 'His (the admiral's) warfare is almost entirely novel. Scarcely any one had even had any experience of sea- fighting. All had to learn the strange, new, unmeasured and, in times of peace, largely immeasurable conditions.'1

Since Admiral Togo had annihilated the Russian fleet

____________________
1
Quoted from an article by Winston Churchill in Landon Magazine September 1916). The violent controversies since 1918 between eminent professional sailors as to the fundamentals of British war strategy confirm Churchill's view.

-55-

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