And Ends

: The World Peril Of 1910

The defenders of Dover, terribly as they had suffered, and hopeless as

the defence really now seemed to be, were still not a little cheered by

the tidings of the complete and crushing defeat which had been inflicted

by Admiral Beresford and the Ithuriel on the French at Portsmouth and

Folkestone, and the brilliant capture of the whole of the two

Expeditionary Forces. Now, too, the destruction of the Allied Reserve

it possible to hope that at least a naval victory might be

obtained, and the transports prevented from crossing until the remains

of the British Fleet Reserve could be brought up to the rescue.

At any rate it might be possible, in spite of sunken ships and shattered

fortifications, to prevent, at least for a while, the pollution of

English soil by the presence of hostile forces, and to get on with the

mobilisation of regulars, militia, yeomanry and volunteers, which, as

might have been expected, this sudden declaration of war found in the

usual state of hopeless muddle and chaos.

But, even in the event of complete victory by sea, there would still be

those terrible cruisers of the air to be reckoned with, and they were

known to be as efficient as submarines as they were as airships.

Still, much had been done, and it was no use going to meet trouble

halfway. Moreover, Beresford's guns were beginning to talk down yonder

to the southward, and it was time for what was left of the North Sea

Squadron and the Home Fleet to reform and manoeuvre, so as to work to

the north-eastward, and get the enemy between the two British forces.

A very curious thing came to pass now. The French and German Fleets,

though still much superior to the defenders, had during that first awful

hour of the assault received a terrible mauling, especially from the

large guns of the England and the Scotland--sisters of the

Britain, and the flagships respectively of the North Sea Squadron and

the Home Fleet--and the totally unexpected and inexplicable loss of

their reserve; but the guns booming to the south-westward could only be

those of Admiral Durenne's victorious fleet. He would bring them

reinforcements more than enough, and with him, too, would come the three

Flying Fishes, which had been commissioned to destroy Portsmouth and

the battleships of the British Reserve. There need be no fear of not

getting the transports across now, and then the march of victory would


In a few minutes the fighting almost entirely ceased. The ships which

had been battering each other so heartily separated as if by mutual

consent, and the French and German admirals steamed to the

south-westward to join their allies and sweep the Strait of Dover clear

of those who had for so many hundred years considered--yes, and kept

it--as their own sea-freehold.

At the same time private signals were flashed through the air to the

Flying Fishes to retire on Calais, replenish their ammunition and

motive power, which they had been using so lavishly, and return at


Thus what was left of Dover, its furiously impotent soldiery, and its

sorely stricken inhabitants, had a respite at least until day dawned and

showed them the extent of the ruin that had been wrought.

It was nearly midnight when the three fleets joined, and just about

eight bells the clouds parted and dissolved under the impact of a stiff

nor'-easter, which had been gathering strength for the last two hours.

The war smoke drifted away, and the moon shone down clearly on the now

white-crested battlefield.

By its light and their own searchlights the French and German admirals,

steaming as they thought to join hands with their victorious friends,

saw the strangest and most exasperating sight that their eyes had ever

beheld. The advancing force was a curiously composed one. Trained, as

they were, to recognise at first sight every warship of every nation,

they could nevertheless hardly believe their eyes. There were six

battleships in the centre of the first line. One was the Britain,

three others were of the Edward the Seventh class; two were French. Of

the sixteen cruisers which formed the wings, seven were French--and

every warship of the whole lot was flying the White Ensign!

Did it mean disaster--almost impossible disaster--or was it only a ruse

de guerre?

They were not left very long in doubt. At three miles from a direction

almost due south-east of Dover, the advancing battleships opened fire

with their heavy forward guns, and the cruisers spread out in a fan on

either side of the French and German Fleets. The Britain, as though

glorying in her strength and speed, steamed ahead in solitary pride

right into the midst of the Allies, thundering and flaming ahead and

from each broadside. The Braunschweig had the bad luck to get in her

way. She made a desperate effort to get out of it; but eighteen knots

was no good against twenty-five. The huge ram crashed into her vitals as

she swerved, and reeling and pitching like some drunken leviathan, she

went down with a mighty plunge, and the Britain ploughed on over the

eddies that marked her ocean grave.

