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 4




Foreign Entanglements






On 5 April 1902 Arthur Balfour wrote (or rather dictated, as he detested the physical act of writing) a letter to Selborne, the First Lord, in which he admitted finding ‘it extremely difficult to believe that we have, as you seem to suppose, much to fear from Germany — in the immediate future at all events. It seems to me so clear that, broadly speaking, her interests and ours are identical. But I have sorrowfully to admit that the world, unfortunately, is not always governed by enlightened self-interest.’[1] If any differences existed, they were apparently confined to the Colonial arena: the nature of the German grievance had been spelled out to Balfour a few years earlier when the Kaiser complained to Sir Frank Lascelles, the British Ambassador, that he ‘had spared no efforts to bring about such an understanding, but what was the result? The demands of Germany were in no way exorbitant. She was only picking up the bits which England had left, and in spite of the friendly assurances he had received, the demands of Germany were met by His [sic] Majesty’s Government either by a curt refusal or by an absolute want of consideration for the interests of Germany.’[2] Balfour, who fancied himself a keen amateur strategist, and who stressed that the Empire was ‘pre-eminently a great Naval, Indian and Colonial Power’,[3] had become increasingly disenchanted with the Defence Committee of the Cabinet while concomitantly recognizing the need for the reform of the services in general and, following its lamentable performance in the Boer War, the Army in particular.[4] The War Office at the time was effectively discredited, while the Navy basked in public esteem; when, therefore, Balfour became Prime Minister on 12 July 1902 he was susceptible to pressure from the Admiralty for a new body to be formed to oversee imperial defence.

                Hugh Arnold-Foster, the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty and its Commons’ spokesman, had raised the issue on 20 June; then, in October, he presented Selborne with a memorandum advocating the formation of a new co-ordinating body which, inter alia, would inquire ‘on what grounds the excess of expenditure upon the Land Forces is justified in a purely Maritime Empire’.[5] Both Selborne (in concert with Fisher) and the Secretary of State for War, William St John Brodrick, had schemes afoot for reform. Brodrick, already unsure of Balfour’s wholehearted support, was further discomfited when Arnold-Foster called into question the share of the defence budget received by the army at a time when it was persuasively being argued that the defence of Britain and her Empire depended upon naval supremacy above all else; the army should be subsidiary to this overriding requirement. Fisher, for example, would later never tire of using what he referred to as Sir Edward Grey’s “splendid” words: ‘The British Army is a projectile to be fired by the Navy’.[6] Both Selborne and Brodrick, desiring the issues to be aired in a wider forum, co-authored a memorandum addressed to Balfour on The Improvement of the Intellectual Equipment of the Services and hinted at the possibility of a joint ministerial resignation if action were not taken. In the face of this threat the customarily languid Balfour took the necessary steps and reorganized the moribund Defence Committee of the Cabinet into the Committee of Imperial Defence (C.I.D.). The first secretary of the new organization would be Sir George Clarke who duly recorded the objects for which the Committee was established:

A. To ensure full discussion of all matters directly or indirectly affecting Imperial Defence and falling within the purview of more than one Department of State.  B. To ensure that questions affecting more than one Department are brought to the notice of all other Departments concerned.  C. To bring about a settlement of questions in dispute between two Departments of State.  D. To bring the Naval and Military experts into direct touch with Ministers, who can therefore question them freely and fully, thus avoiding the misunderstandings which may arise from Minutes and Memoranda…[7]

As with so many fine initial intentions, Clarke’s were more often breached than observed.

                The Board of Admiralty, led at the time by a strong First Lord, supported by Balfour, and with cogent arguments and a clear view of their imperial responsibilities, dominated the new Committee. The military on the other hand became increasingly involved in internecine disputes regarding the practical extent of the withdrawal or reduction of various world-wide garrisons while at the same time remaining, in principle at least, opposed to those very same reductions. The C.I.D.:

became a battlefield on which the political chief of the War Office strove to fend off his military advisers. Meanwhile, the Admiralty overruled everybody, imposing their view with the full support of the Prime Minister, and frequently of an exasperated Secretary of State for War. And so there grew up during 1903, and extended throughout 1904 and 1905, a consistent pattern of decisions on matters of imperial and home defence that, without exception, favoured the Admiralty case. Admiralty policy was in no way questioned.[8]

