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 18




‘Mon petit papier’






While strength and preparedness were on Britain’s side, morality was not — at least so far as the French were concerned. All the talk of ‘freedom of action’ would soon be replaced by accusations as the French Ambassador, Paul Cambon, was made aware that he could not automatically count on British support: in the coming struggle his main weapon would be a humble piece of paper — the November 1912 letter from Grey.[1] But it was not the only weapon in his armoury. On the afternoon of Friday 31 July, following the inconclusive Cabinet meeting, Grey had had a ‘rather painful’ interview with Cambon at which, in Asquith’s words, he ‘had of course to tell Cambon (for we are under no obligation) that we could give no pledges, and that our action must depend upon the course of events — including the Belgian question, and the direction of public opinion here.’[2]

Despite this, the French Ambassador remained reasonably hopeful, and particularly so when Grey told him that Lichnowsky had been informed that morning that ‘if the conflict became general, Great Britain would not be able to remain neutral, and especially that if France were involved Great Britain would be drawn in.’ Counting heavily on Grey’s eventual success in winning over his recalcitrant colleagues, Cambon seemed to accept Grey’s statement that ‘before considering intervention it was necessary to wait for the situation to develop.’ The Cabinet, Cambon informed Paris that evening, ‘could not commit Parliament without consulting it beforehand’. Yet it was with a fait accompli that Grey would next go before the House. At this stage, still counting on eventual British intervention, Cambon perhaps recognized that a necessary prerequisite for the public conversion of the waverers would be a flagrant violation of Belgian neutrality. This would provide a greater impetus to public opinion than an argument based upon a moral commitment to France. The Ambassador did, however, point out during his interview with the Foreign Secretary that British intervention only in the event of an actual German invasion of French territory would come too late; he urged Grey to re-submit the matter to Cabinet ‘and to insist on pledges being given to us without delay.’ Cambon turned on his heels, left the Foreign Secretary’s room and immediately ran into Nicolson, who reassured him that Grey would raise the issue at the Cabinet which was to be held the following day, Saturday. The French Ambassador’s principal hope now rested upon the German reply to the telegram sent from London that evening requesting an ‘understanding to respect Belgian neutrality.’[3]

In addition to an anxious Ambassador, Grey also had to deal with his own permanent staff. Crowe, in particular, emerged as the leading ‘hawk’, sending Grey ‘some simple thoughts which the grave situation has suggested to my mind.’ Crowe was deeply affected that Friday evening; one colleague recalled walking in to his room to find that ‘the tears were glistening down the furrows of his face, and all that he could say was “the poor French”.’[4] The ‘simple thoughts’ Crowe penned in his elegant script commenced with the breathtaking statement that ‘The theory that England cannot engage in a big war means her abdication as an independent State’, as if war were some test of a nation’s manhood which had periodically to be undertaken.

The argument that there is no written bond binding us to France is strictly correct [Crowe continued]. There is no contractual obligation. But the Entente has been made, strengthened, put to the test and celebrated in a manner justifying the belief that a moral bond was being forged. The whole policy of the Entente can have no meaning if it does not signify that in a just quarrel England would stand by her friends. This honourable expectation has been raised. We cannot repudiate it without exposing our good name to grave criticism.[5]

Crowe admitted that such arguments might result in Grey ‘getting angry but it may do good.’[6] In fact, getting Grey annoyed in such a manner could well have proved counter-productive.

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In Downing Street on Friday evening, still not reconciled to the loss of his weekend away, Asquith ‘grappled’ with Lloyd George and the Directors of the Bank of England, attempting to avert financial panic; they were subsequently joined by Churchill and Grey. As the evening wore on members of the small group drifted away, until, when only Asquith and two of his private secretaries (Maurice Bonham Carter and Eric Drummond) remained, William Tyrrell arrived ‘with a long message from Berlin, to the effect that the German Emperor’s efforts for peace had been suddenly arrested & frustrated by the Czar’s decree for a complete Russian mobilisation.’ The quartet immediately drafted a ‘direct personal appeal from the King to the Czar’; Asquith then called a taxi, and arrived at Buckingham Palace about 1.30 a.m. to haul the King out of bed, for his approval. While one of his private secretaries was then dispatched to the German Embassy to inform Lichnowsky of what had been done,[7] Asquith himself returned to Downing Street at 2 a.m. and ‘didn’t sleep badly’.[8]

                The Prime Minister was not the only senior figure conducting negotiations that night. The possibility that, rather than condone a declaration of war, there might be numerous resignations from Asquith’s cabinet brought the prospect of a coalition government that much closer.[9] That this eventuality was being seriously considered was enough to alarm Asquith and Grey. Churchill who, in view of his own parliamentary history, was not as averse to a coalition as his colleagues, scurried to sound out his opponents. ‘Winston, I hear,’ Nicolson subsequently related, ‘in view of the differences in the Cabinet, which might lead to a disruption was away for a time in indirect negotiations with the leaders of the opposition for a coalition cabinet.’[10] Churchill discussed the matter with F. E. Smith on the evening of Thursday 30 July and, the following night, Smith attempted to sound out Bonar Law, the Conservative leader. Law, who was distinctly cool towards Churchill and ‘disliked indirect communications of this nature’, would give no more than a general assurance that he would support the Government.[11]

                If George Lloyd had been aware of this, the Conservative M.P. might have been spared a worrisome weekend. Concerned at the turn of events, following an overheard remark of Asquith’s in the House, Lloyd went to the French Embassy that Friday night and saw an emotional Paul Cambon who allegedly told him:

‘I have just been to see Sir Edward Grey and he says that under no conditions will you fight.’ Cambon’s voice almost trembled as he went on to say: ‘That is what he said. He seems to forget that it was on your advice and under your guarantee that we moved all our ships to the south and our ammunition to Toulon. Si vous restez inertes, nos côtes sont livrés aux Allemands.

