THE MILLSTONE: British Naval Policy in the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to France and British Intervention in the War © Geoffrey Miller





THE MILLSTONE: British Naval Policy in the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to France and British Intervention in the War © Geoffrey Miller



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The Millstone


British Naval Policy in the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to France and British Intervention in the War

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Chapter 11




The Malta Compromise




 The German battle cruiser, Goeben

The coming threat in the Mediterranean -- the German battle cruiser, Goeben which, from 1912, would add further to Anglo-French concerns.


Opposition to the scope of the changes outlined by Churchill was hardening and focused particularly on the forthcoming C.I.D. meeting in Malta. Lord Morley, excluded from the crucial C.I.D. meeting the previous August, evidently feared that history was about to repeat itself and that policy would again be formulated by a cabal of Ministers. Meanwhile, Haldane, with Grey in support, was concerned that the preliminary meeting would be stacked in favour of the Admiralty; both these fears were not entirely unjustified. Churchill had already sought to mollify Haldane by declaring that the Malta conference, ‘between Asquith, Kitchener & myself’, could settle nothing. What it might do, though, was to concentrate ‘the PM’s attention upon important questions in a way that would be impossible in the rush of business’ in London.[1]

                Irritatingly for Churchill, Haldane would not be assuaged: having recovered some of his equanimity he counter-attacked by preparing, on 9 May, his own memorandum on the subject of losing the command of the sea in the Mediterranean and its effect on British military strategy. Haldane argued that the Admiralty’s pessimistic view – that it would take two months to regain command of the Mediterranean having lost it initially in the opening phase of a war – completely changed the ‘fundamental basis of existing plans’. As a result, Malta would be liable to attack; Egypt and Cyprus would need increased garrisons, an additional strain it was impossible to bear; and Indian, Australian and New Zealand troops would have to be re-routed round the Cape, avoiding Suez.[2] It was Morley, however, who forced the issue by demanding a Cabinet to consider the Malta meeting. What was more, this time the tables were turned for, in a pleasant irony, when the Cabinet duly convened on 10 May, it was now Churchill who (to Grey’s subsequent annoyance) was absent — the First Lord was away with his fleet. In his absence, the decision reached, ‘practically unanimous’ as Asquith subsequently informed Churchill, was that, in the present circumstances (with the Italo-Turkish war still in progress) the proposed meeting ‘could not be kept secret, and would almost certainly give rise to awkward questions in Parliament, and to considerable perturbation in Europe.’ And, although he did not fully share the apprehensions of his colleagues, Asquith was bound ‘to give effect to their considered view.’ In the event, therefore, he countermanded his previous instructions for the meeting of the Committee and instructed Hankey to cancel the invitations of all the non-naval members, including Hankey’s own. Asquith still intended to make the cruise though and meet Kitchener in Malta for what he termed an ‘informal discussion of Mediterranean problems.’[3] This isolated victory of those who believed that the C.I.D., sitting in London and fully attended, should be the only appropriate body to pursue the function of devising a national strategy only hardened Churchill’s determination not to co-operate with the Committee and to work to ensure that it would be increasingly marginalized.[4]

                Churchill attempted to defuse the situation when, on 10 May in answer to Nicolson’s allegations, he commented on the arrangements with the French. The First Lord began by disingenuously maintaining that, although considerable progress had been made ‘in the time of my predecessor’, little had happened since he had assumed office; Churchill intended to tell the French Naval Attaché that the subject would be ‘ripe’ for further discussion after his return from Malta.[5] Churchill’s admission that ‘little had happened since’ was not strictly true: on 23 April an outline had been prepared at the Admiralty showing the patrol zones for each navy in the Channel, the western approaches, and the Mediterranean. The sole remaining British force envisaged for the Mediterranean, a cruiser squadron, would protect British commerce and interests in the eastern basin from hostile raids and watch the entrance to the Adriatic. The memorandum was initialled by Churchill, Bridgeman and Battenberg.[6]

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                As a result of Churchill’s intimation that he intended to resume discussions with the French after his visit to Malta, Grey saw Cambon to inform him that certain redistributions of the fleet were being considered, ‘especially in connection with the Mediterranean’, but that further discussions with the French Naval Attaché could hardly be entered into until a final decision had been made at the Admiralty. Cambon asserted, however, (again showing Churchill’s recollection to have been faulty) that it was the First Sea Lord who had asked the Naval Attaché ‘last November’ to go into more detailed arrangements concerning French support in the Channel and that the request had been made again by the British Naval Attaché in Paris in January. Before replying, the French had asked the Admiralty to define what help they wanted but, as no reply was forthcoming, the French ‘had not said anything more, and the position now was that the French Naval Attaché was ready to go into the matter.’ Grey was forced to admit that the arrangement come to some time ago ‘was that, in time of war, the French should look after the Mediterranean while we should look after the North Sea, etc.’ What unspoken assumptions were contained in that innocuous little ‘etc.’? But Cambon would not be put off by the excuse that the British redistribution was still in progress — the talks he wished to see re-initiated concerned the Channel only and, therefore, ‘did not depend upon any new distribution of the Fleet.’ Eventually, Grey had to extricate himself by blaming Churchill’s continual absences with the Fleet; Grey was forced to admit that he only had time to have a word with Churchill late at night the previous week. To placate the French Churchill saw their Naval Attaché, the Comte de Saint-Seine, on 14 May, told him the redistribution was nearly completed, and added that, after Whitsuntide, he would discuss with the Comte the further arrangements which would be necessary, ‘in certain contingencies’. The Foreign Secretary, who was relieved to have the burden of dealing with the French in this delicate matter shifted to Churchill’s broader shoulders, minuted gratefully ‘This is enough for the present.’[7] The question of the renewal of naval conversations was also brought before the Cabinet two days after Churchill’s meeting with de Saint-Seine. It was revealed that the French Naval Attaché was ‘pressing for an answer to the inquiries which he made some time ago as to possible naval co-operation between the two countries in the event of war.’ After ‘a lengthy discussion’ it became ‘apparent that the whole Mediterranean situation must be resurveyed from the point of view both of policy and of strategy.’ The Cabinet ‘adjourned fuller discussion of the matter until after the Whitsuntide recess.’[8]

                On the morning of Tuesday 21 May a small party gathered at Victoria Station, consisting of Asquith, his daughter Violet; Churchill, his wife and sisters-in-law; Admiral Beatty, Eddie Marsh and James Masterton-Smith from the Admiralty. From there, they all ‘rumbled off in a Pullman car full of papers & letters & flowers’ to Dover, then a calm crossing and the Train de Luxe to Paris where they were joined by Battenberg.[9] From there they journeyed south, to join the Enchantress at Genoa on 22 May. Two days later they had reached the Bay of Naples, where, no sooner had they anchored then that ‘old rascal Fisher arrived on board.’ The Admiral was positively glowing in his notoriety. ‘They invented a lovely story’, he recounted, ‘that the Admiralty yacht was driven into Naples by bad weather, and every Italian newspaper had it! It’s very curious how every one is always so afraid of its being known that I have anything to do with them!’[10] Rear-Admiral Beatty, who was present as the First Lord’s Naval Secretary, wrote to his wife that Fisher had been closeted with Churchill since their arrival but cautioned her not to mention to anyone ‘that F is in close confidence with Winston. It would be most injurious to the Service if it got out, & the Navy would hate it.’ After three more days cruising Beatty was ‘so tired and bored with the whole thing. Even the weather isn’t kind; cloudy and cold with heavy rain storms.’ Churchill talked of nothing but the wonderful things he was going to do for the Navy while Mrs Churchill was, unfairly, dismissed as ‘a perfect fool’.[11] As for Asquith: Beatty complained that he was ‘a regular common old tourist; spends his time immersed in a Baedecker Guide and reading extracts to an admiring audience. On shore it makes one ashamed to have to introduce him as the Prime Minister of Great Britain.’[12] Beatty’s time was not entirely wasted, however: he occupied part of it by writing a memorandum for Churchill on the dispositions in the Mediterranean.[13]