                By the summer of 1905 the Russian fleet had been removed from the Admiralty’s calculations at a time when the first Moroccan crisis presaged the realignment of naval and military forces to meet the growing German threat. In order to counter the threat, some degree of naval and military co-ordination was required — a point forcefully argued by Captain Charles Ottley, the Director of Naval Intelligence, in July.[9] Fisher, determined to entrench the Admiralty in its premier position within the C.I.D., acted on Ottley’s suggestion that a permanent sub-committee of the C.I.D. be formed ‘to Consider and Elaborate Schemes of Joint Naval and Military Expeditions’.[10] The defeat of Russia by Japan had also allowed the possibility of a reduction in the army’s commitment to India, in view of the diminution of the Russian threat, which would therefore free troops for operations nearer home. Fisher’s proposed joint operations would be designed in part to make sure the troops were kept fully occupied and ‘out of mischief’.[11] What emerged was a scheme by which, following a German land attack against France, Britain, holding command of the sea, would attempt to create a diversion with a threatened invasion of Schleswig-Holstein. Fisher, himself not a strategist, was influenced by Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, C-in-C Channel, who he incorrectly identified as one. Wilson argued that a blockade of Germany would serve little purpose and could result in the humiliation of Britain as its ally, France, was overrun. If Germany’s neighbours, particularly Holland and Denmark, remained neutral Wilson believed the course that seemed ‘most worthy of consideration would be an attempt to capture the Works at the mouths of the Elbe and Weser by a combined military and naval expedition.’[12] Building on this, Fisher’s paper for Balfour (probably written by Ottley himself) took the argument one step further and suggested that the very fact alone of the embarkation of British troops ‘would compel Germany to place troops all along her coasts, and thus perhaps appreciably reduce the strength of her army on the French frontier.’[13]

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                The new sub-committee was inaugurated at the 76th meeting of the C.I.D. on 20 July 1905 and its brief was outlined at the following meeting;[14] shortly thereafter the summer holidays intervened. Balfour’s precarious political position (he was to fall in December), the supposed ambivalence of the Liberals to the C.I.D., and the opposition of the General Staff together ensured that the sub-committee never sat.[15] As a precaution, however, the army did carry out an investigation of the Admiralty’s scheme: a report was compiled by Captain Adrian Grant-Duff on “British Military Action in the Case of War With Germany”. Late in August the Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence, Captain Ballard, was contacted by Colonel Callwell, of the Director of Military Operations department, regarding the feasibility of the Schleswig-Holstein landings. Callwell sent Ballard a copy of Grant-Duff’s paper then, as he himself was going on leave, Callwell delegated the problem to his subordinate, Major J. D. Fasson, with the hopeful but incorrect admonition that the Baltic Coast scheme would ‘probably be the first thing considered by the Sub Comte of the C.I.D. when the holidays are over.’ Fasson duly prepared two pages of objections to the scheme, referring to them as ‘a few rough notes on Fisher’s invasion of Germany!’ and passed these to Grant-Duff, who was now detailed to deal with Ballard. Grant-Duff was equally dismissive of the Navy’s plans in an internal memorandum but was somewhat more evasive when fending off Ballard on 7 September.[16] In a typical example of War Office methods, Ballard, by now impatient for a direct response, wrote to Grant-Duff two days later only to learn that, now, Grant-Duff had also gone on leave. If nothing else, the flow of correspondence raised the ancillary question as to how far these exchanges between relatively junior officers might commit the General Staff. This point was not lost on William Robertson, the Assistant Director of Military Operations, who, upon learning of the correspondence, decreed late in September that future exchanges should be sanctioned by the General Staff.[17] A final appraisal was eventually completed by 3 October at which time Callwell, who had now returned from his leave, was able to inform Ballard of the Army’s view as to the impracticality of the scheme.[18]

                Callwell instead advanced the War Office’s counter-proposal for aiding the French by direct military commitment. ‘An efficient army of 120,000 British troops’, Callwell argued, ‘might just have the effect of preventing any important German successes on the Franco-German frontier, and of leading up to the situation that Germany crushed at sea, also felt herself impotent on land. That would almost certainly bring about a speedy, and from the British and French points of view satisfactory, peace.’[19] This proposal had originated in July when Balfour, at the behest of Clarke, the secretary of the C.I.D., requested a paper from the War Office on the subject of a German outflanking move through Belgium and possible British support for the Belgians. The War Office replied on 29 September that, based on data supplied by the Admiralty, it would take twenty-three days to mobilize and ship two Army Corps to Belgium.[20] Throughout this period, Fisher’s attitude had been tempered by his belief that war was almost inevitable as a result of the Moroccan crisis and it was this belief which had influenced his demand for the sub-committee in the first place. It is also possible that, during the crisis, Fisher lacked the restraining hand of the First Lord, Cawdor, who had been dogged by ill-health during his short tenure of office (March – December 1905) leaving Fisher at the helm during the fraught summer months. With the French acceptance of the demand for a conference (to be convened at Algeciras) to consider the Moroccan question the threat of war seemed to have receded; however, by this time, the steps had already been taken to set up the sub-committee.[21]

