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me and the former Master General, the whole of which had been seen by Sir Robert Peel. Nothing can be more legitimate than a confidential letter from the Commander in Chief to the Chief Engineer. He had been in constant confidential communication with Lord Anglesey and me, and I could not think it possible that a word that I should write would ever be read by the public. My opinion has invariably been that the effectual and indeed only safe mode of bringing the important subject of that letter to the cognisance of the public was by the Government itself, and I cannot state how much I feel that this letter should have been published, which certainly treats of the whole subject, past, present, and future.
—Believe me, ever yours most faithfully, WELLINGTON.
I will attend your Lordship in London whenever you will send for me.
Forced on by the prevalent excitement, and unable to reconcile the contrary views of his colleagues, Lord John drew up the following memorandum, which was printed and circulated confidentially to the Cabinet on January 1o :—
The question of national defence is now likely to obtain that public attention which two years ago it seemed so little likely to command. At the same time, the Government must be careful not to exaggerate the danger, any more than to overrate the security, of our position. France is the country nearest to us as a neighbour, most formidable as a rival, and with whom we have at once the most frequent opportunities of friendly concert and the greatest probability of irreconcilable quarrel. The danger of war, it must be observed, will be greatly increased if the two countries are in an unequal state of preparation. For, if both are unprepared, both will take some time to prepare before hostilities are begun ; if both are prepared, both will be unwilling to rush into war at the hazard of severe and instant retaliation, or at least of successful repulse. But, if one is prepared and the other is not, from the moment when war becomes probable the State which is prepared becomes eager to take advantage of its superiority, before the balance of forces can be restored by measures of recruiting and equipment. In August 1840 and in August 1844 we were in considerable danger of sudden hostilities without much previous time for preparation. Thus it is clear that hostilities may break out suddenly, not by our own choice, and only to be averted by dishonourable or painful sacrifices of national character or interests. It can hardly be doubted that the French have for a long time made preparations for a naval war; that such preparations can be directed against no other power than England ; and that the preparations of England have been, as is usual in such cases, slackened by the security which the great victories of the end of the last war have inspired. There are three modes by which the French may injure and assail England on the breaking out of a war – 1. By sending steamers to alarm our coasts and interrupt our trade, as proposed by the Prince de Joinville. 2. By landing a force to bombard and destroy our naval and military arsenals. 3. By invading England with an army of 30, ooo or 40,000 men, and marching at once to London. The first mode, though of importance, need not here be discussed. It will be sufficient that measures of detailed precaution should be taken against such a danger. The second and third modes may be discussed together, as they depend on the means which the French have of crossing the Chamnel. Let it be admitted that the French have twenty steamers capable of carrying 1,500 men each. In order to land 30, ooo men in England, these steamers must first be collected in one or two ports. Such a measure would in itself be a menace, and it would be justifiable and right, as a precaution in self-defence, to assemble steamers and sailing men-of-war on our side, and send them to watch the port where the French were collecting theirs. The first step, therefore, is to have a sufficient naval force at home to be able to collect such a squadron of vigilance. It may be said that the French troops might come over in separate detachments of two or three steamers from different ports; but such a measure would require a combination so difficult as to make it almost impracticable ; and, if it failed, would hazard the loss of all the ships and troops employed. Even the passage of twenty steamers together, when collected, would require arrangement and precision. All must conform to the speed of the slowest steamer, otherwise the squadron would be separated. But such speed, being inferior to that of our fast steamers, would give time for notice and orders to assemble and keep our force together at a given point.
There are many points to consider on this subject, which I pass over here, but which deserve the serious consideration of the Admiralty. It is obvious that our steamers could blockade or watch a port with a strong wind blowing in shore, but our sailing-vessels would be driven away. Could the steamers oppose the egress of the French force alone? If such force comprised line-of-battle ships and frigates, must not the blockading or watching steamers retire P Would not their retreat leave the passage open to the enemy? The next point, therefore, is to have a sufficient force to defend our own shores. Such force must consist of 1. Ships. 2. Fortifications. 3. Troops. 1. We must have the means of collecting a strong squadron of line-of-battle ships and steamers in the Downs, or at Spithead, Torbay, or Plymouth. Such a squadron, upon hearing of the departure of an enemy from an opposite port, would at once be in readiness to direct itself to the point menaced. Say the enemy landed near Brighton, the fleet would soon be there—would fight, sink, and destroy any vessels left on the coast, and would be ready to intercept any fresh supplies. 2. Next. The invading force might attack Portsmouth by land. We must have Portsmouth fortified by land as well as by sea, so as to make it capable of standing a regular siege. Measures for the defence of our dockyards have been for some time in preparation. The late Government ordered block-ships to be got ready, to furnish batteries of defence against an attack by sea. The present have organised dockyard battalions, and further measures are in contemplation, of which Lord Auckland has the direction. 3. I come to the most vulnerable part of our present position. Let us suppose the French had overcome all difficulties, and had landed 30,000 men, with artillery and cavalry, on our shores. We must oppose them with an army in the field. We have 55,000 men of regular troops in the British Islands, 13,000 pensioners, and 14,000 yeomanry. Of these, the first only are available for all services. Not less than 10,000 must be sent on the breaking out of war to reinforce our garrisons abroad, to be followed by Io, ooo more in the next year; 25,000 would be required by different garrisons; leaving only 20,000 for the defence of England and Ireland. It is manifest that, unless we can supply our garrisons by some other means, and add largely to our force in the field, we have no adequate force to oppose to an invading army.