While, by itself, his argument regarding the naval aspect was spurious, Cambon then made a far more serious accusation: that Grey had allegedly said his hands were tied because the Conservatives would not support the Government. Lloyd’s description of Cambon does not square with the image presented to Grey a few hours earlier, when Cambon made his points with quiet insistence, safe in the knowledge that Grey, at least, was whole-heartedly with him. Nevertheless, despite the hour, Lloyd went to see General Sir Henry Wilson, no friend of the Liberal administration, who apparently confirmed the charge.[12] Evidently, Wilson had been told something of what had transpired that afternoon which he then took a malicious glee in embellishing. ‘It’s all up,’ Lloyd informed Henry Wickham Steed soon after. ‘The Government are going to “rat” … I have just left Sir Henry Wilson … who has told me what the position is.’ When Wickham Steed, the foreign editor of The Times, inquired as to what the Opposition leaders were doing, Lloyd replied bitterly, ‘They are going into the country to play lawn tennis … Balfour, Bonar Law, and the whole lot of them. You forget that Monday is Bank Holiday!’[13] Wilson’s source must have come from within the Foreign Office, in which case the prime suspect is Eyre Crowe, who had called on Wilson just before six o’clock that afternoon with the news that the Russians had decided to proceed to general mobilization. Crowe declared that he had just spent three-quarters of an hour with Grey, ‘and he though the case was hopeless. Grey spoke of the ruin of commerce etc.’ According to Wilson, despite ‘all Crowe’s arguments [Grey] appeared determined to act the coward.’ Crowe, ‘in despair’, had begged Wilson ‘to see Asquith of Grey, but of course they would not see me.’[14]Please click to go to the top of this page

                As all this was happening the lamps at the Foreign Office burned late in the short summer night. The morning of Saturday, 1 August began early for Sir Arthur Nicolson. Just before midnight the previous night he had been awakened at his house to receive an erroneous report from the French Embassy that the French frontier had been violated.[15] Nicolson returned to his bed but summoned Henry Wilson at 7 a.m. on Saturday to show him a dispatch ‘indicating that the Germans were about to assume the offensive on both frontiers’; together, they went to see Grey, who was staying at Haldane’s house in nearby Queen Anne’s Gate. The Foreign Secretary was still asleep and Nicolson, loathe to wake him (for Grey had been dealing with dispatches till 3.30 a.m.) returned to his own home in Cadogan Gardens for breakfast before walking to the Foreign Office where the news was uniformly bad.[16] It could well have been that one of the last dispatches received by Grey before retiring was the German reply to his query regarding Belgian neutrality. Jagow, the German Foreign Minister, first refused to answer before consulting the Emperor and the Chancellor and then intimated that no answer would be forthcoming ‘as any reply they might give could not fail, in the event of war, to have the undesirable effect of disclosing to a certain extent part of their plan of campaign.’ According to Jagow, Belgium ‘had already committed certain acts which he could qualify as hostile.’ When pressed to provide details, the most warlike act which the Foreign Minister could adduce was the embargo placed by the Belgian Government on a consignment of grain bound for Germany.[17] Once Grey arose he had to face in the full light of day the realization that, confronted with Russian mobilization, nothing now would restrain Germany.

The hours between waking and the commencement of yet another Cabinet, scheduled for 11 a.m., must have been the most oppressive the Foreign Secretary had yet experienced since the start of the crisis. Although all his instincts should have told him that the latest news represented the parting of the ways, Grey decided upon a last, bizarre attempt to buy time.[18] Together with Haldane, Grey arranged to see Asquith half an hour before the Cabinet.[19] Then, just as the Cabinet was about to convene, Grey sent William Tyrrell personally to see the German Ambassador to inform him that Grey hoped ‘as the result of a Cabinet meeting now in session, to be able to give [him] this afternoon some facts which may prove useful for the avoidance of the great catastrophe.’ Judging by the hints dropped by Tyrrell (who may have exceeded his remit), Lichnowsky guessed that what Grey was intending to propose was a formula based upon the supposition that ‘in case we did not attack France, England would remain neutral and would guarantee France’s neutrality.’[20] Lichnowsky’s surmise rested upon a misunderstanding.

Having been disturbed at seven o’clock that morning, Henry Wilson returned to his house in Draycott Place for breakfast. With understandable annoyance Wilson had already complained that no meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence had been called and that ‘no military opinion had been asked for by this Cabinet.’ His own response was to continue his campaign to force the Opposition to exert pressure upon the Government; in case this should fail, he also advised Panouse, the French Military Attaché, to suggest to Cambon that if Grey continued to refuse to intervene, Cambon should at once ‘break off relations and go to Paris.’ There was one other item of practical concern to the General. Some units of the Army were then undergoing training ‘a long way from their mobilization centres’. As a result of this dispersion, mobilization, when it came, would be delayed for three days. Asquith had been approached on Friday on the subject, when he refused to halt the training, although he did announce his intention of putting the matter before Saturday’s Cabinet.[21]Please click to go to the top of this page

The Cabinet met on the morning of Saturday 1 August from 11 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and it was ‘no exaggeration’ recorded Asquith, ‘to say that Winston occupied at least half of the time.’ The First Lord was ‘very bellicose & demanding immediate mobilisation’ which the Cabinet refused – for the moment – to sanction. Indeed, no sooner had the session commenced when Grey took the unprecedented step of leaving the Cabinet room to telephone Lichnowsky with the proposal hinted at by Tyrrell: would the German Government assure that, if France remained neutral in a Russo-German conflict, Germany would not attack the French? On his own responsibility Lichnowsky gave the assurance sought which, he informed Berlin, Grey was to use ‘at today’s Cabinet session.’[22] A few minutes after Grey returned to rejoin his colleagues Asquith wrote to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff informing him that training was not to be suspended and to put on record the fact that Britain had never promised to send an expeditionary force to France.[23] Thus, in the space of a few minutes discussion, the Cabinet had refused to sanction naval mobilization; refused to sanction the dispatch of the Expeditionary Force; and had apparently acquiesced in Grey’s approach to the German Ambassador.

But did Grey actually make use of Lichnowsky’s assurance? Or, in the intervening period, while the fate of the B.E.F. was being debated, did Grey see a new line of attack open to him: one provided by the inept German reply received that morning regarding the observance of Belgian neutrality?[24] (Given the importance with which English neutrality was suddenly viewed in Berlin, it seems astonishing that Jagow should have chosen to reveal German intentions in such an open manner.) There is no doubt that Jagow’s reply was discussed by the Cabinet. Did Grey lead the discussion around to consideration of what must have appeared to be the imminent violation of Belgian neutrality, or did he bide his time, waiting for one of his colleagues to raise the point? In any event, the dealings that morning with Lichnowsky were based upon a misapprehension. When Tyrrell approached Lichnowsky on Saturday the Ambassador had inquired as to the nature of the proposal Grey planned to submit that afternoon. Tyrrell replied to Lichnowsky’s question with one of his own: ‘whether  Germany, if France did not attack her, would also remain neutral’. Lichnowsky took this ‘to mean that Germany should in that case not attack France’. However, Tyrrell had actually meant ‘that Germany should in that event remain quite neutral.’[25] It has been suggested that the overture to Lichnowsky came solely at the behest of Tyrrell himself; Tyrrell had, for some time, been anxious to promote a better Anglo-German understanding, and distrusted Russia. If so, this is further evidence of the rift which had developed amongst Grey’s advisers. When news of the Cabinet’s latest position reached the Foreign Office staff, the response was immediate. Nicolson had already had to be talked out of resigning the previous night by Crowe who, according to his own account, ‘personally prevented five more resignations from going through’ that Saturday. ‘Feeling in the office’, Crowe declared, was ‘such that practically everyone wants to resign rather than serve a Government of dishonourable cowards.[26]

