- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 4 Sep 1934, p. 1-16
- Keyes, Sir Roger, Speaker
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- Item Type
- The importance of sea power in relation to the British Empire. The issue of a reduction of armaments. The ever increasing rivalry in the field of sea-borne commerce. Maintaining the British Empire as in the past, by policing its outposts by soldiers, sailors, airmen or police, according to the circumstances, and the keeping of its communications safe and free from interference in peace and war by the Empire's great sea services. Some words about the English seamen who did great service in the pace in making England the Empire it is today and in making all these great Dominions a part of the great Commonwealth of British Nations. Some suggestions for reading, and some literary references to sea power. The unpredictable sea history of the next half century, such unpredictability as learned from the past. A detailed look at that history. Britain's lead in the right and proper use of armed forces in peace time. As an illustration, the timely arrival of British troops and ships at Shanghai when a vast cosmopolitan colony was in immediate and desperate danger. A look at a number of victories. The vital need for sea power, and the reasons why. The current situation in terms of the Empire's sea power, from the end of the Great War. The misguided Treaty of London, and its consequences. Some figures to show the Fleet's current limitations. The absolute necessity of a navy for England. The speaker's demand that the obsolete ships be replaced.
- Date of Original
- 4 Sep 1934
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- Full Text
- THE LESSONS OF NAVAL HISTORY
AN ADDRESS BY ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET, SIR ROGER KEYES, BT.
September 4, 1934
MR. DANA PORTER, President of The Empire Club, introduced the Guest Speaker,
SIR ROGER KEYES, Bt. PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, it is a rare privilege for an in. land city, such as Toronto, to be in a position to intro duce an Admiral of the Fleet.
Sir Roger Keyes is in this country as an ofhcia: representative of the British Government at the Jacque,, Cartier celebrations which have recently been held it Quebec. He is also here to represent the British Government at the celebrations which are being held in Old Fort Niagara, in New York State.
Those celebrations are now in progress and the Committee in charge of the arrangements of those celebrations have asked me to urge as many members of this Club as possible to avail themselves of the opportunity to gc either tonight or tomorrow night, to Old Fort Niagara to see the pageant which will be presented there.
Sir Roger Keyes has had a long and distinguished naval career. His name has been associated with submarine warfare, with the Mediterranean fleet at different times and at one time during the War he was Director of Plans of the Admiralty. His wartime service culminated in the year 1918, in the famous operations which were conducted against Zeebrugge and Ostend. Sir Roger Keyes was in charge of those operations.
Sir Roger Keyes, having the rank of Admiral of the Fleet, which in the Navy is equal to Field Marshal in the army, is of the only rank of the Navy which is permitted under the laws of Great Britain to run for Parliament. This spring, Sir Roger Keyes allowed himself to accept a nomination in a by-election in Great Britain and now represents a constituency as a Member of the House of Commons. (Applause.)
Sir Roger Keyes represents that happy blend of one who has a very high technical knowledge and experience and those political gifts and accomplishments which enable him to convey his message to the minds and the hearts of the public at large. Sir Rogers Keyes.
SIR ROGER KEYES: Mr. President and Gentlemen: You have done me a great honour in inviting me to address this gathering of the Empire Club of Canada. As I can assure you, I am very proud to be here. I was asked what subject I would choose. Well, naturally, having spent all my life in the navy, and knowing something about the value of sea power--I think I do--I chose this subject, "The Lessons of Naval History".
Before commencing, I would like to tell you what I have been doing for the last ten days. First of all, the City of Toronto did me the great honour of inviting me to attend that wonderful gathering of ex-service men which you had here recently and which Lord Allenby and my great friend, Reginald Tyrwhitt, one of the other
Admirals of the Fleet attended. It was a very great disappointment to me not to come because I have so many Canadian friends who I not only met in the War and who served in the same Fleet, but a great many served actually under my command. I had two hundred air craft in my command and they also served in the motor launches in those actions on the Belgian Coast. I think that there were nine or ten Victoria Crosses won on the Belgian Coast and none was won more gallantly than that by Lieutenant Bourke, a Canadian. To look at him, you might think he was a little fellow who wore spectacles. But when the Vindictive was trapped during the attempt to blockade the submarine base at Ostend, there was very little hope of getting anybody away and two motor launches volunteered to go in. Bourke went; he got a most awful hammering, but he was successful in saving some of the crew of the Vindictive for which he got the Victoria Cross.