                The First Lord’s scheme for maximum concentration in the North Sea by means of the almost total evacuation of the Mediterranean had been attacked virtually from the moment it was announced. Churchill had the support of the Sea Lords, but ranged against him were the Foreign Office, the War Office, Kitchener and Esher. The F.O., in particular, worried that the withdrawal would result in a reliance being placed on France tantamount to a defensive alliance which would in turn seriously jeopardize Britain’s freedom of action. Indeed, Nicolson could conceive of no more inopportune moment for the Admiralty’s proposal and was perturbed at the effect it would have on the balance of power; he thought privately that, in any case, the German navy had already succeeded in scoring a great triumph by locking up ‘the whole of the British Navy’ in the North Sea.[14] The Army General Staff meanwhile, concerned with the military aspects of the problem, pointed out that with the lack of adequate naval defence, Malta, Egypt and Cyprus were under grave threat from Italy, Turkey and Austria respectively, a situation made more serious as the garrisons could not be strengthened.[15] Churchill had – or so he must have hoped – left these serious objections behind in London; however, Kitchener, who had arrived at Malta from Cairo, was a formidable substitute. The Consul-General had earlier warned Grey that, in a war with the Triple Alliance, the Mediterranean sea coast of Egypt could not be held.[16] Fisher, who was also present to purvey his own idiosyncratic views (of which Churchill was already acquainted), at least thought the new scheme of Fleet distribution ‘admirable’, pointing out saliently to the First Lord in March, ‘What on earth is the use of our risking our existence for France if we get no return. Let the French take care of the Mediterranean, and a hot time they’ll have of it with submarines poking about in that lake! We are well out of it.’ No mention of the Mediterranean was complete though without Fisher’s usual intonation: ‘Move Malta to Alexandria at once — now that the Italian War is still on. Alexandria is the Key of Islam, and Islam is the Key of the British Empire.’[17]

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                Churchill needed some kind of compromise which would appease his critics yet go most of the way towards fulfilling his own programme with regard to the North Sea and Beatty’s memorandum, written apparently more with the idea of escaping the social activities aboard Enchantress, may have provided it. Beatty’s first conclusion was that an agreement with France was ‘absolutely essential’ so that the French could take over the responsibility of maintaining in the Mediterranean a sufficient deterrence to prevent Italy and Austria actively joining Germany; a proviso was added that Britain should provide ships to make up the ‘balance of strength’ which would ‘make victory certain if France will provide the equality.’ Second, following the withdrawal of the six battleships from Malta, a strong force of destroyers and submarines should be stationed at both Malta and Alexandria. Third, in deference to the ‘important question of prestige’, the title Mediterranean Battle Squadron should somehow be retained, if only as an adjunct. To do this, Beatty suggested that the planned new fleet, to be stationed at Gibraltar, should be given the clumsy appellation, “Fourth Battle Squadron Home Fleet (Mediterranean Battle Squadron)”. Beatty then further developed his first conclusion to include the compromise that would provide Churchill with the chance to assuage the French, appease the British critics, and guarantee the safety of British interests in the western basin. ‘It would strengthen the chances of arriving at a proper and equitable agreement with the French’, he argued, ‘if we are committed to withdraw from Malta (not Mediterranean), that we should immediately strengthen the cruiser force in the Mediterranean by an addition of two battle cruisers to be increased to three by 1st May 1914, when the comparison of the forces of Italy and Austria with France will be unfavourable to France.’ This was the first mention of the battle cruisers in connexion with the Mediterranean. Beatty’s proposals at least had the benefit of going some way towards satisfying opinion at the Foreign Office where Nicolson now privately believed that the only practical solution would be to create a fresh squadron for service in the Mediterranean.[18] Additionally, the battle cruisers were peculiarly Fisher’s “follies”, magnificently impressive ships which had yet to find a useful rôle following Fisher’s retirement.[19]

Having left Naples on 26 May the Enchantress cruised complacently on the troublesome sea before arriving at Malta on the morning of Wednesday the 29th. The Prime Minister’s daughter described how they ‘drifted into the most wonderful harbour’ seen had ever seen: ‘strongholds and fastnesses piled up on every side – & men of war – rigging up their flags & saluting by bugle calls from every deck.’ Violet Asquith dressed and ran up on deck just as ‘different grandees were beginning to arrive in pinnaces – all the Admirals in one – followed by their flag-lieutenants, Ian Hamilton with a military contingent – & finally Kitchener looking quite splendid (treble life size) but alas dressed as a civilian in a Homburg hat.’ At the official lunch, Miss Asquith sat next to a Captain called Ryan ‘who groused terribly at the removal of the Fleet’; she attempted to placate him, producing all the arguments she had picked up en route, ‘such as – much better none than too few etc.’ That night, after a long rest, they were ‘out again to dine at the Palace.’[20]

After the enforced physical idleness, the irrepressible Churchill immediately busied himself, visiting the Governor on the morning of their arrival and HMS Egmont that afternoon. On Thursday morning he inspected the dockyard; that evening there was dinner with Sir Ian Hamilton. On the following morning the ladies were sent on board Cornwallis, which was Captain Ryan’s ship, to witness battle practice; they were soon joined by Asquith, Churchill, Kitchener, Beatty and Battenberg, who had toured the destroyer Kennet. Happily ensconced on Cornwallis, they ‘all started off in this large iron grey monster into the open sea in pursuit of the Suffolk which was towing the target.’ As the ladies placed cotton wool in their ears, firing was commenced at the target, four miles distant. When this was finished the ladies ‘went down & washed [their] faces’ as ‘torpedo practice with submarines began.’ That afternoon, Churchill inspected the pre-Dreadnought Duncan. On 1 June he inspected the garrison and, as there was now nothing left to inspect, the Admiralty yacht sailed late that night for Bizerta.[21] Somewhere in between – in his spare time upon the island – the Mediterranean question was also discussed.