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Notwithstanding his faintheartedness that morning, Grey declared (and, given his personal responsibility in the matter, he had but little option) ‘that if an out & out & uncompromising policy of non-intervention at all costs is adopted, he will go.’[27] Despite making this stand, Grey’s refusal to countenance non-intervention was not, as was made apparent by the question put to Lichnowsky, the same thing as holding out the hope of immediate participation. The majority of the Cabinet clearly remained opposed to British entry. Lloyd George was still apparently ‘all for peace’ as were Morley, Simon, Burns, Harcourt, and other less important members of the Cabinet, collectively referred to by Asquith as the ‘Beagles’.[28] The Cabinet, Asquith conceded, had come ‘every now & again, near to the parting of the ways’. Asquith believed that, if it came to war, there would be ‘some split in the Cabinet’ and that, if Grey went, he would join him and ‘the whole thing would break up’. This ever-present threat to the Radical wing was balanced by the decisions not to send the Expeditionary Force or mobilize the Fleet, which represented a resounding victory for the non-interventionist group in the Cabinet. This should have provided an ideal opportunity for Lloyd George to stake his claim as undisputed leader of the Radical wing. His position within the party had diminished that summer following a poorly received Budget,[29] and yet, when the opportunity now presented itself to take advantage of the looming split the Chancellor, ‘sensible & statesmanlike’, was ‘for keeping the position still open.’[30] The explanation for this was that the Chancellor’s professed opinion effectively disguised his private view. It is difficult not to believe that, following his study of military strategy since 1911, Lloyd George did not appreciate that the German reply that morning meant only one thing: that a violation of Belgian neutrality was imminent.[31]

Despite Churchill’s near monopoly of the discussion that day, he was not in a position to advance a compromise position; instead, with Lloyd George apparently unwilling, this fell to Herbert Samuel, whose rôle in the events of this and the following day has recently been re-evaluated.[32] Samuel wrote to his wife that evening to inform her that ‘We may be brought in under certain eventualities’ and to claim credit for a ‘suggestion of mine [which] was adopted by the Cabinet [and] which may a good deal affect the issue. I am less hopeful than yesterday of our being able to keep out. The Cabinet is solid as yet, but the testing time may come tomorrow.’[33] Much, Samuel concluded, depended on ‘Germany’s attitude to the neutrality of Belgium.’ Hazlehurst has speculated that Samuel’s ‘suggestion’ was not to send the Expeditionary Force;[34] however, in all likelihood, this decision had already been taken before the Cabinet met. In view of Samuel’s concluding remark, and the fact that he had been to the Foreign Office that morning to read the latest dispatches, including Jagow’s response to Grey’s query, it is much more probable that Samuel advocated that the Cabinet should wait until a clear breach of Belgian neutrality by Germany effectively relieved them of having to make the decision to intervene. Such a flagrant violation of the 1839 Treaty would assuage the consciences of most of the anti-war group, could be used subsequently to justify their actions, and would explain Asquith’s comment that ‘The main controversy pivots upon Belgium & its neutrality.’[35]

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Grey, who was later described as ‘intensely anti-German’ by Simon, had been put under increasing pressure to moderate his stance. Indeed, so much pressure was applied that Grey reluctantly agreed ‘not to insist on supporting France’ if Germany respected Belgian neutrality.[36] Unquestionably, Grey must have known that such an event was unlikely; however, it did represent a climbdown, no matter how tenuous, from his previous position. There was, however, one tangible outcome of the meeting: either on his own account, or possibly by using Samuel as a proxy, Grey was authorized to approach Lichnowsky to state that, if Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality, ‘it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country.’[37] Grey’s desire to support the French at all costs, and Churchill’s eagerness to get to work with his fleet, were insufficient to carry the day; there was nothing to do but wait upon events. Although the Cabinet parted ‘in a fairly amicable mood’ the decision to intervene was now more finely balanced than ever.[38] Tyrrell was dispatched once more to see Lichnowsky on an errand which would compound the ‘misunderstanding’ that had already arisen. Grey, Tyrrell announced, wanted to see the Ambassador at half past three that afternoon to make ‘proposals for England’s neutrality, even in the event of [Germany] being at war with France as well as with Russia.’[39]

Sir Edward saw Lichnowsky as arranged to read the following statement, ‘which was unanimously drawn up by the Cabinet’, and to clear up the misunderstanding which had apparently arisen:

The reply of the German Government with regard to the neutrality of Belgium is matter of very great regret, because the neutrality of Belgium does affect feeling in this country. If Germany could see her way to give the same positive reply as that which has been given by France, it would materially contribute to relive anxiety and tension here, while on the other hand, if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country.

Though couched diplomatically, the message could not have been more clear. Lichnowsky inquired, if Belgian neutrality were respected, could Grey give a ‘definite declaration’ of British neutrality; Sir Edward could not. Should Germany ‘violate Belgian neutrality in a war with France,’ Grey replied, ‘a reversal of public feeling would take place that would make it difficult for the Government here to adopt an attitude of friendly neutrality.’ The Foreign Secretary wondered whether Germany and France might not ‘remain facing each other under arms, without attacking each other, in the event of a Russian war.’ Lichnowsky subsequently related that, in answer to his question as to whether Grey ‘could undertake any guarantee for the behaviour of the French in such a contingency, [Grey] could give me no satisfactory answer.’ The German Ambassador realized that Grey was himself ‘convinced of the impossibility of keeping two fully equipped armies facing each other inactive for months at a time.’ Lichnowsky further realized that that ‘a positive proposal on the part of England is on the whole not in prospect’. When Lichnowsky’s cable reached Berlin at two minutes past ten o’clock that evening it was soon to be annotated with the Kaiser’s lively, if infamous, marginalia: Grey was a ‘false rascal’ spouting ‘drivel’, ‘humbug’ and ‘rot’; he was ‘crazy or an idiot’. Nevertheless, Wilhelm’s parting comment did come closer to the truth: ‘My impression is that Mr Grey is a false dog who is afraid of his own meanness and false policy, but who will not come out into the open against us, preferring to let himself be forced by us to do it.’[40]