It was a great disappointment for me not to be here with Lord Allenby and Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt, but Mr. Thomas met me in the House of Commons one day and he begged me to represent the British Government at these celebrations to do honour to the memory of a very gallant French seaman, Jacques Cartier. As I knew that our travels would bring us to Toronto, I thought that Reginald Tyrwhitt would keep the navy's end up here and I would come later on and have another opportunity of seeing the people of Toronto, who so kindly invited me before. I cannot tell you how glad I am to have done the other thing, too, because there at Gaspe, in company with Mr. Flandin, who has honoured us here by attending this meeting, we stood under the cross, at the place where Jacques Cartier raised the Cross of our religion at Gaspe and who really was the founder of this great Dominion. Then we travelled up his route to Quebec, to Three Rivers and to Montreal. We heard Mr. Flandin speak. He made a speech which lasted about twenty minutes in absolutely perfect English. I think if you have any Quebec friends here, they will tell you they never heard a foreigner speak as he did last night.
As a sailor--of course, who didn't sail on many seasons--was full of admiration for the gallant spirit of Jacques Cartier, coming across the stormy ocean in a tiny ship and navigating the St. Lawrence and withstanding the hard and fierce winters--and without the comforts that you have nowadays--in that little stream at Quebec.
And here we are at the end of our tour and I must say I didn't expect to see Mr. Flandin here. I am very glad that he has escaped to come here-he will have to listen to me again.
I was asked to name a subject and I propose to talk to you on the importance of sea power in relation to the British Empire.
When a plea for the reduction of armaments is urged in the interests of peace or economy, or in a genuine, though I submit a misguided belief that general disarmament will eliminate all risk of war in the future, can one be surprised if nations to whom sea power is in no way vital, and who can ensure security by other means, should wish to commence disarmament by reducing Great Britain's navy to an extent out of all proportion to her world wide needs; particularly, in these days, when there is of necessity, an ever increasing rivalry in the field of sea-borne commerce.
You had recently in this city, that distinguished Field Marshal, Lord Allenby, who commanded an army which he led to the goal of every previous crusade and captured Jerusalem in the last and greatest of all crusades. I am sure that great soldier would be glad to testify that his brilliant campaign could not have been conducted to its successful issue from a base 3,000 miles from England, but for the fact that the Sea Services commanded his sea communications and the waters on the left flank of his army.
So it has been down the ages of our Empire building, an adventurous sea reconnaissance, the transport overseas of an' army of stout hearted colonists and the safeguarding of their sea communications by Maritime power.
Our great Empire, founded by the gallant enterprise of our forebears and the sea spirit which runs in the blood of our race can surely only be maintained in the future as it has in the past, by policing of its outposts by soldiers, sailors, airmen or police, according to the circumstances, and the keeping of its communications safe and free from interference in peace and war by our great sea services. I say Service, because the war welded into one great Sea Service all British seamen who go down to the sea in ships, and also all sorts of other men of all sorts of walks in life who joined the Volunteer Service--here in Canada, in Australia, in England and in Scotland--men who had nothing to do with the sea went down and. served and it was a very hard life sometimes in the motor launches which were of such great value to us in the War, and also the British seamen, the Mercantile Marine, the fishing craft, the tramp steamers, the ocean linersvessels great and small all contributed to British maritime sea power.
Now, I will try to tell you something about the English seamen who did great service in the past in making England the Empire it is today and in making all these great Dominions a part of the great Commonwealth of British Nations which is united by the throne of King George. It would take long to tell and I would weary you if I tried to relate the one hundredth part of the glorious story. To those who are interested--you have great libraries, I know--I would suggest that you read a book by Professor Callender, called "The Naval Side of British History," which will stir your blood with pride, though indeed, also with shame when you read of England's failure from time to time to realize that her honour and very existence depended on the maintenance of sea forces adequate to safeguard her shores and overseas colonies.
Alfred the Great was England's first exponent of sea power. "There is no advantage" he declared "in living on an island unless your navy rides in undisputed sway on the waters which surround it." Unhappily, as Proffessor Callender remarks, "The truth was spoken to a people slow to hear and quick to forget".
Centuries later, Shakespeare wrote "England bound in with the triumphant sea whose rocky shore beats back the envious surge of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame, with inky blots and rotten parchment bonds"--which shows that Shakespeare even did not really understand the meaning of sea power, for neither rocky shores, the triumphant sea, nor watery Neptune, to say nothing of rotten parchment bonds will be of any avail in this wicked unchanging world of ours, if an island dependent from day to day on sea-borne food and raw materials neglects to maintain, to quote Alfred, the Truthteller, "A navy which rides in undisputed sway on the waters that surround it", and I would add "connect it with its far flung Empire".