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As the meetings no longer came under the aegis of the C.I.D., minutes were not kept and the most complete record to be found is contained in a memorandum of the draft arrangements drawn up by Churchill and Kitchener. Churchill, backed by Battenberg, at once set out his bargaining position by continuing to insist that the forces should be cut down to an irreducible minimum. Presumably aware of Kitchener’s likely response to this opening gambit, Churchill kept one ace up his sleeve: Beatty’s suggestion that a brace of battle cruisers should be stationed in the Mediterranean for prestige purposes. There is no doubting that, in some respects, it was an inspired idea. After Kitchener had succeeded in obtaining Asquith’s support to try to force a compromise out of the seemingly intransigent First Lord, Churchill played his ace, put forward Beatty’s suggestion, and the Consul-General was appeased. Some almost-new battle cruisers would take the place of six obsolete battleships. The result now, Kitchener reported to Grey the day after the Enchantress had departed Malta, would be ‘not unsatisfactory’. In his dispatch Kitchener was able to inform the Foreign Secretary that the Admiralty ‘are prepared to maintain permanently in the Mediterranean 2 and preferably 3 Battle Cruisers’, adding – in the hope Grey would lend his support just as Asquith had done – ‘I think that if you insist they will find 3 of these.’ While he must have felt reasonably pleased with the outcome, in reality Kitchener had fallen for the three card trick. The ‘approximate’ outcome of the consultations, as he described to Grey, was that:

It was considered essential that a definite agreement should be made with France, if we defend her Northern coasts that her Fleet in the Mediterranean, together with the permanent British ships stationed there should be sufficient to ensure victory against Italy and Austria combined in case of war with the Triple Alliance.

In addition to the extra battle cruiser, Kitchener also wanted a cruiser squadron of four ships, two of which at least (and preferably all four) should be of the large Devonshire class: again, if Grey were to insist, Kitchener was sure the squadron could be made to comprise all Devonshires.[22] Churchill though would guarantee only two Devonshires immediately, with two of the same class to follow ‘as soon as circumstances permit’; he did agree that the smaller ships already on station should be maintained for diplomatic purposes.

                With regard to the fleet to be based at Gibraltar, Kitchener proposed that it should consist of eight battleships with the title, only slightly less clumsy than Beatty’s, “Mediterranean Battle Fleet (Fourth Battle Squadron)”. Further, he advocated that, by January 1913, two dreadnoughts should be attached with the promise that the fleet should eventually become all-dreadnought. And finally, despite the fact that the subject had not been mentioned during the Malta discussions, Kitchener urged Grey to arrange it so that the battle squadron should not be moved from the Mediterranean in peacetime without the concurrence of the Foreign Office. Churchill was at his least accommodating with regard to this fleet which he, in turn, christened ‘The Mediterranean (Fourth) Battle Squadron’. The plethora of titles clearly indicated the prevailing confusion as to the exact purpose this fleet was meant to serve. Churchill appeared to be ill at ease with the dual nature of its function, again a possible legacy of Fisher’s edict that it was not possible to be strong everywhere. For the time being, it would be composed of four pre-dreadnought Duncans, to be joined, according to the draft arrangements, by the ‘semi-dreadnoughts’ Lord Nelson and Agamemnon early in 1913 and, later that year, by another pre-dreadnought and also Dreadnought herself. Although the squadron would cruise as much as possible in the Mediterranean, it would be ‘available for service elsewhere if seriously required in peace, or in case of war.’ So much for the Foreign Office. On a less exalted plane, it was proposed that the submarine and destroyer flotillas at Malta should be increased if necessary, while Alexandria would receive a submarine flotilla ‘capable of overseas action’.[23]

                Inspiration and expediency aside, the decision to station battle cruisers at Malta made a great deal of sense. They were ideally suited for commerce protection, could outrun any of the Italian or Austrian dreadnoughts slowly entering service, and, being such imposing vessels in their own right, would make excellent “flag wavers”. Yet even this decision was not uncontentious. ‘The narrow waters of the Mediterranean’, the Naval Annual argued, somewhat pedantically, ‘do not seem the most suitable sphere of action for vessels with the sea-keeping qualities of our battle-cruisers.’ Nevertheless, though Fisher would have been loathe to admit it, the further the battle cruisers were away from the German dreadnoughts in the North Sea, the better.

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The Malta debate was not conducted in a vacuum; the question of a British withdrawal vitally affected French interests as well and similar arguments raged over the concomitant French policy of concentration in the Mediterranean. M Painlevé, the reporter on the French estimates for 1912 and 1913, strongly supported the policy, adopting Fisher’s dictum that it was better to be overwhelmingly strong in what was for France the main theatre. He was joined by the well-known naval writer Captain Daveluy who, although recognizing that towns on the French Channel coast could be subject to bombardment from the sea, did not think that serious damage would be inflicted as a result.[24] However, even this danger could be eliminated by means of a powerful ally in the North Sea who could take the fight direct to the enemy at the onset of hostilities. In opposition to these views were, amongst others, M J de Lanessan, a former Minister of Marine, and Rear-Admiral Darrieus, another writer who had also held a command in the Mediterranean. Darrieus was not prepared to regard lightly the prospect of bombardment and possible invasion of the undefended Channel coast. In January 1913 he was placed in a strong position to air his views when he became Chief of the Cabinet to the new Minister of Marine, Pierre Baudin.[25]

                Meanwhile, with the Triple Alliance due for renewal, Prime Minister Poincaré sought a diplomatic arrangement with Italy to prevent the extension of the obligations of the alliance to the Mediterranean. Cambon, in London, saw Nicolson on 18 May to explain that:

M Poincare was revolving in his mind some project whereby an arrangement could be made with Italy providing for the maintenance of the status quo along the whole seaboard from the Suez Canal to the entrance of the Straits of Gibraltar. His idea was for some mutual engagement between France, Italy, and Great Britain, that each country would respect and maintain the integrity of the possessions of the others.[26]

Grey realized, however, that such a proposition would, while the Turco-Italian war continued, ‘postulate the recognition of the Italian annexation of Tripoli’ which was, for the moment, out of the question. All this was far away from Asquith’s mind as the Enchantress steamed leisurely back to Portsmouth. He at least relaxed and enjoyed the sights oblivious to the impression he created; Churchill, restless as ever, could not relax and beavered away on yet another memorandum on the Mediterranean Naval Situation. It was rapidly developing into a summer of memoranda.

                In the absence of the Prime Minister and First Lord, rampant press speculation in London continued unabated. Esher rushed to congratulate the editor of the Westminster Gazette when a leader on 4 June strongly criticized the North Sea orientation of the fleet. In Esher’s opinion, the Mediterranean remained ‘permanently the centre of naval strategic gravity in Europe, because it is and always has been the main artery of sea bound trade.’ Yet, he advised Spender, if the Board of Admiralty could have their way, ‘the whole of the Dominion Fleets (when they come into being) will be in the North Sea! It is madness. Talk to Admiral Troubridge [the C.O.S.] and see what he says about the “fighting value” of such a force concentrated in one theatre of war.’[27] Whether or not Spender took Esher’s advice, Sir Henry Wilson certainly discussed the situation with Troubridge — and came away from their long talk seriously alarmed. The addition of the two battle cruisers to the four cruisers on the Malta station, while welcome in itself, did not go nearly far enough: ‘…in no sense’, Wilson recorded in his diary, ‘could it be said we had regained control.’ Troubridge also voiced his opinion ‘that this Government won’t have an alliance with France’, the one arrangement, other than the vast addition to the Fleet that Troubridge considered preferable, which would have safeguarded the Mediterranean position.[28]