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                A born centralizer, Fisher now faced the alarming prospect either of having to share power or, worse, look on helplessly as the proposed sub-committee transmogrified into an embryonic joint General Staff with an executive rather than advisory authority. To this was added the not unincidental consideration that he perhaps believed his Baltic scheme, for which no detailed plans existed, would not stand close examination. Arnold-Foster’s opinion, in particular, was scathing: ‘The idea…’, he admitted to his diary, ‘that we could land on the German coast is really so ridiculous.’[22] Nevertheless, having now been apprised of the Army’s scheme, Fisher attempted to ensure the continuance of the Admiralty hegemony at the C.I.D. On 10 October he wrote to Jack Sandars, Balfour’s political private secretary, that

under no circumstances was it contemplated that Great Britain could or would undertake single-handed a great military continental war, and that every project for offensive hostilities was to be subsidiary to the action of the Fleet, such as the occupation of isolated colonial possessions of the enemy, or the assistance of an ally by threatening descent on the hostile coast, or otherwise effecting a diversion on her behalf.[23]

                Balfour, who certainly entertained reservations with regard to Fisher’s strategy, had other things on his mind. It would be neither the first, nor the last, time that domestic political considerations would impinge upon the question of naval and military policy. And, as John Gooch has noted, the timing of this particular crisis (in the interval between the resignation of Balfour and before the general election), ‘offered a unique opportunity to permanent officials of the War Office and Cabinet to influence the course of strategic policy without regard to the wishes of the government of the day.’[24] The Prime Minister’s grasp on power was slipping, his party hopelessly divided. By the end of October Balfour was still hoping that, in a general election, the Liberals would be denied an overall majority; by November this possibility had all but disappeared and he had decided to resign. Only the fear that the C.I.D. – in effect his creation and which was still required to complete the revision of British strategy – might be allowed to wither by the Liberals kept Balfour clinging to office in the last forlorn months of 1905.[25] That, and the fact that he believed the Liberal party might not be able to form a united Cabinet due to differences on general policy between some of its leading members. In the event, this assumption was to prove a complete miscalculation.[26] Although eminently foreseeable, Balfour’s resignation, on 4 December 1905, threw Sir George Clarke into something of a panic. As the Liberals, under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, began to form a new administration (in which the important post of Foreign Secretary would be occupied by Sir Edward Grey[27]) the secretary of the C.I.D., feeling ‘derelict’ without Balfour and conscious that the political situation in Britain might lend itself to a pre-emptive German strike before the Algeciras conference convened, decided to investigate the preparedness of the services to come to the aid of the French. At the first of the meetings so convoked Clarke was joined by a powerful camarilla comprising: the shadowy Reginald Baliol Brett, Viscount Esher, (a close friend of the King who flitted ubiquitously in high circles, always shunning responsibility, until he was unceremoniously dumped after Edward’s death); Ottley, representing the navy; and General Sir John French (the Commander at Aldershot) representing the army. Clarke’s anxieties were heightened by the realization that the navy possessed no detailed plans. His apprehension was made clear to Esher on 15 December:

Ottley tells me that the Admiralty studies go no further than the mobilization of the reserve fleet, and bringing up the Atlantic fleet in certain circumstances. The Naval C’s in C have their war orders, which tell them what ships will go to them. Arrangements are made for mobilizing signal stations along the coast. This is practically all that has been done and it is not nearly enough. The system under which the supreme direction passes wholly to Wilson, who has not only to fight, but to make all arrangements for protecting commerce if necessary, is I hold quite unsound…[28]

Clarke also expressed his view that the Admiralty’s need for a General Staff was as great as that of the War Office.

                The first meeting of the extramural group on 19 December concluded that direct aid to France as a result of the violation of Belgian neutrality would be both unpopular with public opinion and unlikely ‘to confer any real advantage upon our allies’.[29] Other options included a landing at Antwerp to assist the Belgians and the seizing of a part of the German mainland for subsequent combined operations. French and Ottley were directed to investigate these options, including the ‘continuous ferrying of a force of 120,000 men to French ports’. Fisher (by now convinced there would be no war) had lost interest and Clarke’s discussion with him in mid-January 1906 was to prove ‘very unsatisfactory’. At least Fisher was aware of these “informal” meetings; remarkably, the Army General Staff were not, though it did not take long for word to leak out.