This was the beginning of the greatest and most decisive sea-fight that

had been fought since Trafalgar. The sailors of Britain knew that they

were fighting not only for the honour of their King and country, but, as

British sailors had not done for a hundred and four years, for the very

existence of England and the Empire. On the other hand, the Allies knew

that this battle meant the loss or the keeping of the command of the

sea, and therefore the possibility or otherwise of starving the United

Kingdom into submission after the landing had been effected.

So from midnight until dawn battleship thundered against battleship, and

cruiser engaged cruiser, while the torpedo craft darted with flaming

funnels in and out among the wrestling giants, and the submarines did

their deadly work in silence. Miracles of valour and devotion were

achieved on both sides. From admiral and commodore and captain in the

conning-towers to officers and men in barbettes and casemates, and the

sweating stokers and engineers in their steel prisons--which might well

become their tombs--every man risked and gave his life as cheerfully as

the most reckless commander or seaman on the torpedo flotillas.

It was a fight to the death, and every man knew it, and accepted the

fact with the grim joy of the true fighting man.

Naturally, no detailed description of the battle of Dover would be

possible, even if it were necessary to the narrative. Not a man who

survived it could have written such a description. All that was known to

the officials on shore was that every now and then an aerogram came,

telling in broken fragments of the sinking of a battleship or cruiser on

one side or the other, and the gradual weakening of the enemy's defence;

but to those who were waiting and watching so anxiously along the line

of cliffs, the only tidings that came were told by the gradual

slackening of the battle-thunder, and the ever-diminishing frequency of

the pale flashes of flame gleaming through the drifting gusts of smoke.

Then at last morning dawned, and the pale November sun lit up as sorry a

scene as human eyes had ever looked upon. Not a fourth of the ships

which had gone into action on either side were still afloat, and these

were little better than drifting wrecks.

All along the shore from East Wear Bay to the South Foreland lay the

shattered, shell-riddled hulks of what twelve hours before had been the

finest battleships and cruisers afloat, run ashore in despair to save

the lives of the few who had come alive through that awful battle-storm.

Outside them showed the masts and fighting-tops of those which had sunk

before reaching shore, and outside these again lay a score or so of

battleships and a few armoured cruisers, some down by the head, some by

the stern, and some listing badly to starboard or port--still afloat,

and still with a little fight left in them, in spite of their gashed

sides, torn decks, riddled topworks and smashed barbettes.

But, ghastly as the spectacle was, it was not long before a mighty cheer

went rolling along the cliffs and over the ruined town for, whether flew

the French or German flag, there was not a ship that French or German

sailor or marine had landed on English soil save as prisoners.

The old Sea Lion had for the first time in three hundred and fifty years

been attacked in his lair, and now as then he had turned and rent the

insolent intruder limb from limb.

The main German Fleet and the French Channel Fleet and North Sea

Squadrons had ceased to exist within twenty-four hours of the

commencement of hostilities.

Once more Britain had vindicated her claim to the proud title of Queen

of the Seas; once more the thunder of her enemies' guns had echoed back

from her white cliffs--and the echo had been a message of defeat and


If the grim game of war could only have been played now as it had been

even five years before, the victory would have already been with her,

for the cable from Gibraltar to the Lizard had that morning brought the

news from Admiral Commerell, Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean,

that he had been attacked by, and had almost destroyed, the combined

French Mediterranean and Russian Black Sea Fleets, and that, with the

aid of an Italian Squadron, he was blockading Toulon, Marseilles and

Bizerta. The captured French and Russian ships capable of repair had

been sent to Malta and Gibraltar to refit.

This, under the old conditions, would, of course, have meant checkmate

in the game of invasion, since not a hostile ship of any sort would have

dared to put to sea, and the crowded transports would have been as

useless as so many excursion steamers, but--