                Speculation was not confined to Britain either: Goschen reported from Berlin that, following the Malta Conference, German naval writers considered the evacuation of Malta in favour of Gibraltar a triumph. Although it was indisputable that the squadron could move either into the North Sea or Mediterranean, it could not go both ways at once. Not only would there be increased activity in German dockyards but in those of Italy and Austria as well.[29] Churchill, never one to take kindly to diplomats interfering in what he regarded as strategical matters, replied by way of a letter to Asquith and Grey:

The question to ask about strategic dispositions is whether they are sound in themselves, not what the enemy thinks about, & still less what he says about them. If Germany is ‘encouraged’ to further efforts by the fact that we have made the most effective steps to resist her, she will have been still further ‘encouraged’ by less effectual steps on our part. Whatever we do she will have something to say. But if her power is confined to words, we shall have done right.[30]

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The Enchantress docked at Portsmouth on the morning of Monday, 10 June. That evening Grey held a dinner at the Foreign Office for his returning colleagues at which Churchill discovered a surprising political ally in the shape of the former Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Needing all the support he could garner, at Churchill’s prompting, Balfour developed his line of argument and forwarded the ensuing memorandum on Anglo-French relations to Grey. The position was such, maintained Balfour, that Britain bore ‘the risks and burdens of an alliance without the full advantage which an alliance would secure.’ The Mediterranean situation was a perfect illustration of this, as Balfour added his name to the growing list of those involved in the popular game of listing the options available: increased naval expenditure — ‘a most costly operation’; the abandonment of the Mediterranean — which ‘would hardly be consistent with the security of our trade routes in time of war, and would be quite inconsistent with effective diplomacy in time of peace’; securing the co-operation of the French Fleet — ‘But this course obviously involves the substitution of a formal alliance for an informal Entente.’ Nevertheless, Balfour considered the last the wisest choice. An Entente, he maintained, was ‘the natural prey of the diplomatic intriguer’ and therefore the immediate announcement of an Anglo-French alliance would relieve international tension rather than aggravate it. This treaty, to be defensive, had only one danger as Balfour saw it, though it was a formidable one: the treaty ‘while remaining defensive in form, may conceivably become offensive in fact.’ To guard against this, he proposed that the ally calling for assistance should first put its case to international arbitration. Balfour concluded: ‘(1) that the capacities of the much tried “Entente” are now almost exhausted. (2) That the advantages … of a treaty are great and growing. (3) That its dangers, though real, are not unavoidable; and (4) that in a judicious use of the modern machinery of arbitration may perhaps be found the best way of avoiding them.’ However, while ostensibly ‘very glad’ to receive Balfour’s advice, Grey remained non-committal thus bearing out Troubridge’s supposition. The Mediterranean position, Grey replied blandly, ‘will oblige this or any Government to consider our relations with France very carefully.’[31]

                Asquith, meanwhile, was carpeted by King George who had been fully briefed for their interview. Esher recorded gleefully how the Prime Minister had given the King an account of the proposed plans, particularly the replacement of the six Mediterranean battleships by (eventually) three battle cruisers, only to be then ‘floored’ by the King who ‘showed far more accurate knowledge than Asquith possessed about the ships.’[32] Esher’s source for this information was the King himself, and of course it was just what Esher wanted to hear. On the other hand, when Battenberg – a devout adherent to the Admiralty line – saw the King some weeks later he found him, in regard to the Mediterranean question at least, ‘in complete ignorance of the naval aspect’ and an abysmal strategist.[33] The battle lines were drawn.

                Churchill had finished his long memorandum, begun on the Enchantress, by 15 June and it was presented at Cabinet four days later when it did not have the easy ride he expected; Asquith reported that, ‘as many members of the Cabinet had not had time to digest it, and as Mr McKenna indicated strong dissent, it was resolved after some preliminary debate to adjourn the matter till next week.’[34] Charles Hobhouse, annoyed to learn that Churchill had, without consulting the Cabinet, ‘moved the 8 battleships from Malta’ was more succinct: ‘What is not explained in this precious scheme is how we are to protect the Russian grain-trade at the outbreak of war, or in what way we are so inferior to the Austro-Italian fleet as to cause us to withdraw from the Mediterranean’.[35] This must have been disheartening, as Churchill probably expected that the memorandum into which he had put so much work would successfully have answered all his critics. To those, like Nicolson, who advocated increased naval construction Churchill skilfully countered that the problem lay not so much in the building of additional ships, but in finding trained crews to man them. To keep the old Mediterranean pre-dreadnoughts in full commission meant laying up much stronger, newer ships with nucleus crews at home. Further, if left on the station to face the Austrian and Italian dreadnoughts expected shortly to be in service, the British pre-dreadnoughts ‘would only be a cheap and certain spoil’. It would ‘be both wrong and futile to leave the present battle squadron at Malta to keep up appearances. It would be a bluff which would deceive nobody.’

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                This again was aimed at the Foreign Office and the likes of Esher. ‘The influence and authority of the Mediterranean Fleet is going to cease’, Churchill argued with justification, ‘not because of the withdrawal of the Malta battleships, but because of the completion of the Austrian and Italian Dreadnoughts.’ Clearly, the major theatre was to be the North Sea; in the Mediterranean, Churchill continued, Britain must adopt the rôle of the weaker power and, in words that must have been music to Fisher’s ears, ‘fall back mainly on the torpedo’. Malta could, if necessary, hold out for three months, relying on its reputation as ‘a nest of submarines and torpedo craft’. Yet, if that were really the case, why then send the battle cruisers at all? Churchill even had an argument for those who took this extreme opposing view: a problem would arise during 1913 and 1914, he admitted, as French shipbuilding alone failed to match that of Italy and Austria combined, thereby necessitating the maintenance in the Mediterranean of a British force which, when added to the French, would ensure ‘an effective superiority’. Churchill therefore proposed, initially, to send out the battle cruisers Indomitable and Invincible. How he must have been glad of Beatty’s suggestion, which had saved the day in Malta, and to which he could now also add the sanction of Admiral Bridgeman. The First Sea Lord, according to Churchill, was of the opinion that ‘At present the British battle cruisers have an immense prestige in themselves; no one really knows their full value; it is undoubtedly great — it may be even more than we imagine. In the Mediterranean they could operate with great effect; their speed, their armour, their armament, all are great assets, even their appearance has a sobering effect.’[36]

                Following the clash in Cabinet the opposing sides retired, albeit briefly, to consolidate their arguments. Churchill might have counted on some opposition, but whether he anticipated that it would come principally from McKenna, and with such vehemence, is problematical. Two days later, 21 June, and both sides would be back at work. Troubridge, the C.O.S., concocted an Admiralty War Staff Memorandum on the Mediterranean Situation — a tame and innocuous document which generally followed the Churchillian line and whose only novelty lay in the suggestion that, to help in meeting the demand for ten additional battleships required by 1915 to maintain superiority, the six battleships projected or building in British yards for foreign powers could be purchased. Troubridge was on guard against over-reliance on the French. The arrangement with France, he argued, ‘must take a permanent shape, or we must increase our own Navy to the extent necessary to maintain our position in the face of the Triple Alliance. The latter alternative is considered by the War Staff to be the more satisfactory from every point of view except that of expense.’ This, of course, entered the realms of fantasy and is an interesting example of the proposals emanating from the so-called ‘thinking department’ of the Admiralty.[37]

