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from the sea, whilst the mountainous and rugged nature of the land on both sides of the strait offers no encouragement for operations on shore. There seems no doubt that the place may be made into a very formidable and practically impregnable stronghold, and that, too, without any unpleasant notoriety. For the last four months the Russian squadron has been making it its headquarters, and probably not a hundred persons in England, outside the Admiralty, have given it a moment's thought.

And yet, if it is not an English question, what is it? For in the Mediterranean Russia can have no direct object. She has there no interests to support, no rights to assert, no potential or probable enemy, except so far as England may be so considered. The Austrian navy, though a wellorganised service, and still graced with the glorious prestige of Tegetthoff's achievements, is insignificant in material strength, and could not give rise to this elaborate and costly preparation. The Italian navy, having nine firstclass armoured ships actually ready for service, and five others building or projected, is more formidable; but against Italy Russia neither has nor can have quarrel, except as a power of the Triple Alliance, and even as such cannot, of herself, come into collision with her. In any event, Italian troops are scarce likely to be found fighting on the frontier of Poland, nor is the Italian fleet likely to force its way into the Black Sea, to undertake a second siege of Sebastopol. It is only as an ally of France that Russia can come into collision with Italy; and whatever may be the strength of the entente cordiale, we need not believe that, without some other motive, she would undertake the financial burdens of her extended shipbuilding programme. That motive can only be a determination that, when the time comes, her action shall be independent of English control. At the present moment the relations. between the two countries are most friendly; but they have not always been so, nor can we be sure that they always will be so. In peace or in war, England has for years barred her approach to Constantinople, and will continue to do so as long as the English fleet is dominant in the Mediterranean, and ready at any moment to be dominant in the Black Sea. Before any move can be made the English fleet must be ousted.

Here, then, is an interest common to France and Russia, an object at which they both appear to be aiming, and which, when opportunity serves, they may reasonably be ex

pected to bring into prominence. Given the French fleet at its maximum strength performing manoeuvres in the Levant; the Baltic fleet of Russia unostentatiously assembled at Poros, and the Black Sea fleet ready to run, without warning, through the Bosporus and Dardanelles, the position of an English fleet, largely outnumbered, might any day become one of extreme difficulty. It could only remain in the Mediterranean on sufferance, and as soon as the allies were ready would be forced to fall back on Gibraltar, or even to Spithead. It is well to consider what this evacuation of the Mediterranean might mean for England.

That would be primarily in the interests of Russia. In the interests of France, the English occupation of Egypt might be determined in a manner more or less summary; or-as a preliminary step-the sea power of Austria, Italy, and Spain might be annihilated. These States, with extensive seaboard or numerous islands within the Mediterranean, lie directly exposed to attack by a superior naval Power. During the last twenty years they have made great efforts and extreme sacrifices to create the means of maritime defence; but, individually or collectively, their fleets are vastly inferior in strength to the combined force of France and Russia. If defeated, they would be erased from further calculation. If captured, the ships would be added to the already formidable fleet of the allies, and render any future contest with them more difficult. Italy, it has already been said, will presently have fourteen battle ships of the first class, all of large size and modern type, and nine first or second class cruisers of from seventeen to nineteen knots. Austria will have eight battle ships of the second or third class, and five cruisers, of which three are of eighteen to nineteen knots. Spain, which has not been much spoken of as a naval Power, will have three new battle ships of the first class, two old second-class ships with new machinery and new armaments, and has recently built, or is still building, six heavily armoured cruisers of 7,000 tons displacement and a speed of twenty knots; she has also a considerable number of second-class cruisers and of torpedo gunboats. As only one of the three military ports of Spain is within the Mediterranean, the danger on that side is proportionably diminished; but it is evident that even the Italian ships would be a very formidable addition to a fleet previously outnumbering our own, if Italy were compelled by superior forces to join the Franco-Russian alliance. Whether against the united fleets of France,

Russia, and Italy the English fleet would be able to return, or when, or how, may well be thought doubtful. What is not doubtful is, that before it could return the English commerce in the Mediterranean would be destroyed, with a money loss that would have to be reckoned in hundreds of millions. And this would be but the beginning. It is not now necessary to trace the results further. The threatened beginning is sufficient to lead us to consider that we are in presence of a great and growing danger, planned and being carried out with a determined vigour and a reckless expenditure which can only be met by a corresponding vigour and a corresponding expenditure on our part.

