Now a sweep of smooth water at the entrance to a harbour, and a turn—and there it was: the sea-power of England!
But was that really it—that spread of greyish blue-green dots set on a huge greyish blue-green platter? One could not discern where ships began and water and sky which held them suspended left off. Invisible fleet it had been called. At first glance it seemed to be composed of phantoms, baffling, absorbing the tone of its background. Admiralty secrecy must be the result of a naval dislike of publicity.
Still as if they were rooted, these leviathans! How could such a shy, peaceful-looking array send out broadsides of twelve and thirteen-five and fifteen-inch shells? What a paradise for a German submarine! Each ship seemed an inviting target. Only there were many gates and doors to the paradise, closed to all things that travel on and under the water without a proper identification. Submarines that had tried to pick one of the locks were like the fish who found going good into the trap. A submarine had about the same chance of reaching that anchorage as a German in the uniform of the Death’s Head Hussars, with a bomb under his arm, of reaching the vaults of the Bank of England.
And was this all of the greatest naval force ever gathered under a single command, these two or three lines of ships? But as the destroyer drew nearer the question changed. How many more? Was there no end to greyish blue-green monsters, in order as precise as the trees of a California orchard, that appeared out of the greyish blue-green background? First to claim attention was the Queen Elizabeth, with her eight fifteen-inch guns on a platform which could travel at nearly the speed of the average railroad train.
The contrast of sea and land warfare appealed the more vividly to one fresh from the front in France. What infinite labour for an army to get one big gun into position! How heralded the snail-like travels of the big German howitzer! Here was ship after ship, whose guns seemed innumerable. One found it hard to realize the resisting power of their armour, painted to look as liquid as the sea, and the stability of their construction, which was able to bear the strain of firing the great shells that travelled ten miles to their target.
Sea-power, indeed! And world-power, too, there in the hollow of a nation’s hand, to throw in whatever direction she pleased. If an American had a lump in his throat at the thought of what it meant, what might it not mean to an Englishman? Probably the Englishman would say, “I think that the fleet is all right, don’t you?”