Fleets are more mobile than armies. An invading force, having command of the sea, can land unopposed anywhere.
Continuing Defeat of the Spanish Armada,
our selection from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Creasy published in 1851. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Place: English Channel
[Sir Walter Raleigh continues – jl]
Great difference I know there is, and a diverse consideration to be had, between such a country as France is, strengthened with many fortified places, and this of ours, where our ramparts are but the bodies of men. But I say that an army to be transported over sea, and to be landed again in an enemy’s country, and the place left to the choice of the invader, cannot be resisted on the coast of England without a fleet to impeach it; no, nor on the coast of France or any other country, except every creek, port, or sandy bay had a powerful army in each of them to make opposition.
For let the supposition be granted that Kent is able to furnish twelve thousand foot, and that those twelve thousand be layed in the three best landing-places within that country, to wit, three thousand at Margat, three thousand at the Nesse, and six thousand at Foulkstone, that is, somewhat equally distant from them both, as also that two of these troops — unless some other order be thought more fit — be directed to strengthen the third, when they shall see the enemy’s fleet to head toward it: I say, that notwithstanding this provision, if the enemy, setting sail from the Isle of Wight, in the first watch of the night, and towing their long boats at their stems, shall arrive by dawn of day at the Nesse, and thrust their army on shore there, it will be hard for those three thousand that are at Margat — twenty-and-four long miles from thence — to come time enough to reinforce their fellows at the Nesse. Nay, how shall they at Foulkstone be able to do it, who are nearer by more than half the way? seeing that the enemy, at his first arrival, will either make his entrance by force, with three or four shot of great artillery, and quickly put the first three thousand that are entrenched at the Nesse to run, or else give them so much to do that they shall be glad to send for help to Foulkstone, and perhaps to Margat, whereby those places will be left bare.
Now, let us suppose that all the twelve thousand Kentish soldiers arrived at the Nesse ere the enemy can be ready to disembark his army, so that he will find it unsafe to land in the face of so many prepared to withstand him, yet must we believe that he will play the best of his own game — having liberty to go which way he list — and, under covert of the night, set sail toward the east, where what shall hinder him to take ground either at Margat, the Downes, or elsewhere, before they at the Nesse can be well aware of his departure?
Certainly there is nothing more easy than to do it. Yea, the like may be said of Weymouth, Purbeck, Poole, and of all landing-places on the southwest; for there is no man ignorant that ships, without putting themselves out of breath, will easily outrun the soldiers that coast them. ‘Les armees ne volent point en poste‘ (‘Armies neither flye nor run post’), saith a marshal of France. And I know it to be true that a fleet of ships may be seen at sunset, and after it at the Lizard, yet by the next morning they may recover Portland, whereas an army of foot shall not be able to march it in six days.
Again, when those troops lodged on the sea-shores shall be forced to run from place to place in vain, after a fleet of ships, they will at length sit down in the midway and leave all at adventure. But say it were otherwise, that the invading enemy will offer to land in some such place where there shall be an army of ours ready to receive him; yet it cannot be doubted but that when the choice of all our trained bands, and the choice of our commanders and captains, shall be drawn together — as they were at Tilbury in the year 1588 — to attend the person of the Prince, and for the defense of the city of London, they that remain to guard the coast can be of no such force as to encounter an army like unto that wherewith it was intended that the Prince of Parma should have landed in England.
For end of this digression, I hope that this question shall never come to trial: his majesty’s many movable forts will forbid the experience. And although the English will no less disdain, than any nation under heaven can do, to be beaten upon their own ground, or elsewhere, by a foreign enemy, yet to entertain those that shall assail us, with their own beef in their bellies, and before they eat of our Kentish capons, I take it to be the wisest way — to do which his majesty, after God, will employ his good ships on the sea, and not trust in any entrenchment upon the shore.”
The introduction of steam as a propelling power at sea has added tenfold weight to these arguments of Raleigh. On the other hand, a well-constructed system of railways, especially of coast-lines, aided by the operation of the electric telegraph, would give facilities for concentrating a defensive army to oppose an enemy on landing, and for moving troops from place to place in observation of the movements of the hostile fleet, such as would have astonished Sir Walter, even more than the sight of vessels passing rapidly to and fro without the aid of wind or tide., The observation of the French marshal whom he quotes is now no longer correct. Armies can be made to pass from place to place almost with the speed of wings, and far more rapidly than any post-traveling that was known in the Elizabethan or any other age. Still, the presence of a sufficient armed force at the right spot, at the right time, can never be made a matter of certainty and, even after the changes that have taken place, no one can doubt but that the policy of Raleigh is that which England should ever seek to follow in defensive war.
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