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                Grey then saw Cambon again after the interview with Lichnowsky to inform him that, in the event of a localized Russo-German conflict, Germany had agreed not to attack France if she remained neutral. If France, Grey added, ‘could not take advantage of this position, it was because she was bound by an alliance to which we were not parties, and of which we did not know the terms. This did not mean that under no circumstances would we assist France, but it did mean that France must take her own decision at this moment without reckoning on an assistance that we were not now in a position to promise.’ The Ambassador, with justifiable truculence, replied that he ‘could not and would not’ transmit such a message. Cambon thereupon suggested that he should inform his Government that the Cabinet had not yet taken any decision, at which Grey responded ‘that we had come to a decision: that we could not propose to Parliament at this moment to send an expeditionary military force to the Continent. Such a step has always been regarded here as very dangerous and doubtful. It was one that we could not propose, and Parliament would not authorize unless our interests and obligations were deeply and desperately involved.’ Cambon, caught genuinely unaware by Grey’s statement, replied that the northern French coasts were undefended and a tempting target for the German fleet, which might attack them any day.[41] Although it would provide him with the argument he needed to convert the waverers, in the presence of the French Ambassador Grey was not to be moved by mention of this threat. If he perhaps thought the threat to be exaggerated, Cambon most certainly did not. The Ambassador telegraphed a warning to Paris that evening recommending that Grey’s intention (to wait until Sunday or Monday before proposing to his colleagues that any attempt by the German fleet to enter the Channel or attack French coasts should be resisted) must be kept secret. If they ‘were to leak out and come to the notice of Germany,’ Cambon asserted, ‘the imperial fleet would hasten into the Channel.’[42]

Despite the account given to George Lloyd on Friday evening, Cambon had undoubtedly believed that British participation alongside France was assured in the event of a German attack. Grey’s statement to him on Saturday afternoon provided a severe jolt to this expectation. The British Foreign Secretary was playing his cards close to his chest; not even Cambon was to be admitted to Grey’s thought processes that afternoon. The French Ambassador, while recognizing that ‘Some ministers, but not all, had been influenced by weighty representations from important men in the City in favour of British neutrality’, had yet counted on the support of ‘three or four ministers’ being decisive.[43] Cambon’s ‘three ministers’ were presumably Asquith, Grey, Churchill, but who was the fourth? It could have been Haldane, Crewe or McKenna; or did Cambon see through Lloyd George’s public stance? What Cambon might not have anticipated was that the tail might wag the dog; that, as France and Germany also mobilized, Britain was standing idly by, paralysed by the refusal of the Cabinet to appreciate the situation and by Grey’s inability to convert the waverers. Cambon had no option but to resume the offensive with Grey: ‘After all that has passed between our two countries’, he exclaimed,

after the withdrawal of our forces ten kilometres within our frontier so that German patrols can actually move on our soil without hindrance, so anxious are we to avoid any appearance of provocation; after the agreement between your naval authorities and ours by which all our naval strength has been concentrated in the Mediterranean so as to release your Fleet for concentration in the North Sea, with the result that if the German Fleet now sweep down the Channel and destroys Calais, Boulogne and Cherbourg, we can offer no resistance, you tell me that your Government cannot decide upon intervention? How am I to send such a message? It would fill France with rage and indignation. My people would say you have betrayed us. It is not possible. I cannot send such a message. It is true that agreements between your military and naval authorities and ours have not been ratified by our Governments, but you are under a moral obligation not to leave us unprotected.[44]

Grey would do no more than hold out the hope that a German attack upon the French coast or the violation of Belgian neutrality ‘might alter public feeling here’ and he promised that he would ‘ask the Cabinet to consider the point about the French coasts.’[45]

                This was not enough for Cambon who, ‘white and speechless’, staggered into Nicolson’s room muttering, ‘Ils vont nous lâcher, ils vont nous lâcher.’ After being seated by the Permanent Under-Secretary, Nicolson went to see Grey, whom he found ‘pacing his room, biting at his lower lip.’[46] When informed of the Cabinet decision, Nicolson similarly was left to exclaim, ‘But that is impossible, you have over and over again promised M Cambon that if Germany was the aggressor you would stand by France.’ Grey replied, ‘Yes, but he has nothing in writing!’[47] When Nicolson returned to his own room, Cambon had recovered his composure and suggested that the time had come to produce ‘mon petit papier’ — the 1912 letter. As Nicolson subsequently informed Hardinge: ‘On Saturday Cambon pointed out that at the request some time ago of our Admiralty the French had sent all their fleet to the Mediterranean on the understanding that we would protect their northern and western coasts. This was a happy inspiration on the part of Cambon and to this appeal there could be but one answer…’ Only one answer there may have been, but it had nothing to do with the 1912 letter which specifically denied the pledge Cambon was now attempting to redeem.[48]Please click to go to the top of this page

Nicolson urged the French Ambassador not to send an official Note and, instead, an hour later wrote himself to Grey that ‘M Cambon pointed out to me this afternoon that it was at our request that France had moved her fleets to the Mediterranean, on the understanding that we undertook the protection of her Northern and Western coasts. As I understand you told him that you would submit to the Cabinet the question of a possible German naval attack on French Northern and Western Ports it would be well to remind the Cabinet of the above fact.’ To this Grey minuted that he had spoken to Asquith and attached ‘great importance’ to the point being settled the next day, Sunday 2 August.[49] It had been a trying afternoon for Nicolson who had also had to deal with a second distraught Ambassador, Tewfik Pasha.

At noon on Saturday the final instalment was about to be paid on the dreadnought Sultan Osman and the Turks proposed to hoist the National flag that afternoon. At 2.30 p.m. word came through confirming that the money had, indeed, been deposited; there was now no time for the British to lose. One of the Armstrong directors went aboard the ship, located the Turkish overseer, Captain Raouf, and invited him to the director’s private residence. ‘It was considered a wiser, as well as more graceful act, to make this communication in private rather than on board ship’, recorded the Admiralty representative, Captain Power. Raouf Bey was informed of the Admiralty’s decision and ‘took the matter in the way we hoped’, reported Power, ‘though evidently he was deeply moved, and he at once telephoned the Turkish Ambassador in London.’[50] Following the telephone call from Raouf, Tewfik Pasha went immediately to the Foreign Office where Nicolson informed the Ambassador that,

in view of the serious situation abroad it was not possible to allow a battleship to leave these waters and pass into the hands of a foreign buyer. Of course had she been here on a visit it would have been different, but it was considered that in the present tension it was not right to hand over to the buyer a newly built battleship. The Admiralty had, I believed, taken possession temporarily of her — as it would have been discourteous to have taken any steps once the Turkish flag had been hoisted and a Turkish crew placed on board.

