페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

eminently fitted him for the task of checkmating an enemy's every move — for a purely defensive campaign. He was always on hand and always ready; for he never wearied, and he knew his business. To great combinations he was perhaps unequal. At all events, such are not associated with his name. The distant scene he did not see; but step by step he saw his way with absolute precision, and followed it with unhesitating resolution. With a force inferior throughout, to have saved, in one campaign, the British fleet, New York, and Rhode Island, with the entire British army, which was divided between those two stations and dependent upon the sea, is an achievement unsurpassed in the annals of naval defensive warfare. It may be added that his accomplishment is the measure of his adversary's deficiencies.

Howe's squadron had been constituted in 1776 with reference to the colonial struggle only, and to shallow water, and therefore was composed, very properly, of cruisers, and of ships of the line of the smaller classes; there being several fifties, and nothing larger than a sixty-four. When war with France threatened, the Ministry, having long warning, committed an unpardonable fault in allowing such a force to be confronted by one so superior as that which sailed from Toulon, in April, 1778. This should have been stopped on its way, or, failing that, its arrival in America should have been preceded by a British reinforcement. As it was, the government was saved from a tremendous disaster only by the efficiency of its Admiral and the inefficiency of his antagonist. As is not too uncommon, gratitude was swamped by the instinct of self-preservation from the national wrath, excited by this, and by other simultaneous evidences of neglect. An attempt was made to disparage Howe's conduct, and to prove that his force was even superior to that of the French, by adding together the guns in all his ships, disregarding their classes, or by combining groups of his small vessels against d'Estaing's larger units. The instrument of the attack was a naval officer, of some rank but slender professional credit, who at this most opportune moment underwent a political conversion, which earned him employment on the one hand, and the charge of apostasy on the other. For this kind of professional arithmetic, Howe felt and expressed just and utter contempt. Two and two make four in a primer, but in the field they may make three, or they may make five. Not to speak of the greater defensive power of heavy ships, nor of the concentration of their fire, the unity of direction under one captain possesses here also that importance which has caused unity of command and of effort to be recognised as the prime element in military efficiency, from the greatest things to the smallest. Taken together, the three elements—greater defensive power, concentration of fire, and unity of direction — constitute a decisive and permanent argument in favor of big ships, in Howe's days as in our own. Doubtless, now, as then, there is a limit; most arguments can be pushed to an absurdum, intellectual or practical. To draw a line is always hard; but, if we cannot tell just where the line has been passed we can recognise that one ship is much too big, while another certainly is not. Between the two an approximation to an exact result can be made.

On his return to New York on September 11th, Howe found there Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker1 with six ships of the line of Byron's squadron. Considering his task now accomplished, Howe decided to return to England, in virtue of a permission granted some time before at his own request. The duty against the Americans, lately his fellow-country

1 Later Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, Bart., who perished in the Cato in 1783. He was father of that Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, who in 1801 was Nelson's commander-in-chief at Copenhagen, and who in 1778 commanded the Phoenix, 44, in Howe's fleet. (Ante, pp. 39,46.) men, had been always distasteful to him, although he did not absolutely refuse to undertake it, as did Admiral Keppel. The entrance of France into the quarrel, and the coming of d'Estaing, refreshed the spirits of the veteran, who moreover scorned to abandon his command in the face of such odds. Now, with the British positions secure, and superiority of force insured for the time being, he gladly turned over his charge and sailed for home; burning against the Admiralty with a wrath common to most of the distinguished seamen of that war. He was not employed afloat again until a change of Ministry took place, in 1782.

CHAPTER V

THE NAVAL WAR IN EUROPE. THE BATTLE OF

USHANT

[ocr errors]

DURING the same two months that saw the contest between d'Estaing and Howe in America the only encounter between nearly equal fleets in 1778 took place in European waters. Admiral Keppel, having returned to Spithead after the affair between the Belle Poule and the Arethtisa,1 again put to sea on the 9th of July, with a force increased to thirty ships of the line. He had been mortified by the necessity of avoiding action, and of even retiring into port, with the inadequate numbers before under his command, and his mind was fixed now to compel an engagement, if he met the French.

The Brest fleet also put to sea, the day before Keppel, under the command of Admiral the Comte d'Orvilliers. It contained thirty-two ships of the line. Of these, three — a 64, a 60, and a 50 — were not considered fit for the line of battle, which was thus reduced to twenty-nine sail, carrying 2098 guns. To these the British opposed an aggregate of 2278; but comparison by this means only is very rough. Not only the sizes of the guns, but the classes and weight of the vessels need to be considered. In the particular instance the matter is of little importance; the action being indecisive, and credit depending upon manoeuvres rather than upon fighting.

1 Ante, pp. 61, 62.

« 이전계속 »