                While Troubridge worked on his memorandum, at the other end of Whitehall Nicolson had two visitors at the Foreign Office on 21 June: Admiral Sir John Fisher and Ambassador Paul Cambon. Although Fisher had wanted to see Grey the Foreign Secretary kept him at arms length and Nicolson instead received the ear bashing. It was the familiar story: Fisher had realized ever since he was C-in-C in the Mediterranean at the turn of the century that British interests would come to rely on the torpedo; Alexandria and the Suez Canal could be defended with submarines and torpedo craft, while Malta could hold out for three months. On this occasion, his famed prescience deserted him: this would be ample time, he insisted, because ‘the war would be finished in 3 weeks’. Nevertheless, those attempting to fan the flames of controversy by protesting against the planned evacuation of the Mediterranean (such as Beresford) were ‘talking rubbish’. Fisher had explained his views to Churchill in detail, Nicolson later informed Grey, ‘but I give you the merest sketch of them. Of course he [Fisher] apparently has not taken into consideration other than strictly naval questions and on these I can give no opinion.’[38] Taking the opposite line, Nicolson’s second visitor, Cambon, readily admitted that he had no instructions to speak on the Mediterranean question but he just happened to have read the latest reports from Paris and could not help observing that he, personally, thought the withdrawal to Gibraltar a mistake. British influence in the Levant would necessarily be diminished while it might also become advisable to include Spain in any future discussions.[39]

                The King’s private secretary, Lord Knollys, was also busy that day, writing to Asquith to remind the Prime Minister that he had promised the King that Churchill’s plans, once accepted by the Cabinet, should then go before the C.I.D. before becoming final.[40] The King’s concerns, though heartfelt, had been fuelled by the increasingly vociferous Esher, who was not to be denied in the current round of “memorandumizing”. His effort was straightforward enough:

No juggling with the number or quality of a limited cruiser squadron for the Mediterranean; no partial rearmament of Maltese fixed defences; and no transference of a few military units from South Africa to Egypt can be an adequate substitute for a Battle Fleet in the Middle Sea. It is equally certain that neither in War nor in Peace can an Alliance or a Convention with France serve the double purpose of Great Britain, that is (1) to maintain such Mediterranean sea-command as will in Peace give assurance of support to distant parts of the Empire, and (2) in War to keep open the military route to India and safeguard our principal avenues of seaborne trade.[41]

Esher’s argument centred on the provision of ‘reasonable security’ in the North Sea rather than overwhelming force; this would in turn free enough ships to maintain a Mediterranean Battle Fleet.

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This was a seductive argument which Churchill had to refute, and quickly, before the Cabinet reconvened. Churchill duly prepared a supplementary memorandum on 22 June in ‘amplification’ of his previous one and with the rejoinder, in an attempt to force the issue, that ‘a decision is urgently required’. The new document was more technical than before, relying perhaps on the hope that his colleagues, like Nicolson the day before, would be loathe to voice an opinion on purely naval matters. Churchill also fell back on the old Admiralty ploy of presenting the German programme in the gravest possible light, as if it were an accomplished fact, while overstating the difficulties encountered by the Royal Navy. An irreducible minimum of thirty-three British battleships, he confidently asserted, was needed to counter the threat posed by twenty-five German battleships ‘in full permanent commission’. However, of these thirty-three British ships, eight would comprise the new Gibraltar squadron and would not be available to respond to a sudden German threat in the North Sea. Of the remaining twenty-five ships, others – amounting to five or six at any one time – would also be unavailable through refitting, repair or special duty.

                While this would also hold true for Germany, they could arrange for all their ships to be ready at a given time. The result, in Churchill’s unsettling and pessimistic forecast, was that Britain could not ‘make certain of putting more than twenty-one full commissioned battleships and six full nucleus crew battleships in the line: total twenty-seven. There is no reason why – choosing their moment – the Germans should not put an equal number. In fact, our only margin for a sudden emergency is any superiority in the quality of our individual ships.’ Churchill thereupon outlined four courses:

a.  To reduce our margins in the North Sea, which my naval advisors state will imperil the country.

b.  To abandon the Mediterranean, which would be very injurious.

c.  To build a new fleet for the Mediterranean, which will cost 15 to 20 millions and cannot be ready before 1916; and,

d.  To make an arrangement with France and leave enough ships in the Mediterranean to give her undoubted superiority, as proposed in my memorandum of 16th inst.[42]

Churchill had, inter alia, answered Esher with point (a); Nicolson with point (b); and Troubridge with point (c). However, his chief critic from within the Government, the former First Lord, McKenna, could not attend the Cabinet on 27 June when Churchill’s memoranda would be debated; any hopes Churchill entertained that he would be able to force agreement to the proposal in McKenna’s absence quickly foundered when the First Lord read the memorandum McKenna had produced on the 24th to take his place in the Cabinet room. With admirable speed, Churchill produced yet another memorandum on 25 June specifically to refute McKenna’s.

                The discussion of this mounting pile of paper occupied the whole sitting of the Cabinet on the 27th. McKenna’s memorandum attempted to “out-figure” Churchill; it is inconceivable that, as a well-respected former First Lord, McKenna did not have some inside assistance in preparing his counter-blast, even if he was at pains to deny this.[43] Churchill’s tactics consisted of presenting the fateful comparison between the two Powers as being between Dreadnoughts and Battle Cruisers only, thus ignoring the marked British preponderance in pre-dreadnoughts. In doing so, not only did he have the full support of his advisers – men of the materiel school – who tended to write off the pre-dreadnought as being a less than useful fighting unit, but he was also forced, secretly, to deny his own private opinion as to the value of pre-dreadnoughts.[44]

                McKenna chose otherwise: presenting the case for the spring of 1914 he included battleships up to twenty years old. The figure thus arrived at comprised thirty-eight pre-dreadnoughts (going back to the Majestic class of 1890s), the two semi-dreadnoughts (Lord Nelson and Agamemnon), ten dreadnoughts and twelve super-dreadnoughts: a total of sixty-two battleships compared to only thirty-six that Germany could count on by using the same formula. The disparity was just as marked with the other classes: ten British battle cruisers against five German, and thirty-four British armoured cruisers against just nine for Germany. Even adding the figures for Italy and Austria to those of Germany would give Britain parity with dreadnoughts and a superiority in other classes. McKenna, on this basis, ventured to submit ‘no more than a suggestion as a basis for discussion’ that the King Edward class of eight battleships, still only six or seven years old, should go to Malta, while the eight older Formidables should go to Gibraltar, accompanied by a cruiser squadron. United under a single command this force should suffice in 1914 at least against the combined strength of Italy and Austria in protecting both Malta and Gibraltar and the trade routes. McKenna could not resist rubbing salt into the wound: ‘Should this Fleet, however, be regarded as inadequate, the preponderance of our remaining strength over Germany is so great that prudence would permit of our sending a reinforcement.’