                The Director of Military Operations, Major-General Grierson, had become aware of French fears of an attack by Germany at this time when he chanced to meet (or so he claimed) Major Victor Jacques Marie Huguet, the French Military Attaché in London, while riding in Hyde Park.[30] In response to the Attaché’s anxiety Grierson indiscreetly informed Huguet, in a calculated leak, of the British position and of his own personal belief that a small British force could be landed at Calais to ‘unite with the French forces, of whom it would, for example, form the left wing.’[31] Grierson, who had surprisingly been excluded from Clarke’s ‘innocent discussion group’ (or perhaps not so surprisingly, as he considered that the Admiralty plan was ridiculous), fortuitously learned what was going on and approached the military correspondent of The Times, Colonel a’Court-Repington – who was known as a confidant of Esher – with an unusual request. At Grierson’s behest, Repington duly wrote to Esher that a ‘flustered dignitary’ at the War Office had learned of the informal meetings and had roundly denounced them.[32] Repington, virulently anti-German, had also written an article which appeared in the Times on 27 December and which naturally caught Huguet’s attention. The following day the French Military Attaché, not wishing to miss such a conspicuous opportunity, met Repington for dinner, after which they engaged in a wide-ranging five hour discussion. Despite his locquaciousness, Huguet’s major concern was to ascertain the extent of probable British assistance in a Franco-German war.[33] Repington promptly sent Sir Edward Grey, then holidaying in Fallodon, a report of the confidential talk he had had, in which Huguet ‘confessed that his Embassy felt anxious upon the question of the attitude of the new Government in England…It was not a question of sympathies, but rather of acts, and of what the British Government were prepared to do in a situation which presented dangerous aspects.’

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                In other words, would the incoming Liberal administration not only honour Lansdowne’s 1904 agreement, which was the formal basis for the Entente, but also confirm Lansdowne’s alleged assurances of British support, which the French had chosen to misinterpret? When Repington hinted to Huguet that he would let Grey know ‘the general purport of this part of the conversation’ the Frenchman raised no objection.[34] Indeed, Huguet would later maintain that, as he believed Grierson’s initial meeting was not a chance occurrence, the subsequent talks carried the government’s imprimatur.[35] Coincidentally, on the same day that Repington was busy with this correspondence, Clarke suggested to Esher that, as the attitude of the French would have some bearing on the findings of the C.I.D. conferences, the British Military Attaché in Paris, if absolutely trustworthy, could sound out the French General Staff to clarify some points ‘and thus expedite the settlement of British policy in this crisis.’[36] In a crucial change to this plan the services of the Military Attaché were dispensed with and Repington, despite being deemed ‘a somewhat irregular channel’, was designated to act as intermediary as he had become so much involved.[37] The catalyst for the change of plan was a letter Repington himself had forwarded to Clarke. As Clarke admitted to Esher on New Year’s Day, 1906, ‘As he [Repington] is in contact with the Fr. Mily. Attaché, I have asked if he would sound him on some points as to which we want information. This will be much safer than using our Mily. Attaché in Paris. It is very necessary to do nothing that would alarm the Govt. and besides the W.[ar] O.[ffice] would balk. The tragic facts of the situation are that: 1. If the Germans proceeded to unprovoked aggression, the feeling in this country would demand our cooperation. 2. If the Germans violate Belgium we come in automatically. I am not sure that the French Govt. realizes either of these propositions.’[38]

                On the day before the next scheduled meeting of Clarke’s group on 6 January 1906 Repington was given a list of eleven questions which had been drafted by Clarke to deliver to Huguet and, through the Attaché, to the French General Staff. As Williamson has noted: ‘In a very real sense the staff talks had begun.’[39] The replies would not arrive till the 11th and, when they did, were entirely predictable in advocating the support of British troops to assist the French Army as quickly as possible after the outbreak of war while additionally deprecating any combined landings on the German coast. The problem of purely naval strategy could be left to the Admiralty. Meanwhile the second meeting of Clarke’s group had taken place, at which Clarke and Ottley continued to favour a combined scheme but still lacked detailed plans; even so, the German coast scheme was deemed ‘impractical’.[40] Due to the need for swift action if a crisis suddenly developed, and because of the ‘comparative ease with which the Straits of Dover could be guarded by the Navy’, attention was focused on the best and most immediate method to support the French — by landing troops in ‘the Northern French ports.’[41]