The Ambassador, according to Nicolson, ‘seemed puzzled — and said 3 million pounds had been paid for the ship. I told him he would not lose the money. He asked for how long the ship would be detained. I told him we were before the unknown & it was impossible to say.’[51]

Churchill’s action was to be used by Enver Pasha, the Turkish Minister for War, in Constantinople that night to force his reluctant colleagues into accepting the calamitous alliance with Germany. At the Grand Vizier’s villa the inner circle of the Turkish ruling body spent the evening debating the draft of the proposed Turco-German treaty. Opinion, as it had been in London, was divided. The liberal Minister of Finance, Djavid Pasha, was particularly indignant, arguing that the expectation of a German victory was a fatal mistake which would cause the disappearance of Turkey from the map if they lost. With the others remaining quiet, it was left to Enver to seize the initiative. Dismissing Djavid’s argument, Enver announced provocatively, if prematurely, ‘There is nothing that we can do, the matter is now settled and the Grand Vizier has already signed the agreement.’[52] In fact the treaty was not signed until 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday 2 August.[53] To put the seal on any further discussion Enver followed up this dramatic early morning announcement by reading out a telegram just received from Tewfik Pasha in London which contained the stunning news that the two Turkish dreadnoughts had been embargoed by the British.[54] Djemal’s reaction was typical of those in the room: ‘Never, never shall I forget my mental anguish when I heard this frightful news.’[55]

Although there is little Churchill could have done other than to embargo the ships, the result was the adherence to German of a new ally at a critical moment. There was one other important implication: Goeben, which might otherwise have been recalled to Northern waters, was ordered to remain in the Mediterranean. The German Ambassador to the Porte, Baron von Wangenheim, cabled his Foreign Office on Saturday that if Goeben could be spared she could, by reinforcing the Turkish fleet, hold off the Russians. This would have the effect both of assuring the cable connection with Roumania and preventing a Russian landing on the Bulgarian coast — and, Wangenheim need hardly have added, would have done no harm to the alliance negotiations. The Ambassador was to be disappointed, however: on the evening of Sunday 2 August, and as yet unaware that the Turco-German treaty of alliance had already been signed that afternoon, the Kaiser replied through his aide-de-camp that Goeben could not be dispensed with at the present time. Admiral von Pohl, the Chief of the German Admiralty Staff, not only agreed but maintained that Goeben could provide the greatest service in the Atlantic or North Sea and had no business in Turkish waters.[56]

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                The news Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, the commander of the Mittelmeerdivision, received from Berlin on the 2nd was not good: hostilities had commenced against Russia, war with France was certain and would probably begin on the 3rd, Great Britain would ‘very probably’ be hostile and Italy neutral.[57] No mention was made of the attitude of Austria-Hungary and no specific orders were given to Souchon; he therefore took matters into his own hands and drew up a plan to bombard the ports of Philippeville and Bona on the Algerian coast in an attempt to disrupt the passage of the French XIXth Army Corps. Having become aware, late on the morning of Monday 3rd, of the signing of the alliance in Constantinople Admiral von Pohl in Berlin began to relent in his earlier opposition to Goeben going east, his reluctance finally being overcome by the enthusiasm of Tirpitz.[58] Within hours – and upon their own authority – Pohl and Tirpitz issued orders for Goeben and Breslau to proceed to Constantinople. Wilhelm, having subsequently been informed, agreed and the Foreign Office duly sent a cable to Ambassador Wangenheim at 7.30 that evening to notify him of the change in plans and suggest that Souchon should be placed at the disposal of the Turks to command their fleet.[59] Souchon received the unexpected message some two hours before his ships were due to open fire on the French North African ports. ‘To turn round immediately,’ he later wrote, ‘on the verge of the eagerly anticipated action, was more than I could bring myself to do.’[60]


On the surface, Grey had suffered a serious setback in the Cabinet on Saturday, 1 August; he was, in all probability, not aided by Churchill’s ‘bellicose’ performance. How hard did Grey try to push his colleagues in the direction of intervention? In the absence of any minutes or Asquith’s customary letter to the King, it is almost impossible to say. Did Grey hold back from the final commitment and allow his pacifist colleagues to dominate? There is no doubt that, by this stage, Grey accepted that war, and with it British intervention, was inevitable. Was he reacting out of perversity, against the relentless advice of his own permanent officials? Did he realize that, with half Europe mobilizing as they debated, the Cabinet would finally be overtaken by the march of events? Grey must have been acutely aware of Cambon’s prediction that, by waiting until French territory had been invaded, British intervention ‘then would be too late’. While the less committed members of the non-interventionist group looked for a means (in their case, the possible violation of Belgian neutrality) to justify a decision for war, Grey needed an excuse which could be used forthwith to force a decision from the reluctant Cabinet. He would use the threat which already existed to the northern coasts of France. After an exhausting day the Foreign Secretary then went off to dine at Brooks’s and play billiards with his parliamentary private secretary, in whom he confided ‘that he would have his “tussle” with the Cabinet tomorrow.’[61]

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Churchill dined alone at the Admiralty on Saturday night devouring, in addition to his meal, for his appetite was whetted by the prospect of war, the foreign telegrams as they came in. Just before ten o’clock he was joined by F. E. Smith and Max Aitken, and they began a hand of bridge. Before they could pick up their cards, another dispatch box arrived. The lamps were still not completely extinguished, but flickered dimly; peace hung by a thread until Churchill read the latest news, which was to send a gust down Whitehall: Germany had declared war on Russia. Churchill walked across Horse Guards and entered 10, Downing Street by the garden gate, going up to the drawing room where a knot of ministers — Asquith, Haldane, Crewe and Grey (who had finished his game of billiards) — was gathered.[62] Churchill declared that, notwithstanding the Cabinet’s existing injunction that morning, he wished to proceed to full naval mobilization and justify his action to the rump of the Cabinet the following morning. After discussing the latest news, Churchill and Grey left together when, according to Churchill, Grey said: ‘You should know I have just done a very important thing. I have told Cambon that we shall not allow the German fleet to come into the Channel.’ Upon hearing this, Churchill ‘went back to the Admiralty and gave forthwith the order to mobilize.’[63] If Churchill’s recollection was accurate, Grey’s action would have pre-empted the Cabinet discussion the following day; however, the Foreign Secretary’s account of the conversation differs crucially from the First Lord’s. According to Grey, he told Churchill that:

The French might be sure that the German fleet would not pass through the Channel, for fear that we should take the opportunity of intervening, when the German fleet would be at our mercy. I promised however to see if we could give any assurance that, in such circumstances, we would intervene.[64]

This was a different thing altogether.

                This exchange does highlight one of the Foreign Secretary’s two ‘cardinal points’, as identified by Churchill: his fixation with the English Channel.[65]

Whatever happened [Churchill recorded], if war came, we could not allow the German Fleet to come down the Channel to attack the French ports. Such a situation would be unsupportable for Great Britain. Everyone who counted was agreed on that from a very early stage in our discussions. But in addition we were, in a sense, morally committed to France to that extent. No bargain had been entered into. All arrangements that had been concerted were … specifically preluded with a declaration that neither party was committed to anything further than consultation together if danger threatened. But still the fact remained that the whole French Fleet was in the Mediterranean. Only a few cruisers and flotillas remained to guard the Northern and Atlantic Coasts of France; and simultaneously with that redisposition of forces, though not contingent upon it or dependent upon it, we had concentrated all our battleships at home, and only cruisers and battle-cruisers maintained British interest in the Mediterranean. The French had taken their decision on their own responsibility without prompting from us, and we had profited by their action to strengthen our margin in the Line of Battle at home. Whatever disclaimers we had made about not being committed, could we, when it came to the point, honourably stand by and see the naked French coasts ravaged and bombarded by German Dreadnoughts under the eyes and within gunshot of our Main Fleet?