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                Churchill volleyed back: ‘I fully recognize the difficulties which the Home Secretary has had in endeavouring to deal with such a problem without assistance of expert advisers, and I am indebted to him for the trouble which he has taken in preparing so detailed a memorandum. But I am compelled to observe that the distribution of the British Fleets proposed by him would be at variance with the accepted principles of strategy, and would directly court disaster.’ So, who was right? Surely in the final analysis it all came down to figures which could be proved or disproved? On this basis McKenna, with or without expert advisers, correctly foretold what the situation would be. His forecast, for the spring of 1914, credited Germany with thirty-six battleships and five battle cruisers. Germany entered the war with thirty-five battleships and five battle cruisers. In fact, as far as the battleships were concerned, McKenna was too generous in splitting the ratio of dreadnought to pre-dreadnought — his total of thirty-six German ships being made up of sixteen of the former and twenty of the latter whereas the actual figures were thirteen and twenty-two.

                But this was in the future and, for the present, to refute McKenna’s assertion Churchill presented the recently passed novelle as an established fact, allowing the Germans to maintain twenty-five ships at all time in full commission. Against this was set Churchill’s irreducible minimum of thirty-three British ships. Yet if, as McKenna suggested, sixteen pre-dreadnoughts were detached this would leave, according to the Mobilisation Department, only seventeen ships fully commissioned and available in home waters. Churchill’s attempt at scare tactics failed. When he was asked by Charles Hobhouse to state ‘when the German fleet would be at its full strength’ Churchill, ‘after some equivocation’ declared that this would occur in 1915. The Cabinet then ‘pressed him as to the forces of France and Russia of which he had taken no account, and he had to concede their strength.’[45]

Knowing he could not win purely on ship numbers, Churchill again shifted the ground away from the actual ships and concentrated on manpower instead: it did not matter how many ships you had, he now argued, if the crews to man them could not be found even though, apparently, Germany had no trouble producing the trained crews at short notice which Britain could not find. Churchill then took McKenna’s figure of sixteen German dreadnoughts available by April 1914 to which he added nine pre-dreadnoughts in full commission and four reserve ships. Against this total, Britain could supposedly call on only seventeen dreadnoughts in full commission plus a further seven with nucleus crews: therefore Germany could field twenty-nine ships against Britain’s twenty-four. The flaw in Churchill’s argument, apart from the ease with which German sailors could be produced, was obvious: British pre-dreadnoughts unsupported in the Mediterranean would, in Churchill’s words, be ‘cheap and easy spoil’ to the Italian and Austrian dreadnoughts; yet, in the North Sea, the German pre-dreadnoughts, universally accepted as poor ships, could somehow survive and prosper. Whatever else Churchill maintained, the simple fact was that, after stripping out the despised pre-dreadnoughts, according to his own figures Britain would have twenty-four dreadnoughts against Germany’s sixteen and, what is more, the newer British ships mounted the excellent 13.5-inch gun as against the 12-inch in all the German ships.[46] It was little wonder that Sir Henry Wilson complained that the politicians were trying to bamboozle with figures.[47]

                The situation was even more comfortable with regard to battle cruisers where Churchill was forced to agree with McKenna’s figures of ten British against five German; he did quibble, however, that Australia would soon be detached to become flagship of the newly formed Australian Navy. This time his cry of ‘wolf’ was not helped by the agreement reached at Malta to send two (‘preferably three’) battle cruisers to the Mediterranean. ‘The argument for sparing these’, Churchill reasoned, ‘is that the late Board of Admiralty had proposed to send Indomitable to China, and to let New Zealand go there too. We have stopped Indomitable and have been allowed to keep New Zealand. We are therefore two to the good on these. If a third battle cruiser is wanted for the Mediterranean, an extra ship must be laid down forthwith to replace her.’ Although Churchill’s barbed reference to the ‘late Board of Admiralty’ was, presumably, not lost on McKenna the former First Lord fought back intelligently, pointing to yet another flaw in Churchill’s plan: supposing, McKenna’s memorandum argued, the German fleet declined to give battle but merely exercised the threat of a fleet in being, safe in harbour, unable to be drawn out or attacked? Italian and Austrian cruisers would have a free reign on the Mediterranean trade routes, as the plan to reinforce the Mediterranean after the decisive North Sea battle would have to be held permanently in abeyance while, all the time, the morale of the officers and men of the Royal Navy would suffer from being kept on a war footing at their bleak northern stations.

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                McKenna further hypothesized that Italian and Austrian cruisers could push out into the Atlantic to attack the major trade routes there, though this was discounted by Churchill who did not believe these ships would want to run the gauntlet of Gibraltar and, even if they did, they would lack suitable Atlantic bases. Nevertheless, McKenna maintained:

So long as Germany is able by the mere postponement of a battle, in which she is sure of defeat, to secure the destruction of our trade and the consequent starvation of our people, what inducement has she to do more than remain in her fortified harbours until we are either exhausted from lack of supplies, or have weakened ourselves to Mr Churchill’s point of danger by dispatching a fleet to drive off the allies. I do not think I am misinterpreting Mr Churchill’s strategy when I say that an alliance with France is its essential feature. Without such an alliance I cannot think that his naval advisers would recommend the distribution of the fleet which he now proposes. It is, of course, for the Cabinet to decide whether we should allow ourselves to be forced into this alliance, but, for my part, I should view with the gravest concern any action being taken which must necessarily lead to such a conclusion. I would far rather – if it were necessary, which I hesitate to believe – give my vote for an addition to our fleet in ships and men, than be driven by our weakness into dependence on an alliance with any European power.[48]

Churchill would argue that, indeed, McKenna was misrepresenting his strategy. In anticipation of just such an objection, Churchill’s original memorandum of 15 June had stated:

It should be noted that these arrangements stand by themselves, and are put forward as the best we can make in the present circumstances. The situation would, however, become entirely favourable if France is taken into account. The French fleet, supported by an adequate British naval force, and enjoying the use of our fortified and torpedo-defended bases as well as their own, would be superior to any Austro-Italian alliance. An Anglo-French combination in a war would be able to maintain full control of the Mediterranean, and afford all necessary protection to British and French interests, both territorial and commercial, without impairing British margins in the North Sea. A definite naval arrangement should be made with France without delay. This arrangement would come into force only if the two Powers were at any time allies in a war. It would not decide the question of whether they should be allies or not. No sound or effective dispositions can be made without it, and many obvious contingencies must be left unsatisfied.[49]

                McKenna’s opposition was dangerous for Churchill, the more so since another forceful opponent of the planned changes – Haldane – had recently been moved from the War Office to become Lord Chancellor following Loreburn’s resignation. Haldane was replaced in turn by the ineffectual Colonel Seely.[50] Although this change spurred on Generals French and Wilson it nevertheless meant that if Churchill could outface McKenna he would stand a reasonable chance of forcing his changes through. To assist in this process, and as his arguments revolved to an ever greater extent around manning requirements, Churchill sought to lay the blame for the current shortfall at McKenna’s feet. It was the former First Lord, Churchill calmly noted while taking advantage of McKenna’s absence, who had in February 1911 refused to sanction the manning increase requested — though the weight of this particular argument was somewhat diminished when Churchill ruefully admitted that, for 1911 at least, McKenna had been justified. By 1912, however, with the knowledge of the German novelle, Churchill had seen the light, announced an immediate increase in manpower and had begun recruiting steadily, but doubted whether he could make up the shortfall.[51] This change of tactics was not sufficient to convince his colleagues and Churchill made little headway. It was perhaps just as well that McKenna was not at the Cabinet on 27 June. Conceivably, after a full day of this, Asquith might also have wished that he were somewhere else. Aware that the C.I.D. would meet a week hence to thrash out the entire question yet again in the light of the Malta Conference, and having had enough of naval strategy for one day, the Prime Minister deferred further consideration of the subject by the Cabinet until the following Friday, after the C.I.D. had deliberated and when McKenna would be able to attend. In the meantime Churchill was asked to produce yet more figures as regards fighting strengths in the Mediterranean for the next three years against various combinations.[52] There was one tangible result of this meeting, however: Charles Hobhouse recorded that, despite Grey, in particular, being ‘much impressed’ with the argument that ‘half of the corn eaten here reaches us via the Mediterranean’, the ‘suggested definite naval agreement with France seems to be abandoned by everyone.’[53]

