Invasion: 1900 - 1914

The growing power of the German Navy again focused attention on the risk of invasion and Home Defence.   Invasion mania took hold on  the public imagination with over 40 novels published on the subject between 1901 and the outbreak of the War; the Daily Mail serialised one, “The Invasion of 1910” which described a German landing at Lowestoft, with headlines such as “Kaiser at Saxmundham” and “Prussians storm Beccles”. Board games were even produced on the theme of invasion!


A Bill was put forward by Lord Roberts for applying compulsory service in the Territorial Army with the object of raising a force for 400,000 men for Home Defence while the Expeditionary Force was abroad. The Bill was strongly objected to by the Army, who considered that it would take up resources at the expense of the regular Army. Haldane was also against it; he considered that Britain’s first line of defence should be the Navy and not an army. As the compulsory scheme would cost an estimated £8,000,000 a year, Haldane considered that such a sum would be better spent on expanding the Navy and adding a new division to the Regular Army.  The Bill was not adopted.


Haldane did acknowledge that there was a risk of some enemy transports getting through and he acknowledged the need for a second line of defence and considered the voluntary Territorial system would raise a force capable of dealing with this risk.  This volunteer force would be large enough to deal with any small enemy force that managed to slip past the Navy, or, compel the enemy to send such a large force that it could not evade detection by the Navy. Admiral Sir A. K. Wilson also expressed a similar view. He considered that in any future war, the greatest risk was not from invasion but attacks on British trade and merchant shipping. He considered maintaining a naval force to protect merchant shipping would also be sufficient to guard against any invasion risk. Even if half the strength of the Navy was diverted by a feint, the remaining half along with destroyers and submarines would be sufficient to sink the majority of enemy transports.  Even if the enemy reached the coast in safety, superior forces could be brought to attack him before he had completed his disembarkation.  He considered that a landing by even a moderate force of 70,000 was practically impossible.


Although 70,000 men was considered to be the maximum force that could sent to invade Britain, only small raids up to a maximum of 2,000 troops were anticipated. Any invasion could only take place if Britain’s naval forces had been crushed and driven into port. It was a fundamental principal of the Admiralty to maintain sufficient forces in home waters to ensure command of these seas and to meet the enemy at sea.  


All the ports on the south and east coasts which were likely to be targets were within easy reach of the Navy and any hostile attack would bring down a British squadron in assistance. Although it was thought possible an enemy squadron accompanied with a land force could evade the Navy’s squadrons for a short while, it was considered highly unlikely that the enemy would contemplate such an action. Although the land force could disembark it would be unable to embark again unmolested by the British Navy.  Such an operation would involve such high risks that it was thought Britain’s shipping would offer a much more tempting target to any hostile fleet.


Likely targets for raids were either ports or other targets such as railways, signal stations etc. Such attacks would likely be made by destroyers or motor torpedo boats rather than cruisers as British shipping would offer them a much more tempting target. If cruiser raids did occur, it was expected they would not take place in daylight, and if the raids were against defended ports cruisers would not come within range of the fortress guns.