Every English girl and boy has read with pride of the brave sea stories of the Elizabethan age so I will not dwell on the glorious achievements of the great English sailors of those days--Hawkins, Grenville, Drake, Frobisher and Raleigh, or on the destruction of the Invincible Armada, which set out from Spain to make England a Spanish colony and was defeated by the valour and skill of English seamen despite the folly and parsimony of Elizabeth's government.
How many can tell you anything about the sea history of the next half century? The defeat of the Spanish Armada is always regarded as decisive; nevertheless the war dragged on for 16 years, without much government help, it is true, but the enterprise of our merchant adventurers continued to defy the might of Spain. The war had arisen because British subjects claimed the right to trade overseas and to do so without the risk of suffering imprisonment, mutilation or death at the hands of the Inquisition or lifelong slavery in the galleys of Spain. When Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, there was a "peace at any price" party, and a small war party of which Raleigh was the chief exponent. He had expended the greater part of his fortune in establishing a colony--Virginia--and saw visions far beyond his day of a great colonial empire across the Atlantic. Through the intrigues of the Peace Party, Raleigh was confined to the Tower and in 1604 peace followed. It can hardly be said that James made peace for he acquiesced in everything the Spaniards demanded. Twelve years later, in a fit of annoyance with Spain, James released Raleigh and with Government approval, but at his own expense, Raleigh equipped a commercial expedition to an unoccupied part of the world. This infuriated the Spaniards who threatened James with dire displeasure if Raleigh was permitted to live on his return, and, incredible as it may seem, James sent that gallant English seaman to the block at the bidding of Spain.
Those were days of black shame and indelible humiliation. James could not understand the necessity for guardian fleets; he associated warships not with the police functions of sea power but only with operations of war, and since the war was over and peace restored, such expensive playthings seemed to him no longer necessary. And what is far worse„ this view was generally accepted in England. When Charles I succeeded James in 1625, our Maritime power was at its lowest ebb; hundreds of British seamen were undergoing lifelong slavery in Spanish and Algerian galleys. Piracy flourished, no English harbour was safe from alien insult. Pirates infested the lower reaches of the Thames and Severn. Portsmouth was entered by ships which levied blackmail; the citizens of Plymouth were carried off by alien privateers to serve before the mast; the west of Ireland and south of England were raided by Barbary pirates in search of galley slaves. The Dutch seized the heritage which England had surrendered. Holland sent out fishing fleets 2000 strong, accompanied by warships which destroyed or drove off British fishermen who had the temerity to fish in British waters. They massacred one British colony and drove t another from the East Indies. They established New Holland in the heart of New England; they chased out of our whaling grounds, hunting Englishmen and whales alike, ejected our merchants from the Russian trade they had founded, used our harbours as they liked and patrolled our estuaries, until British trade practically ceased and not an English merchant would trust his cargoes in English ships. Charles I realized, that steps must be taken to save the State and in 1634 he launched his unpopular scheme of raising Ship Money, the first statesmanlike plan for the upkeep of Britain's navy--the inland towns did not realize that sea power and sea commerce meant something--since it involved not only all the inland places, but the seaports as well, in the entire state. It was violently resisted by people who didn't see the necessity for it; it was declared illegal and his foresight played no small part in his ultimate discomfiture, and ultimate murder--he also went to the block. The unsanctioned tax, however, enabled the King to build a few fine ships and for a time the situation to some extent improved, but in 1639, a Spanish fleet carrying troops to the Spanish Netherlands paid Charles for the escort of his small Ship Money fleet. While British and Spanish ships were at anchor in the Downs, Tromp, the Dutchman, fell on the latter and, of the 77 Spanish ships, 70 were destroyed, while the small English squadron lay powerless to protect them. England simply did not count. Had not her people objected to the King's efforts to raise sufficient money to build five warships at a time when Holland had over one hundred?
Now, let us leave this shameful period which lasted !45 years and turn with pride and relief to the deeds of a gallant English seaman, Robert Blake, whose indomitable courage, enterprise and skill lifted Great Britain in a few short crowded years from the depths of degredation to the very pinnacle of European Maritime power, prestige and prosperity.