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                In support of Churchill, Admiral Bridgeman, the First Sea Lord, had set Troubridge to work to prepare a new report on “Conditional Mediterranean Requirements”. In the most likely event – co-operation with France – Troubridge proposed that Britain should send two battle cruisers to Malta by January 1913, with a third a year later and a fourth by January 1915. The two latter ships (either battle cruisers or battleships) would have to be additional to current building programmes, and the C.O.S. held out the hope that perhaps Canada might supply them.[54] Each side now prepared for what was viewed as the crucial C.I.D. meeting of 4 July. McKenna sent a copy of his memorandum to the King – a likely ally – but Battenberg learnt of this move after lunching with the King on 1 July and informed Churchill who immediately complained to His Majesty of the ‘somewhat unusual course’ McKenna had taken. Churchill naturally, in place of his predecessor’s alleged bogus arguments, supplied the King with copies of his own memoranda.[55] The First Lord also commissioned a memorandum from Fisher in support of his plans and intended to use it in Cabinet, but it was perhaps too forthright and eccentric even for that body and Fisher sent it instead (possibly with Churchill’s blessing) to the King’s private secretary.[56]

                While the coalition against the planned evacuation gathered strength, at the Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Nicolson either attempted to muzzle Grey, or at least ascertain where he stood. Nicolson informed Grey on Sunday 30 June that:

I am puzzled as to the next meeting of the C.I.D. at which the Mediterranean question is to be discussed. The F.O. paper enumerating our objections is on the Agenda, and to my mind, Churchill’s recent minute does not weaken or remove any of the objections. I do not know if you are of a different opinion, and whether you are ready to support Churchill’s proposals as affording at least a provisional solution of the problem. Your opinion is naturally and properly decisive as regards F.O. affairs — I feel myself therefore in a dilemma supposing you consider that the F.O. objections have been satisfactorily met by what I will term the Malta compromise. Of course I could not in these circumstances advocate at the Committee the F.O. opinion as stated in our paper. It would be unseemly for me to do so. On the other hand I should not care to remain silent as if I acquiesced in the Malta compromise, for honestly I do not, I am disposed to think that it would be better that I should not attend the Committee meeting at all, and thus avoid what would be to me an embarrassing position.[57]

Nicolson’s mild attempt to blackmail Grey into wholeheartedly supporting the F.O. line failed. The never-ending discussion of the Mediterranean situation must have made Grey feel distinctly uncomfortable; he certainly took little part in the debates, and did not need reminding by Nicolson of the consequences which would ensue following acceptance of the Malta compromise. In the event, Nicolson did attend the meeting, but would say nothing.

                Esher, meanwhile, was concerned that his attacks on Churchill’s policy might be construed as an attack on the First Lord personally and, accordingly, he wrote to Churchill on 1 July to disabuse him of this notion. He had liked Churchill, he declared, since, as a child, the First Lord had bounced on Esher’s knee. ‘Because of you youth, zeal, assiduity and great powers of mind’, the egregious intriguer continued, ‘you are the only member of the Government for this vital post which you occupy.’ Esher ended feebly that he may come up to London for the C.I.D.; presumably Churchill saw straight through this feigned indecision. Privately, though, Esher was becoming more resigned to the situation, writing to his son the following day that ‘all the strong people in the Cabinet are behind Winston. It will be a bit of a fight at the Defence Committee, but if the P.M., Grey, Haldane and Lloyd George back Churchill what can the rest do? It means an alliance with France under cover of “conversations”.’[58]

                The day before the C.I.D. McKenna, like a good lawyer always seeking to have the last word, weighed in with a fresh memorandum in answer to Churchill’s of 25 June. He pointed out that the fleets of those putative allies, Italy and Austria, were just as likely to operate against each other and that it would be ‘unlikely that they will ever be found in a single line of battle.’ Reiterating his figures, McKenna showed that, in all classes, the Royal Navy was at parity with, or superior to, the combined forces of the Triple Alliance. On the sore point of manning he argued that, even if current levels were deficient, the leeway could be made good by 1914.[59] Finally, the same day, another view was presented by the Naval Attaché in Paris, Captain Kelly, who argued that ‘from a naval point of view, and considering the present state of international affairs, an alliance between France and Great Britain is desirable for both parties, and if it is not carried into effect at once at least all the preliminaries should be carefully drawn up, so that should the alliance be decided on suddenly its effect could at once be felt.’ If, Kelly added, the Mediterranean was to be left to France, ‘this can only be done through an alliance, a matter of such import cannot be left to a simple understanding.’ Should this happen, he maintained, ‘the French fleet can safely be trusted with the control and guard of the western basin, but even then, [just to confuse the issue] as British interests are mainly in the east, a British force of at least four Battle-Cruisers should be stationed in the east basin, based on the Port of Alexandria.’[60] How Fisher must have smiled.  Please click to go to the top of this page






[1]     Churchill to Haldane, 6 May 1912, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, pp. 1548-9.

[2]     Memorandum by the Secretary of State for War on the Effect of the loss of Sea Power in the Mediterranean on British Military Strategy, 9 May 1912, PRO Cab 37/110/68.

[3]     Asquith to the King, 10 May 1912, PRO Cab 41/33/49; Asquith to Churchill, 10 May 1912, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, p. 1552; Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, pp. 19-20.

[4]     d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 266.

[5]     Minute by Churchill, 10 May, on Nicolson to Grey, 4 May 1912, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/94.

[6]     Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, pp. 88-9 and note 9.

[7]     Grey to Churchill, 11 May 1912; minute by Churchill, 19 May; further minute by Grey, undated. Grey mss., PRO FO 800/87.

[8]     Asquith to the King, 17 May 1912, PRO Cab 41/33/50.

[9]     Violet Bonham Carter, diary entries for 23 and 26 May 1912, given in, Bonham Carter and Pottle (eds.), Lantern Slides: the Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter, 1904-14, pp. 313-7.

[10]    Fisher to Gerald Fiennes, 28 May 1912, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 465.

[11]    Beatty himself did not create a great impression. Violet Bonham Carter recorded that he was ‘nice but impossible to talk to — says “Curiosity, curiosity — ah Miss Inquisitive” if one asks him the name of an island or the date of a church …’ Clementine Churchill spent ‘almost her entire time at Naples in hat & glove shops — being very nice — vital — frolicsome — soignée & kind …’ Violet Bonham Carter, diary entry for 26 May 1912, given in, Bonham Carter and Pottle (eds.), Lantern Slides: the Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter, 1904-14, pp. 315-7.