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                Grey’s ‘fixation’ was to provide him with the argument he needed to guarantee British intervention. It was an argument Churchill professed to see through: would the Germans, Churchill asserted, really have been so stupid as to provoke British intervention by such a move? ‘It seemed to me, however, very early in the discussion’, Churchill later recorded, ‘that the Germans would concede this point to keep us out of the war, at any rate till the first battles on land had been fought without us; and sure enough they did.’[66] This judgment would appear to be severely tempered with hindsight. If, as indeed they eventually did,[67] the Germans pledged not to threaten the northern coasts of France in an attempt to guarantee British neutrality would they have been believed? It has become axiomatic in the accounts of the weekend’s debate that the concern over the ‘defenceless’ northern coasts of France was largely irrelevant due to the apparent German willingness to provide a pledge to refrain from offensive naval action.[68] However, in view of the ambivalent German response to Grey’s entreaty on Friday; in view of the German declaration of war against Russia on Saturday evening; in view of the German invasion of Luxembourg on Sunday morning; and in view of the knowledge that the German Mittelmeerdivision had left the Adriatic steaming westwards on their mission to interfere with the French troop transportation,[69] had not the Germans completely exhausted their remaining reserve of goodwill?[70] Already, British ships had been detained in Hamburg while the Germans laid mines in the mouth of the Elbe.[71] It had been known since the morning of 28 July that units of the German Fleet which had been in Norwegian waters had taken in ‘considerable quantities of coal’ and departed hurriedly.[72] A further intelligence report, received on the afternoon of 2 August, noted that the second and third battle squadrons of the German Fleet had passed through the Kiel Canal the previous night from the Baltic to the Elbe.[73] Although these moves could have been portrayed as defensive, by this time Germany was only at war with Russia. By 3 August it was reported that the entire German High Sea Fleet had ‘passed through the Kiel Canal steaming westwards’.[74] What was the rationale behind this move? Is it not possible that it was interpreted in London as presaging offensive operations, either against Britain or the coasts of France? No matter how much evidence is adduced to prove that the German Government would not have made such a move, the point of contention is whether the members of the British Cabinet believed that they were capable of such an action. And clearly, after what had occurred within the previous twenty-four hours, eighteen of the nineteen members of the Cabinet thought Germany capable of uttering a false promise. Cambon certainly believed that, if Berlin suspected for a moment that London was hesitating before deciding to guarantee the defence of the French coasts, the High Seas Fleet ‘would hasten into the Channel.’ Rather than the British debate regarding the French coasts being irrelevant, it was in fact the German pledge, which came too late in any event, which was the irrelevancy.

                German naval operational plans dating from November 1912 were based upon ‘offensive mine warfare against the enemy coasts’, coupled with the use of U-boats to attack British transports and ‘contaminat[e] the lines of approach to the embarkation and disembarkation harbours’ of the B.E.F. These offensive operations, to be of any use, were to be undertaken immediately upon the outbreak of war, which, in the case of France, was Monday 3 August. The mining operation had but one purpose: so to weaken the Grand Fleet that a major battle could be envisaged in circumstances not unfavourable to the High Seas Fleet. The principle war task of the German C-in-C ‘should be to damage the blockading forces of the enemy as far as possible through numerous and repeated attacks day and night, and under favourable circumstances to give battle with all the forces at your disposal’.[75] Before the time limit to the British ultimatum to Germany on Tuesday 4 August expired the converted German minelayer Königin Luise had already sailed from Borkum on her mission to mine the approaches to the Thames. Although sunk in the process, she claimed a victim — the British light cruiser Amphion — on the first full day of the war.Please click to go to the top of this page

                Churchill’s comment contains another important clue, foreshadowing the decision which would be reached at Sunday’s Cabinet. Churchill referred to ‘Everyone who counted’. Despite the ‘victory’ for the non-interventionists on Saturday, it would become clear on Sunday that a section of the Cabinet no longer counted. On Saturday Asquith remained preoccupied with Cabinet unity: ‘we may have to contemplate with such equanimity as we can command’, he noted, ‘the loss of Morley, and possibly (tho’ I don’t think it) of the Impeccable [Simon].’ If Asquith could limit the resignations which might follow as a result of British intervention he might then be able to forestall the demand for a coalition. His own view of the prospect was succinctly stated: ‘It will be a shocking thing if at such a moment we break up — with no one to take our place.’[76] The question remained, what number of resignations could be accepted? Burns and Morley, who both looked certain to depart, could be accommodated. If Simon, Harcourt and Beauchamp joined them, over a quarter of the Cabinet would disappear, and with them, the possible future of the Liberal Party. If, however, Simon could be persuaded to remain, as Asquith evidently thought was possible on Saturday afternoon, he might bring other waverers on board. Two battles would be fought on Sunday, 2 August. The first, on the decision to intervene, would be the easier. Churchill was correct: in the face of ‘everyone who counted’ the Cabinet small-fry could not hope to hold out. The second battle concerned the future of the Liberal Party. In this fight, Asquith was undeniably to be aided by the powerful instincts of his colleagues’ political self-preservation which would eventually triumph over such a trifling matter as conscience.

As the Cabinet struggled with the rapidly deteriorating situation on Saturday and Henry Wilson remained in London exerting what influence he could, George Lloyd was dispatched to Wargrave Manor to fetch Bonar Law back to London.[77] Late that night the ‘conspirators’ (Lansdowne, Balfour, George Lloyd, Henry Wilson, the Duke of Devonshire and Lord Edmund Talbot) gathered at Lansdowne House and decided that Asquith must be fronted; however, a telephone call early Sunday morning to Downing Street was not put through to Asquith, who was asleep and not to be disturbed. In the meantime Lloyd, who believed that Bonar Law did not understand the ‘gravity of the situation’, had gone to meet Austen Chamberlain at Charing Cross to convince him that definite action was required. Chamberlain arrived at Lansdowne House first thing Sunday morning, only hours after the meeting had broken up, and, while Lansdowne finished his breakfast, urged that an immediate statement of Conservative policy should be made to Asquith.[78] Convinced at last, Bonar Law penned the following:

Lord Lansdowne and I feel it our duty to inform you that in our opinion, as well as in that of all our colleagues with whom we have been able to consult, it would be fatal to the honour and security of the United Kingdom to hesitate in supporting France and Russia at the present juncture; and we offer our unhesitating support to the Government in any measures they may consider necessary for that object.[79]

As Grey pointed out,[80] there was no mention of Belgium; the letter was dispatched to Downing Street.