In 1649, Cromweell, realizing the vital importance of rebuilding British maritime power, took measures which brought English seamen flocking back from foreign service to take part in the glories to come. Blake was fearfully handicapped by his inferiority both in numbers and the quality of his ships but his dauntless skill challenged overwhelming odds. A successful campaign to the Mediterranean brought Spain and Portugal to heel, the destruction of a superior French fleet off Dunkirk brought about French recognition of the Government, but at the commencement of 1652, Holland with whom we were still at peace, was the greatest maritime power the world had yet seen and controlled the seas all over the world.
It has always been a sea custom for the ships of all nations on entering the waters of a foreign power to salute her flag. In England's hour of adversity her flag was treated with contempt. Blake's victories brought about the revival of the custom, and foreign ships which forgot their manners received drastic correction. Tromp, who commanded the Dutch fleet, was not slow to take up the challenge and in May 1652, with 42 ships, he stood into the Downs, the scene of his great triumph in 1639, and proceeded to carry out battle practice-a crowning insult in English waters in a period of profound peace. Happily, Blake was at hand with 13 ships, and without a moment's hesitation, he demanded the salute. Tromp replied with a contemptuous broadside and hoisted the signal for battle. Blake was thus opposed to the greatest fighting seaman of the day in an inferiority of one to three. Fortunately, he received a reinforcement of eight ships during the action, and when darkness separated the combatants he was left in possession of the field with two Dutch prizes.
But this all belongs to one of our glorious pages and it will suffice to remind you that Blake in his wonderful career suffered one severe defeat at the hands of Tromp, *ho was an overwhelming superiority. This raised rather than lowered Blake's prestige and gave him an opportunity of pointing out to his Government that it was unfair to expect our reinforced merchant vessels to fight Tromp's battleships and he insisted if he was expected to retain his command, that sufficient battleships should be built to overthrow the Dutch, and the Dutch had mobilized 150. When Charles asked for money to build five battleships, his subjects defied, insulted and eventually put him to death. But those who had resisted Charles' Ship Money now collected, under martial law and at Cromwell's command, sufficient to build all that was required.
In the Spring of 1653, Blake inflicted a decisive defeat on Tromp, and in July that brave and dauntless Dutch seaman fought his last battle. A chance bullet ended his victorious career and at the same moment ended forever the arrogant Dutch dominion over the waterways of the World.
It is a curious but an indisputable fact that the cycle of decline, fall and resurrection of British maritime power, of which I have tried to give you an example, is repeated over and over again in our Island's history. We are indeed a people slow to learn and very quick to forget.
In 1763, on the conclusion of the Seven Years War, the preamble of the Peace Treaty of Paris ran: "There shall be a Christian, universal and perpetual peace,"--and at that time we possessed a powerful and victorious Fleet, commanded and manned by a splendid personnel. In a few short years that great legacy was dissipated and we drifted into the next war almost disarmed, suffered terrible humiliation and the next Peace was signed in one of the blackest hours of British history.
If Disarmament is the solution of the distressing problem we are all so anxious to solve, no one can say that we have not given a lead in the right and proper use of armed forces in peace time and in this connection I would like to remind you of an episode which won for us the unstinted and outspoken gratitude of the Nationals of every civilized country--I refer to the timely arrival of British troops and ships at Shanghai when a vast cosmopolitan colony was in immediate and desperate danger, and it was thanks to the arrival of a little British fleet and a division of British soldiers and the staunch, hearty, stiff-lipped Admiral, Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt that what might have been a terrible disaster was peacefully solved. It was the readiness of our armed forces which averted blood shed and prevented war and, incidentally, raised our waning prestige in the Far East.
There were a number of victories. We remember the victories of the Nile and Trafalger but we forget the anxieties we went through in other times. In 1779, after the Seven Years War,, the Spanish and French fleets sailed unchallenged up the channel. England was in terrible danger. Our history is full of examples of our sea force being allowed to disappear and decay because the political horizon, for the moment, was clear. Our history establishes without a shadow of a doubt that our prosperity and prestige have risen and fallen in direct relation to our maritime power. At the end of the Great War, the prestige of the British Empire was at is zenith. Had not the hammer blows of the British Army been the decisive factor? Had not British maritime power in the face of unseen and unprecedented difficulties kept the seas and carried troops from every outpost of our Empire and from the United States of America to the various theatres of war?
I hope I have not wearied you. I could go on for hours talking about this sort of thing. I was told to talk forty minutes. I think I have talked forty-five. At any rate, I will spare you ancient history, but I think r have told you enough history to show you that sea power which is, in other words, maritime commerce and sea communication with the Empire and the ability to give them indisputable protection are as vital to the people of the Empire as the air we breathe and that prosperity, security, and peace follow in Sea Power's wake.