There are, indeed, many officers of ability and experience who believe that in a great maritime war it would be impossible for us to hold the Mediterranean; that of necessity we must retire from it, and that prudence would require us to do so at the outset. From this we utterly dissent. It is, of course, probable that we should not be able to use the Suez Canal, or even that the Suez Canal would temporarily cease to exist; for when we remember how it has been blocked more than once by some chance, we may suppose that an enterprising enemy would have little difficulty in blocking it at any specially inconvenient moment; while a carefully planned accident-similar, perhaps, to that which wrecked Santander a few months ago-might so far destroy it as to render the repairing it a work of time and money. But to hold the Mediterranean in force, should our naval strategy or commercial policy require us to do so, is a perfectly feasible operation of war. The presence of the French in Algiers and Tunis, and the disregard of diplomatic assurances with which they have converted Biserta into a military port, no doubt introduce new factors into the strategy of the Mediterranean, but more has perhaps been made of them than they deserve.

The capabilities of the harbour of Biserta have been described in terms of glowing enthusiasm; but without very extraordinary expense ships can neither be built nor equipped there, nor yet, to any great extent, be refitted. It is merely a place of gathering or of refuge. Ships can issue from it and return to it, and may thus have opportunities of harassing the stream of commerce which tends to flow along the north coast of Africa; but the duplication or reduplication of ports and arsenals does not double or redouble the number of ships of war; and given a certain number of hostile battle ships, it is not a matter of the first

consequence whether they are in one port or in half a dozen. Assuredly, in the old war it was never supposed that the French derived any special advantage from having some ships at Brest, others at Lorient, Rochefort, and Ferrol; rather the contrary; and while they continually endeavoured to collect the outlying squadrons at Brest, the endeavour of the English, which, on the whole, was successful, was to keep them apart. When Nelson was watching the eleven ships at Toulon, it is far from clear that matters would have been worse for him if four of the eleven had been at Biserta. A mistake that seems to be often made is equivalent to supposing that, though four were at Biserta, there would still be eleven at Toulon. Wherever the enemy's ships are, they will have to be watched; but in no warfare, afloat or ashore, is it, as a broad principle, advantageous to a belligerent to have his grand army broken up into small detachments. As to the scourge on commerce and our communications, it ought to be no very difficult matter to establish such a patrol of the line and such a watch over the lurking places of commerce destroyers that the enemy's power for mischief would be reduced to a minimum.

All this, however, is entirely a question of relative force. At present, and still less in the immediate future, we have not that superiority which might be required, not only in the Mediterranean, but everywhere. We do not agree with those who maintain that at all times, in peace or in war, it is necessary for us to have in the Mediterranean a fleet distinctly superior to that which the French have there, either actually in commission, or at Toulon, ready to be commissioned at very short notice. To do so would involve us in a disproportioned expense; for, as it is cheaper to maintain, equip, and repair ships in our own harbours than abroad, so a comparison of the cost of maintaining, equipping, and refitting battle ships at Toulon and at Malta is enormously in favour of the French. But what we consider absolutely necessary is that, while the fleet in the Mediterranean is kept up at a fair comparative standard, we should have a sufficient reserve to fall back on-a reserve which could be depended on as ready to reinforce our fleet in the Mediterranean on the first alarm. At the present time we have not such a reserve. Counting only the battle ships of the first and second class, which may be expected to stand the first brunt of the war, the comparison of the English, French, and Russian fleets on December 31 last appears in the Parliamentary paper to be

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which is perilously near a bare equality. But according to the respective programmes, as returned in the same Parliamentary paper, both France and Russia are displaying an abnormal activity, and the numbers by 1898 will be

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These are the numbers officially given by the Admiralty, the foreign ships being arranged as far as possible to correspond with the British classes. Other arrangements will give varying results, but the Admiralty list is in essential agreement with one previously put forward by Lord Hood of Avalon, the principal difference being that Lord Hood did not count two Russian first-class ships, which the Admiralty includes as projected. Between third-class battle ships, coast-defence ships and armoured cruisers, it is not always easy to distinguish; and while Lord Hood reckons three of the French third-class ships as coast defence, others have argued that six French coast defence ships of from 5,000 to 6,000 tons ought rather to be counted as thirdclass battle ships. There can be no doubt that these ships would be effective battle ships in an action fought near the French coast, and must therefore be taken into account; but they cannot be depended on for general service, and appear to be rightly placed in the Admiralty list. But this, as every other technical list, requires some technical knowledge to read it aright, and it does not follow that an opinion formed by capable men with full opportunities of studying the question is a barefaced attempt to deceive,

* 'Times,' December 25.

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