Asquith’s own Sunday morning routine was interrupted, not by the Opposition, but by the German Ambassador, who called, ‘very émotionné’, while the Prime Minister was breakfasting and implored him ‘not to side with France.’ Lichnowsky, agitated, weeping and quite heartbroken, claimed that, ‘with her army cut in two between France & Russia’, Germany was ‘far more likely to be “crushed” than France.’ Asquith replied that there was no desire for British intervention, but that it rested ‘largely with Germany to make intervention impossible, if she would (1) not invade Belgium, and (2) not send her fleet into the Channel to attack the unprotected North Coast of France.’[81] Asquith must have suspected, if he did not already know, that the first condition was incapable of being fulfilled. At three o’clock the previous afternoon, a cable had been received in the Foreign Office from Berlin: the Military Attaché, Lieutenant-Colonel Alick Russell, was ‘confident [that] in event of war Germany will pass part of her forces through Belgium.’[82]Please click to go to the top of this page






[1]     Nicolson to Hardinge, private, 5 September 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/375.

[2]     Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 31 July 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 111, p. 138.

[3]     Cambon to Viviani, no. 357, 31 July 1914, in Geiss (ed.), July 1914, no. 162, pp. 327-8.

[4]     Crowe and Corp, Sir Eyre Crowe, p. 265.

[5]     Crowe to Grey, Private, 31 July 1914, in Geiss (ed.), July 1914, no. 164, pp. 330-1.

[6]     Crowe and Corp, Sir Eyre Crowe, p. 265.

[7]     Lichnowsky, Heading for the Abyss, p. 413.

[8]     Asquith to Stanley, 1 August 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 112, pp. 139-40.

[9]     See, for example, J. A. Hobson to C. P. Scott, 3 August 1914, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 94.

[10]    Nicolson to Hardinge, private, 5 September 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/375.

[11]    Robert Blake, The Unknown Prime Minister, p. 221; Churchill, World Crisis, p. 126.

[12]    Charmley, Lord Lloyd, pp. 33-4.

[13]    Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. II, p. 7.

[14]    Wilson, diary entry for 31 July 1914, in Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 152; minute by Henry Wilson, 31 July 1914, quoted in, Keith Wilson, “Britain”, in Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914, p. 200.

[15]    Nicolson, Lord Carnock, p. 418.

[16]    Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 153; Nicolson, Lord Carnock, pp. 418-9; Cameron Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, (London, 1971), p. 91.

[17]    Goschen to Grey, no. 114, 31 July 1914 (received, 3.30 a.m., 1 August), in Geiss (ed.), July 1914, p. 333

[18]    Crowe and Corp (Sir Eyre Crowe, p. 266) are particularly scathing with regard to this initiative, which they represent as a devious attempt to offer British neutrality without Cabinet authorization. However, Asquith’s comment following the Cabinet that morning categorically states that Grey would resign rather than countenance an ‘uncompromising policy of non-intervention’, and is more indicative of an attempt by Grey to slow down the ‘march of events’.

[19]    As Hazlehurst notes, although the meeting was arranged, there is no proof that it actually took place, nor is there a record of anything which might have been discussed. Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 90.

[20]    Lichnowsky to Jagow, tel. no. 205, 1 August 1914, given in, Geiss (ed.), July 1914, no. 170, p. 343.

[21]    Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, pp. 152-3.

[22]    Note, however, that Lichnowsky himself later referred to a ‘misunderstanding’ in this telegram as ‘Sir Edward Grey had meant that Germany should then remain altogether neutral, even in a war between Austria and Russia.’ Lichnowsky, Heading for the Abyss, p. 414, n. 1. See also, Crowe and Corp, Sir Eyre Crowe, pp. 266-7.

[23]    Sir Henry Wilson, diary entry for 1 August 1914, quoted in Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 154. See also Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 90 which tries to make some sense of Asquith’s “impenetrable” intentions.

[24]    Hazlehurst (Politicians at War), p. 82 n.1, maintains that Grey ‘apparently did not bring the German inquiry to the attention of his colleagues.’ Jannen (The Lions of July), p. 305, citing Hazlehurst, argues that Grey made no use of Lichnowsky’s assurance. Keith Wilson (“Britain”, in Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914), p. 195, also maintains that Grey did not divulge the details of his telephone call.

[25]    Lichnowsky, Heading for the Abyss, p. 14.

[26]    Crowe’s letter to his wife, 2 August 1914, quoted in, Crowe and Corp, Sir Eyre Crowe, pp. 267-8.

[27]    Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 1 August 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 112, pp. 139-40; Narrative by Professor Temperley, Spender mss., BL Add MSS 46386.

[28]    See, Brock and Brock, Asquith Letters, p. 43, n. 3.

[29]    ‘LG has had a bad week. His stock stands low with the party. The Budget has been a fiasco, and badly managed.’ Riddell, diary entry for 12 July 1914, in McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries, p. 84.

[30]Asquith to Stanley, 1 August 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 112, pp. 139-41.

[31]    As will be seen, it was the opinion of Lloyd George’s mistress that ‘L.G.’s mind was really made up from the first, that he knew we would have to go in, and that the invasion of Belgium was, to be cynical, a heaven-sent excuse for supporting a declaration of war.’ Quoted in, Gilbert, David Lloyd George, vol. II, p. 108.

[32]    In 1985 Keith Wilson, The Policy of the Entente, noted (p. 138) that Samuel ‘played a part which, while not entirely overlooked, has yet not been fully appreciated.’ Not unnaturally, Samuel’s recent biographer, Wasserstein, agrees. Note, however, that Henry Wickham Steed in 1924 (Through Thirty Years, vol. II, p. 16) included Samuel in a select group of five who apparently influenced policy that weekend. My contention, which follows, is that Samuel probably exaggerated his role when writing to his wife.

[33]    Samuel to his wife, 1 August 1914, quoted in, Wasserstein, Herbert Samuel, p. 161.

[34]    Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 91.

[35]    This hypothesis is corroborated by the private information which reached the offices of The Times following Sunday morning’s Cabinet, which was that a ‘strong section of the Cabinet’ favoured neutrality, but that Asquith, Grey, Haldane, Churchill and Samuel, ‘were determined to respect, at all costs, the British Treaty obligation to uphold the neutrality of Belgium, and the bulk of their colleagues had finally sided with them.’ Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. II, p. 16.

[36]    C.P. Scott in conversation with Simon and Lloyd George, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, pp. 103-4.

[37]    Lichnowsky to Jagow, no. 212, 1 August 1914, in Geiss (ed.), July 1914, pp. 345-6.

[38]    Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 1 August 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 112, pp. 139-40.

[39]    Lichnowsky to Foreign Office, 1 August 1914, in Lichnowsky, Heading for the Abyss, p. 414.

[40]    Lichnowsky to Jagow, no. 212, 1 August 1914, in Geiss (ed.), July 1914, no. 174, pp. 345-7 [emphasis in original]; Lichnowsky, Heading for the Abyss, pp. 14, 416.