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                When the third of these informal meetings was held on the afternoon of 12 January Grierson, anxious that the General Staff view should prevail, presented himself, with the result that the policy of direct military intervention became entrenched. This was made clear when Ottley reported to Fisher that ‘It was settled between the Military Officers that, in the event of our being forced into war (by a German violation of Belgian neutrality or otherwise) — our proper course would be to land our Military forces at the nearest French ports…About 100,000 British troops and 42,000 horses would be available for such a purpose within 14 days of the outbreak of war…The process of transporting the troops would be in the nature of a Ferry…’[42] To make sure that Fisher was fully aware of the unilateral decision which had been reached, Clarke himself saw the First Sea Lord to apprise him of the outcome of the third meeting. Realizing at last the extent to which the meetings had been hijacked by the military faction, Fisher had had enough. Clarke promptly supplied Esher with a record of the conversation, which began with the First Sea Lord declaring:

that he wants our Navy to do everything, that we have ample force, that the French would be in the way and so on. I said that it would be absolutely necessary to consider French susceptibilities, which he seems to ignore. Then he said he wished the French torpedo craft and submarines to be concentrated near the Straits of Dover, as apparently they will be. He was averse to having a secret code of signals ready to give to the French, although he seemed to realize that the danger of mistakes is very great…Fisher then said that he would never be a party to military co-operation with the French on French territory; but I pointed out that, in this case also, we must be guided by French wishes to some extent…Of course the French G[eneral] S[taff] are thinking of the moral effect upon their own troops of which they are better judges than we are. Then F[isher] said it would be a nuisance to the navy to have to guard the “Ferry”, that the navy wanted to “get away to sea”, etc…His mind was still running on the Schleswig-Holstein plan; but I said that, after examining the charts, that coast appeared peculiarly unfavourable to a landing and more conveniently situated for the German forces than the Baltic. I said I understood that the Admiralty thought it inadvisable to send a fleet with transports into the Baltic at the outset of war. He denied this and did not seem to think the difficulty too great; but I could see that he had never studied the question at all. In any case, clearly to carry some 75 transports through either the Sound or the Belts would be a vastly more difficult and absorbing business for our Navy than to safeguard the ‘Ferry’. Finally I gathered that the idea of selecting a cache for our battlefleet where torpedo boats and submarines would not find it, was occupying F’s mind. This seemed inconsistent with much that he had said and left me marvelling. He may have intended to mystify me, though I do not think so. My strong impression remains that nothing has been thought out and that so far as preparedness, other than the mere mobilization of ships is concerned, the Admiralty is not at all in advance of the W.O.[43]

Following the discussion with Clarke, Fisher saw the writing on the wall and forbade Ottley to attend thereafter.[44] The next meeting, sans Ottley, considered the replies of the French General Staff and reached the conclusion ‘that in the event of the British force being employed on the French frontier its status would be that of an independent body under the general control of the French C.-in-C.’[45] With a policy now firmly in place, and Ottley no longer allowed to attend, the conferences had outlived their usefulness.

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In the meantime, following Balfour’s resignation, Campbell-Bannerman wasted no time in calling a general election both to capitalize on the unpopularity of the Conservatives and to seek a solid mandate;[46] polling in the election began on 13 January 1906. ‘For years’, Campbell-Bannerman taunted his Conservative opponents, ‘they’ve lived on tactics, and now they’ve died of tactics!’[47] Prior to this, although most candidates had been fully engaged in their constituency campaigns, Sir Edward Grey, the new Foreign Secretary, perforce had to interrupt his canvassing in Northumberland to return to the Foreign Office[48] where, on 10 January, the French Ambassador, Paul Cambon, put ‘the great question’ to him by inquiring whether Britain would underpin her diplomatic support of France by force if necessary. Perhaps expecting such an approach, Grey had been briefed by Clarke the previous day on the current state of defence preparedness; Clarke took the opportunity to mention his contact with Huguet. This was the first occasion on which a member of the government was made aware of the unofficial conversations. Grey agreed with Clarke that it was ‘impossible to approach the French through official channels to ascertain what their views on co-operation are, as this would give the idea of an offensive and defensive alliance which does not exist.’ How much this was genuinely Grey’s own view, and how much he was being led by Clarke, is open to question. What is clear is that, from Grey’s purely personal point of view, it was a singularly inappropriate time for the matter to have arisen. Grey authorized the continuation of the unofficial talks, and, at Clarke’s prompting,[49] both men agreed that it would be best, at this preliminary stage, not to inform Campbell-Bannerman.[50] In the circumstances, with the election in the offing, at his first official meeting with the French Ambassador Grey could do no more for Cambon than to pledge a benevolent neutrality, ‘if such a thing existed’. He did venture, however, as a consolation of dubious value, that a German descent upon France would strongly move public opinion in Britain. This would not suffice for so muscular an Ambassador as Cambon. ‘M. Cambon’, according to Grey, ‘said that a promise of neutrality did not of course satisfy him, and repeated that he would bring the question to me again at the conclusion of the Elections.’[51] As this was Grey’s first meeting as Foreign Secretary with the French Ambassador, and as Grey was able to read French but was not confident enough to converse in the language, he requested that his Permanent Under-Secretary, Lord Sanderson, should also be present at the interview.[52] Grey and Sanderson, the former subsequently related in his memoirs,