I would like to close this part by repeating what Raleigh wrote more than three centuries ago: "I confess that Peace is a great blessing of God, and blessed are the Peacemakers„ and therefore, doubtless, blessed are those means whereby peace is gained and maintained; to which means of our defence and safety being shipping and sea forces........" He wrote that when in prison. As you know, that gallant knight, the pioneer of our first colonial expansion, was beheaded by the King of Spain when our sea power was at its lowest ebb.
I am told by your President that you would like to hear something of the situation today. I will tell you, briefly. At the end of the War, we had an enormous fleet, with great personnel. Its prestige was as high as at the end of the Seven Years War--perhaps, higher because it was more world wide. It was absolutely necessary to do something to cut down the vast expenditure on naval armaments and we started right away by scrapping all sorts of ships which were good for many, many more years of valuable service. That went on for about two years. In 1916, before America had come into the War, America had started a program which included the building of sixteen capital ships and at the end of the War, we had started to build superior ships-far more powerful than the ships America was building. Something had to be done. We had to stop the expenditure of money on capital ships which were necessary adjuncts to sea power but which could be limited by agreement. Hence, the Treaty of Washington. We all made sacrifices to bring about a Treaty acceptable to all the maritime powers. Great Britain suggested the abolition of the submarines. Other nations did not want to do away with submarines, so we accepted that. We said that we must be able to build such craft as is necessary to deal with submarines of other nations because we had our great sea trade to protect. Other nations-not France and Great Britain but other nations-were building cruisers far more powerful than the cruisers we were building. France and Great Britain suggested that the size of the cruisers should be limited and the power of their guns limited, but no nation can make a sacrifice that jeopardizes its own security. I have come to that conclusion and I do not think that Mr. Flandin will quarrel with me about that.
So we maritime nations accepted certain cruisers which carried guns of a heavier calibre than we thought necessary. We safeguarded ourselves by pointing out that we had this far greater responsibility for the protection of our trade than any other nation and everybody agreed--France, Japan and America-and we were left free to build such cruisers as we considered necessary for our protection.
In a misguided moment, when the Socialist Government came into power, all the safeguards were swept away by the Treaty of London. We had made out a tremendous case after a very severe battle at which I assisted. It was a battle of four statesmen under the presidency of Lord Birkenhead, and we sailors made out a case to have a certain number of cruisers-seventy cruisers. With a stroke of the pen, the extraordinary people in power in 1931 limited us to fifty-fifty cruisers-and the French walked out, because that meant, by their quota„ perhaps twenty-five or thirty. They had no intention of jeopardizing their security nor did they. And we had to mark time while America and other nations who hadn't as Y cruisers and who demanded parity, built up their force.
The situation is now that not only by the Treaty of London are we prevented from having more than fifty cruisers, but by the extraordinary terms, we are not even allowed to replace more than a certain proportion of tonnage and when the Treaty comes to an end as it will next year-I went into Parliament to try to help it to--we shall have fourteen cruisers simply unfit to meet the cruisers of other nations which have been building while we have been marking time. Of the 150 destroyers we are allowed, 44 of them will be obsolete and unfit to meet the destroyers which other nations have been building.
There was a very good example at Gaspe. While we were restricted from building ships the size of the Saugenay, France was very wisely building something stronger, far superior to anything we are allowed to build. Germany is building pocket battleships--France, the United States, Great Britain and Japan and Italy are not allowed to build them. There is something so foolish in these trammelling bonds. We must get free of them and free to build just sufficient to protect our sea communication.
I was told when I ran for Parliament that I was trying to build up a great war navy to make another war. I tell you, we who saw war are more anxious than anybody to try and ensure that there shall be no war but we mean to see our country secure. To France, an army is an absolute necessity. To England, a navy is an absolute necessity. To France, certain sea forces are absolutely necessary. To us, our military forces to police our great Empire are also necessary. We must be free to build what we consider necessary for our own security. I believe other people are coming to the same conclusion. It is out of the question to go on disarming when other nations are wise enough, in the interest of their security, to pay no attention and to go on building their fleet, while we mark time.
I am not asking, but I am demanding, that these obsolete ships 6e replaced. It is not fair to ask our fleet to guard our sea power with such limited forces. That is why I have come into more or less public life--to make England realize that it has got to put its defences in proper order if it wishes to be the heart of this great Empire in this great Commonwealth of Nations in which you are united by the throne of King George. (Hearty Applause).