[41]    Grey to Bertie, tel. no. 299, 1 August 1914, BD, XI, no. 426.

[42]    Cambon to Viviani, 1 August 1914, quoted in, Wilson, “Britain”, in Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914, p. 193.

[43]    Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. II, p. 14.

[44]    Conversation between Grey and Cambon quoted in, Henry Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. II, pp. 14-5.

[45]    Grey to Bertie, tel. no. 299, 1 August 1914, BD, XI, no. 426.

[46]    Nicolson, Lord Carnock, p. 419.

[47]    Diary of Henry Wilson, quoted in, Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 88. Note: this record of the conversation was excised in Callwell’s biography.

[48]    Nicolson to Hardinge, private, 5 September 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/375.

[49]    Nicolson to Grey, private, 1 August 1914, BD, XI, no. 424.

[50]    Although the fate of the ship had been the subject of local gossip for some days, Power had great hopes that the news could be kept out of that evening’s newspaper, though it must become known shortly. In conjunction with the local Officer Commanding Troops, he had arranged for 100 Sherwood Foresters to be sent to the yard under pretext of guarding the British super-dreadnought Malaya, but in reality to prevent any trouble from the ‘thousand men armed with rifles’ allegedly on the Turkish transport

[51]    Nicolson to Grey, 1 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/36825; Miller, Straits, chapter 15.

[52]    Quoted in, Kurat, How Turkey Drifted in World War I, pp. 298-9; Miller, Straits, chapter 15.

[53]    Wangenheim to Foreign Office, no. 408, 3 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 726, p. 526.

[54]    Kurat, How Turkey Drifted in World War I, p. 299.

[55]    Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, p. 116.

[56]    Knowledge of the signing of the treaty would not be received in Berlin until the following morning. Constantinople to Foreign Office, no. 396, 1 August 1914; von Mutius to Foreign Office, 2 August 1914; Constantinople to Foreign Office, no. 408, 2 August 1914, in Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London, 1924), nos. 652, 683, 726, pp. 488, 505, 526 [hereinafter referred to as Kautsky, German Documents]. Ulrich Trumpener, The Escape of the Goeben and Breslau: a Reassessment, The Canadian Journal of History, VI, (1971), p. 173.

[57]    Berlin to cruisers abroad, no. 11, 2 August 1914, Decode of Messages sent in German VB cipher, PRO Adm 137/4065.

[58]    Tirpitz, My Memoirs, vol. II, p. 349.

[59]    Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 775, p. 552. Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 173.

[60]    Souchon, p. 484.

[61]    Murray’s diary entry for 1 August 1914, quoted in, Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 91.

[62]    Gilbert, Churchill, vol. III, pp. 24-5. Lloyd George, Samuel, Haldane, Harcourt, McKenna, Simon and Runciman had spent all afternoon following the Cabinet trying to avert financial panic. After dining, they returned to their Cabinet committee meeting at 9.30 p.m. Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 91.

[63]    Churchill, World Crisis, p. 127.

[64]    Narrative by Professor Temperley, Spender mss., BL Add MSS 46386 [my emphasis].

[65]    The other ‘cardinal point’ was Grey’s plan for a European Conference.

[66]    Churchill, World Crisis, pp. 116-7 [my emphasis].

[67]    On Monday the German Foreign Minister pledged that the northern coasts of France would not be threatened so long as Britain remained neutral. By then, it was too late. Jagow to Lichnowsky, tel. no. 216, 3 August 1914, German Diplomatic Documents, no. 714, p. 520.

[68]    For example, Steiner, Britain and the Origins of the First World War, p. 230: ‘The idea of a naval war was more acceptable than an expeditionary force. This was the one time when the conversations with France affected the Cabinet’s decision-making and then it was only of indirect importance as the Germans subsequently promised to refrain from such operations.’ The Brocks made a similar point: ‘The decision which the cabinet had made with such difficulty (Burns dissenting), to intervene should the French Channel coast be bombarded, related to a move which the German leaders did not intend to make.’ Asquith Letters, p. 147, n. 4. Also, Trevor Wilson (“Britain’s ‘Moral Commitment’ to France in August 1914”, History, vol. 64, (1979), p. 381): ‘the Grey-Cambon agreement ‘involved Britain in at most a limited action against Germany, to keep the German fleet out of the Channel —  something which any British government would have required … [and] it was possible to secure this object without becoming involved in war with Germany, because the Germans had no plans to send their fleet into the Channel.’

[69]    Miller, Superior Force, p. 16.

[70]    On Sunday 2 August, Tirpitz wanted to know  whether ‘we are to consider ourselves in a state of war with England.’ Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 2 August 1914, Kautsky (ed.), German Diplomatic Documents, no. 654, p. 488, and see below.

[71]    Grey to Goschen, Foreign Office, no. 49, 1 August 1914; Goschen to Grey, Berlin, no. 123, 2 August 1914, BD, XI, nos. 402, 456b.

[72]    Findlay to Grey, Christiania, 27/28 July 1914, nos. 9 and 17, BD, XI, no. 168. The German ships reported to have sailed included Hannover, Schleswig-Holstein, Moltke, Deutschland, Pommern, Seydlitz and Stralsund.

[73]    Goschen to Grey, Berlin, 2 August 1914, BD, XI, no. 489

[74]    Communicated by War Office, 3 August 1914, via Germany, BD, XI, no. 535.

[75]    Vice-Admiral Heeringen’s memorandum, 28 November 1912, quoted in Kennedy, “German Naval Plans Against England”, in Kennedy (ed.), The War Plans of the Great Powers, p. 188, and, Röhl, The Kaiser and his Court, p. 174. See also, Corbett, Naval Operations vol. I, p. 30.

[76]    Asquith to Stanley, Asquith Letters, no. 113, pp. 145-7.

[77]    Leo Amery was sent on a similar errand, to retrieve Austen Chamberlain from Broadstairs. Chamberlain would be late arriving in London due to an engine failure

[78]    Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 154; Blake, Unknown Prime Minister, p. 222; Charmley, Lord Lloyd, p. 34.

[79]    Quoted in, Blake, Unknown Prime Minister, p. 222. See also, Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 154.

[80]    Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. II, p. 10.

[81]    Asquith to Stanley, 2 August 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 113, pp. 145-7. Lichnowsky, it should be noted, claimed in his own report that, ‘Tears repeatedly stood in the eyes of the old gentleman [Asquith]’. Heading for the Abyss, p. 419. Grey had also burst into tears at one meeting of the Cabinet: ‘an extraordinary and moving thing in a man so reserved’. The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 99.

[82]    Goschen to Grey, Berlin, no. 117, received 3 p.m., 1 August 1914, BD, XI, no. 404.



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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Chapter 20 Summary Resurgam Bibliography Index Ordering Order Form Biographies Links

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