sat side by side on the leather sofa in the room of the Secretary of State: Cambon in an arm-chair opposite to us. The recollection of the whole scene is vivid to me. Cambon proceeded to develop the views of his Government and to put the question asking for a promise of armed help in the event of German aggression. Sanderson felt all the awkwardness of the situation; he knew the unsettling consequences of not answering the question favourably; he knew that it was impossible for me to answer it; one hand was resting on his knee, and, as Cambon pressed the French view, the hand kept uneasily and restlessly beating up and down upon the knee, a movement of which Sanderson no doubt was quite unconscious, but which was eloquent of the entanglement of the moment.[53]

Although, generally, the interview went well, there was one jarring moment for Sanderson: this occurred not when Cambon referred to ‘unofficial communications’ that had already passed between the Admiralty and the French Naval Attaché – which was deemed acceptable – but when mention was made of similar communications that had taken place ‘between the Military Authorities and the French Military Attaché, not directly but by intermediaries.’ To Sanderson, this ‘looked very much as if the conversations which we know that Col. a’Court-Repington has had with the French Military Attaché had been taken by the latter and by the Embassy as being authorized by our General Staff.’ On the following day, after Grey had returned north, Sanderson asked Grierson ‘whether he had made any inquiries of the kind directly or indirectly.’[54] Grierson replied that he had not done so, but urged that ‘informal communication should be opened between the General staffs on both sides,’ to which he added that he saw ‘no difficulty in such communication being made on the express understanding that it commits the Government to nothing.’[55]

                When this was brought to Grey’s attention, he declared that he had no reason to disapprove of the communications, provided that they were continued in the ‘proper manner’, that is, ‘with the cognizance of the official heads of the Admiralty and War Office’ and on the understanding that they should be ‘solely provisional and non-committal.’[56] Without, apparently, making any firm inquiries Grey was convinced that this was indeed already the case with the Admiralty;[57] however, with regard to the War Office, he decided to see Haldane, the new Secretary of State for War, to seek his approval for talks to commence between Grierson and Huguet. Grey agreed to meet Haldane, a firm supporter of the C.I.D., at Berwick on the 12th where Haldane was due to address Grey’s constituents. After the rally Grey took Haldane on a long carriage drive during which Grey enlightened Haldane of the French concerns and quizzed him on the British state of preparedness. Grey was content that all naval preparations were safe in the hands of Fisher; however, he remained distinctly uneasy that communications between the War Office and Huguet had been undertaken by Repington on an unofficial basis.[58] Writing some years after the event, Haldane, who was apparently unaware of Clarke’s surreptitious activity,[59] maintained that he mentioned that ‘general conversations’ had occurred before his time at the War Office but that ‘the one thing needful, the interchange of scientific General Staff ideas, had not taken place to anything like the extent which modern standards of preparedness required.’[60] Haldane further asserted that, on the eve of the poll (which began on 14 January and lasted a fortnight), he had returned to London to apprise the Prime Minister of the situation. Campbell-Bannerman, Haldane alleged, then sanctioned, with some reluctance, the authorization of talks ‘on the express understanding that it should be stated in writing that the conversations were not to go beyond the limits of purely General Staff work and in no way committed the Government to action.’[61] In fact, as Grey himself acknowledged on 15 January, Campbell-Bannerman would not return to London (from Scotland) before 25 January at the earliest.[62] Having placed the talks on an official basis, Grey and Haldane now kept the Prime Minister in the dark till late January, though it must be added that, at least in so far as Grey was concerned, he expected that a full Cabinet debate would follow.[63]