It is proposed to do this by a militia force. Two plans have been framed for this purpose :1. The first is to raise 1 oo, ooo men by way of ballot in Great Britain, to serve for seven years, to be embodied on the breaking out of a war. 2. The second is to postpone the raising of a regular militia till the breaking out of war, and to raise only a local militia, to serve in their own counties, and not to leave them except on an imminent risk of invasion. The first is the plan of the late Government. It is open to the serious objection that it subjects Ioo,ooo or 130,000 men to the chance that they may be for five or six years taken away from their homes and occupations—their industry lost, their position gone, and their prospects of settling in life abandoned for a long period. Such a chance would make the militia service unpopular in the extreme. It would likewise entail a very heavy charge for the wives and families of militia men on the breaking out of war. The second plan has the fatal defect, that of not providing a drilled body of men at the breaking out of war. The militia would be levied in a hurry, amid the confusion of recruiting for the regular army; the local militia would not be available till the enemy were in Sussex or Hampshire. I should propose to combine the two plans, and to obviate, in degree at least, the disadvantages of each. My plan is— 1. That a number of men amounting to 150,000 in Great Britain, and 50,000 for Ireland, should be raised for the service of the militia. 2. That one-fifth of this force should be balloted for, and raised every year. 3. That the men so raised should be bound to serve for five years. 4. That all men between eighteen and twenty-five should be liable to ballot for the militia. o 5. That for the first three years of service they should be liable to be called out for 28, 28, and 21 days respectively; and for the last two years for 14 days each year in time of peace. 6. That for the first three years they should be liable to serve as embodied militia for two years of war. That during the last two years they should be bound to leave their counties only on the imminent danger of invasion. 7. That the mode of raising the force should be settled by regulations prepared by the Secretary at War, and be embodied in a Bill to be laid before Parliament.
There would thus be
In the first year, 40,000 men exercised and trained for twentyeight days, and liable to serve in garrisons, and for the defence of the country, for two years of war.
In the second, 80,000 ditto.
In the third, 120,000 ditto ; but the first 40,000 would have twenty-one days' drill only.
In the fourth, there would be 120,000 so serving, and 40,000 local militia.
In the fifth, 120,000 as before, and 80,000 local militia ; and so on in all subsequent years.
A man balloted at 18 would be free at 23, unless it were thought proper to retain him for one year of war, if the five years had not expired before the breaking out of war.
A man balloted at 25 would be free at 30.
If no war occurred, these inen would not have to leave their homes. If war occurred, they would have to leave them for two years before 30 years of age. At the breaking out of war, when the system was complete, 120,000 men would be liable to serve in the embodied militia. Two years would give time to raise the regular force, and each year 40,000 balloted men would be added to the militia. It might then be provided that the men thereafter raised for the militia should serve for five years in the embodied, and five other years
in the local militia. The number of adult males in the United Kingdom may be taken at 7,000,000. The number between 18 and 25 may be estimated at [blank in original].
Thus the means of defence at the disposal of the Government, in case of a sudden war, would be
I. A good naval force, consisting partly of steamers, ready to watch or blockade a foreign port.
2. Dockyard battalions and a coast militia. 3. An army of 55,000 to 60,000 men of regular troops. 4. Pensioners to the amount of 15,000 men. 5. A militia in 1848 of 40,000 men, and in 1851 of 120,000
6. A local militia in 1851 and subsequent years. January 10, 1848.
Lord Palmerston at once wrote –
I have read with great pleasure your very clear and able paper, which I herewith return to you.