[12]    Beatty to his wife, 24 and 27 May 1912, The Beatty Papers, (London, 1989), pp. 45-6; Rear-Adl. W S Chalmers, The Life and Letters of David, Earl Beatty, (London, 1951), p. 114.

[13]    Quoted in Chalmers, Life and Letters of Beatty, pp. 112 ff.

[14]    Nicolson to Goschen, 21 May 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/355.

[15]    Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 292.

[16]    Kitchener to Grey, 19 May 1912, Lumby, pp. 19-20.

[17]    Fisher to Churchill, 5 March 1912, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 435-40.

[18]    Nicolson to Hardinge, 3 June 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/357.

[19]    Years later Churchill would maintain, tendentiously, to Jellicoe that ‘There is a very good passage by Kempenfelt on the use of heavy fast ships to contain a theatre where one cannot have a superiority. This was the principle which inspired our arrangements for holding the Mediterranean by battle-cruisers, & was strongly affirmed by both Bridgeman & Battenberg…’ Churchill to Jellicoe, 9 March 1915, Jellicoe mss., BL Add MSS 48990.

[20]    Violet Asquith, diary entry for 1 June 1912, in, Bonham Carter and Pottle (eds.), Lantern Slides, The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter, 1904-1914, p. 319.

[21]    Ibid; HMS Enchantress Log Book, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, pp. 1580-1.

[22]    Enclosure in Kitchener to Grey, 2 June 1912, Lumby, pp. 22-3.

[23]    W. S. Churchill, Naval Situation in the Mediterranean, 15 June 1912, enclosing “Note on Draft Arrangement Concerted with Lord Kitchener”, PRO Cab 37/111/76; Lumby pp. 25-31.

[24]    The citizens of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool on the north-east coast of England, shelled by the Germans in December 1914, would not have agreed.

[25]    The Naval Annual, 1913, pp. 31-3; Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, pp. 76-84.

[26]    Grey to Bertie, 24 May 1912, Lumby, p. 21.

[27]    Esher to Spender, 5 June 1912, Spender mss., BL Add MSS 46392.

[28]    Wilson, diary entry for 12 June 1912, quoted in Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 113.

[29]    Goschen to Nicolson, 11 June 1912, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/62; Lumby, pp. 23-4.

[30]    Churchill to Asquith and Grey, 21 June 1912, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/62.

[31]    Balfour to Grey, 12 June 1912, Balfour mss., BL Add MSS 49731.

[32]    Esher, Journal entry, 12 June 1912, Esher, Journals & Letters, vol. III, p. 95.

[33]    Battenberg to Churchill, 1 July 1912, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, p. 1584.

[34]    Asquith to the King, 20 June 1912, PRO Cab 41/33/54.

[35]    Charles Hobhouse, diary entry for 21 June 1912, in David (ed.), Inside Asquith’s Cabinet from the diaries of Charles Hobhouse, p. 116.

[36]    Memorandum by Churchill, Naval Situation in the Mediterranean, 15 June 1912, PRO Cab 37/111/76.

[37]    Admiralty War Staff Memorandum, 21 June 1912, PRO Adm 116/3109; Lumby, pp. 32-5.

[38]    Nicolson to Grey, 21 June 1912, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/94.

[39]    Grey to Bertie, 21 June 1912, Lumby, p. 32.

[40]    Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 35.

[41]    Memorandum by Esher, 17 June 1912, quoted in Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Gretton, Former Naval Person, (London, 1968), pp. 133-4.

[42]    Supplementary memorandum by Churchill, The Naval Situation, 22 June 1912, PRO Cab 37/111/78; Lumby, pp. 35-7; WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, pp. 1570-2.

[43]    ‘It would be more than rash for me to define,’ McKenna said, ‘without the advantage of experts advisers, what the exact distribution of our fleet should be.’

[44]    Churchill agreed with the contention of Admiral Noel that the fighting value of pre-Dreadnoughts was under-rated. He believed that ‘many of them will prove to be of the greatest use in time of war’. Churchill to Admiral Sir Gerard Noel, 22 November 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1340-1.

[45]    Charles Hobhouse, diary entry for 28 June 1912, in David (ed.), Inside Asquith’s Cabinet from the diaries of Charles Hobhouse, p. 116.

[46]    It should be pointed out that the British total of twenty-four included the two ‘semi-dreadnoughts’ which were, nevertheless, excellent ships.

[47]    Wilson, diary entry for 26 June 1912, quoted in Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 113. It should be noted, however, that Wilson accepted Troubridge’s figures on the allegedly parlous North Sea situation far too readily.

[48]    Memorandum by Mr McKenna, 24 June 1912, PRO Cab 37/111/79; Lumby, pp. 37-42. W S Churchill, The Naval Situation, 25 June 1912, PRO Cab 37/111/80; Lumby, pp. 44-50; WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, pp. 1573-8.

[49]    Memorandum by Churchill, Naval Situation in the Mediterranean, 15 June 1912, PRO Cab 37/111/76. Keith Hamilton (Bertie of Thame, p. 288) maintains that McKenna was ‘incorrect in his assertion that an alliance with France was an “essential feature” of the new strategy.’ I disagree; just because Churchill asserted that the new arrangements stood by themselves does not detract from the force of McKenna’s argument.

[50]    Violet Asquith was ‘anti Seely’ as she did not ‘feel he will be a very invigorating dash of new flavour into the Cabinet pudding.’ Diary entry for 7 June 1912, in, Bonham Carter and Pottle (eds.), Lantern Slides, The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter, 1904-1914, pp. 324-5.

[51]    Memorandum by Churchill, 26 June 1912, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, p. 1579.

[52]    Asquith to the King, 28 June 1912, PRO Cab 41/33/55.

[53]    Charles Hobhouse, diary entry for 28 June 1912, in David (ed.), Inside Asquith’s Cabinet from the diaries of Charles Hobhouse, p. 155 [my emphasis].

[54]    Admiralty War Staff, Conditional Mediterranean Requirements, PRO Cab 37/111/83; Lumby, pp. 50-2.

[55]    Battenberg to Churchill, 1 July 1912; Churchill to the King, 2 July 1912. WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, pp. 1584-5. Battenberg wrote that it was ‘sad to think that our Sailor King stands on McK[enna]’s level as a naval strategist!’

[56]    Fisher to Stamfordham, enclosing memorandum, 25 June 1912, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 468-9.

[57]    Nicolson to Grey, 30 June 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/357.

[58]    Esher to Churchill, 1 July 1912 and Esher to Maurice Brett, 2 July 1912, Esher, Journals and Letters, pp. 98-9.

[59]    Memorandum by Mr McKenna, 3 July 1912, PRO Cab 37/111/86; Lumby, pp. 55-7.

[60]    Captain Howard Kelly, A Naval View of a Franco-British Alliance, 3 July 1912, PRO Adm 116/3109; Lumby, pp. 58-60 (extract). As Williamson has noted, Kelly’s report was received by Ballard in the Naval Intelligence Department but, for reasons which remain obscure, was not forwarded to Churchill until October. The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 286, n. 6.



THE MILLSTONE: British Naval Policy in the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to France and British Intervention in the War © Geoffrey Miller

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Home ContentsSearch Feedback Preface Introduction Superior Force Straits Chapter 1
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