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                Before this, with the election in progress, Cabinet debate of Grey’s authorization was impossible: ‘all my colleagues’, Grey had declared on 15 January, ‘are fighting their own or other election contests and I am alone in London and cannot consult them or get them together.’[64] Four days’ later, Grey sought an interview with Campbell-Bannerman in London, but the Prime Minister showed no inclination to return. Grey admitted, however, that he had now informed Asquith (then the Chancellor) of all that had passed. On the 22nd, Grey also mentioned the fact of the conversations to Lord Ripon, the leader in the Lords, although it appears that the discussion with Ripon was not particularly wide-ranging.[65] When the Cabinet reconvened at the end of the month Campbell-Bannerman, now himself admitted to the secret of the talks, withheld the information from general dissemination: only the Prime Minister, Grey, Haldane, Asquith and Ripon had knowledge of the conversations.[66] In fact Campbell-Bannerman did inquire of Grey whether he would like ‘the answer to the French to be confirmed by a Cabinet before it is given?’[67] But with the Prime Minister still in Scotland Grey was reluctant to commit himself before discussing the matter personally with Campbell-Bannerman. That Grey, who admitted to having had no recollection of how he answered this question, was evidently unsure of himself, may have been as a result of the influence of Sanderson, a close personal friend. It is important to bear in mind that the new Foreign Secretary had never been in a Cabinet before.[68] In such circumstances, being alone in London for most of the month, Grey was more than ever dependent upon the advice of his Permanent Under-Secretary, and Sanderson made no secret of his own feelings. It is probable that, as the sixty-five year old Sanderson’s retirement was imminent (the meeting with Cambon had been his last official duty), he was more free with his advice than he might otherwise have been.[69] When Sanderson saw Cambon on the afternoon of 1 February, to compare the Ambassador’s version of what had been discussed the previous day with Grey’s version, Sanderson took the opportunity to place before Cambon his own, personal, views:

In the first place, [Sanderson informed Cambon] in the course of my experience, which was a pretty long one, I knew of no instance of any secret Agreement by the British Government which pledged them further than that if a certain policy agreed upon with another Power were in any way menaced, the two Powers should consult as to the course to be taken. That I thought was the limit to which the Government could properly bind itself without in some way making Parliament aware of the obligations that it was incurring. Secondly, it was a maxim which had been impressed upon me by several statesmen of great eminence that it was not wise to bring before a Cabinet the question of the course to be pursued in hypothetical cases which had not arisen. A discussion on the subject invariably gave rise to divergences of opinion on questions of principle, whereas in a concrete case unanimity would very likely be secured. M. Cambon observed that this view was a perfectly just one. Thirdly, I told him that I thought that if the Cabinet were to give a pledge which would morally bind the country to go to war in certain circumstances, and were not to mention this pledge to Parliament, and if at the expiration of some months the country suddenly found itself pledged to war in consequence of this assurance, the case would be one which would justify impeachment, and which might even result in that course unless at the time the feeling of the country were strongly in favour of the course to which the Government was pledged.

Grey was particularly pleased that Sanderson’s “maxim” of not presenting the Cabinet with hypothetical situations was ‘so well pointed out to M. Cambon.’[70] Presumably, also, Grey took in Sanderson’s final warning; in the circumstances he might have decided to withhold the subject from the Cabinet in the hope that the crisis would soon blow over and the pledge would not have to be redeemed. Besides, Campbell-Bannerman remained resolutely unperturbed by what had transpired: after all, whatever Grey’s failings in this respect, the final decision rested with the Prime Minister and Sir Henry showed no inclination to encourage a broader debate on the subject. No entirely plausible explanation has been advanced for this omission by Grey and Campbell-Bannerman (which Grey certainly regretted subsequently) although it has been argued that fear of the opposition which was bound to be raised around the Cabinet table was a possible factor.[71] It would not have done for the first meeting of the new Liberal Cabinet to be at odds over such an important issue. This was certainly the impression formed by Cambon, who reported to Paris that, if the matter was brought before the Cabinet, ‘certain Ministers would be astonished at the opening of official talks between the military administrations of the two countries and of the studies which they have worked out in common.’[72] Whether this was sufficient excuse to withhold the news of the military conversations is another matter. It also seems clear that, in mitigation, while Grey over-estimated the nature and extent of the Anglo-French naval ‘conversations’, he did not immediately appreciate the strength of the commitment entered into by the military authorities.

