THE PROBLEM of this coast resolves itself into keeping touch with the enemy’s movements; in preparing matters to trap and hinder him when he moves, and in so entertaining him that he shall not have time to draw clear before a blow descends on him from another quarter. There are then three lines of defence: the outer, the inner, and the home waters. The traffic and fishing are always with us.
The blackboard idea of it is always to have stronger forces more immediately available everywhere than those the enemy can send. x German submarines draw a English destroyers. Then x calls x+y to deal with a, who, in turn, calls up b, a scout, and possibly a2, with a fair chance that if x+y+z (a Zeppelin) carry on they will run into a2+b2+c cruisers. At this point, the equation generally stops; if it continued, it would end mathematically in the whole of the German Fleet coming out. Then another factor which we may call the Grand Fleet would come from another place. To change the comparisons: the Grand fleet is the “strong left” ready to give the knockout blow on the point of the chin when the head is thrown up. The other fleets and other arrangements threaten the enemy’s solar plexus and stomach. Somewhere in relation to the Grand fleet lies the “blockading” cordon which examines neutral traffic. It could be drawn as tight as a Turkish bowstring, but for reasons which we may arrive at after the war, it does not seem to have been so drawn up to date.
The enemy lies behind his mines, and ours, raids our coasts when he sees a chance, and kills seagoing civilians at sight or guess, with intent to terrify. Most sailor-men are mixed up with a woman or two; a fair percentage of them have seen men drown. They can realise what it is when women go down choking in horrible tangles and heavings of draperies. To say that the enemy has cut himself from the fellowship of all who use the seas is rather understating the case. As a man observed thoughtfully: “You can’t look at any water now without seeing ‘Lusitania’ sprawlin’ all across it. And just think of those words, ‘North-German Lloyd,’ ‘Hamburg-Amerika’ and such things, in the time to come, They simply mustn’t be.”
He was an elderly trawler, respectable as they make them, who, after many years of fishing, had discovered his real vocation. “I never thought I’d like killin’ men,” he reflected. “Never seemed to be any o’ my dooty. But it is—and I do!”
A great deal of the East Coast work concerns minefields—ours and the enemy’s—both of which shift as occasion requires. We search for and root out the enemy’s mines; they do the like by us. It is a perpetual game of finding, springing, and laying traps on the least as well as the most likely runaways that ships use, such sea snaring and wiring as the world never dreamt of. We are hampered in this, because our Navy respects neutrals; and spends a great deal of its time in making their path safe for them. The enemy does not. He blows them up, because that cows and impresses them, and so adds to his prestige.