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                As promised, Cambon saw Grey again on 31 January to repeat his demand that British assistance should be forthcoming in the event of an attack by Germany. At this, Grey immediately referred to the ‘good deal of progress’ that had been made since the last interview on 10 January. ‘Our military and naval authorities’, Grey emphasized, ‘had been in communication with the French, and I assumed that all preparations were ready, so that, if a crisis arose, no time would have been lost for want of a formal engagement.’[73] This assumption, in relation to the naval talks, was a common thread throughout Grey’s correspondence that month.[74] Perhaps, in other circumstances, this omission might eventually have been put right; however, on the day after the interview with Cambon, when at a meeting of the C.I.D., Grey received word that his wife had been thrown from a carriage in Northumberland and was gravely injured. She died three days later, without regaining consciousness. Grey seriously considered resigning in the face of this terrible blow but was encouraged by Campbell-Bannerman to stay on; for the moment, however, all thought of the naval and military conversations was forgotten.[75]

                Prior to this, Grey had written on 15 January: ‘As to taking precautions beforehand in case war should come, it appears that Fisher has long ago taken the French Naval attaché in hand and no doubt has all naval plans prepared.’[76] Nothing of the sort had occurred. On 2 January, the Attaché in question, Captain Mercier de Lostende, had paid a diplomatic call on Fisher to invest him with the Grand Cross of the Légion d’Honneur. Carried away by the occasion, the British Admiral spoke freely about dispositions (to the Attaché’s evident delight), as well as boasting that, in a war with England, the Germans would soon be left without a ship or colony. Grey’s belief that a full exchange had taken place rested somewhat precariously upon a single sentence: ‘Je suppose que, à votre côté en France, vous avez pris vos précautions.’[77] Fisher desired the co-operation of French submarines at Dunkirk with British submarines at Dover and that was that; he would not even agree to the preparation of a joint signal code. In all, there ‘was never any real exchange of views and no definite plan of co-operation in war.’[78] A garbled account of this discussion was the sole basis for Grey’s sanguine analysis a fortnight later — this was the solitary meeting of Entente naval minds; a meeting of more significance for what was left unsaid. Fisher’s plans, as ever, remained locked in his head.

                Clarke was both disappointed at Fisher’s boycott of his informal conferences and sceptical of Admiralty policy. Fisher’s decision to withdraw Ottley was not unexpected by Clarke: ‘It is unwise and a pity. No possible harm can arise from taking reasonable precautions’, he informed Esher on 18 January:

I know [Clarke continued] you are inclined to think that all will be well as far as the Admiralty is concerned. I wish I could share this belief…One brain, if supremely competent, may direct, but it is necessarily quite unable to cope with complex questions requiring careful thought and study…I also dislike much the see-saw of responsibility between Fisher and Wilson, and I do not expect that the former will suddenly assume the responsibility in war, while the latter is a person full of strong idées fixes which are not all sound by any means…I think further that if, as is possible, Grierson has been permitted to go further than is considered wise, there should be all the less reluctance on the part of the Admiralty to play up, because clearly, one department of state commits all.[79]

Fisher’s rejection of the developing military Entente alienated the Admiralty from the C.I.D. The ‘Continental’ strategy of the army was no longer open for discussion; rather ‘it was a subject to be aired as briefly as possible and then swept back into the shadows. The result was the drift of the C.I.D. towards the acceptance of the fait accompli of 1906, without any detailed knowledge or any serious investigation of the question.’[80]

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                There were soon signs, however, that Grey began to realize the moral force that had been created, in part, by the talks. ‘The Entente’, he argued in February 1906, ‘and still more the constant and emphatic demonstrations of affection (official, naval, political, commercial Municipal and in the Press), have created in France a belief that we should support her in war. The last report from our naval attaché at Toulon said that all the French officers took this for granted, if the war was between France and Germany about Morocco. If this expectation is disappointed the French will never forgive us.’ In an effort to try to avoid war, Grey proposed that some sacrifice should be made: ‘To do this we should have to find out what compensation Germany would ask or accept as the price of her recognition of the French claims in Morocco.’ But, Grey added, ‘it would be necessary to consult the Admiralty about this, and to find out whether the French would entertain the idea, and if so what port?’ Grey, personally, favoured allowing the Germans a port or coaling station in Egypt ‘if that would ensure peace’.[81] Given his preference for Alexandria over Malta as the base for the British Mediterranean Fleet, the reaction of Fisher to this idea would have been fascinating. A German port in Egypt would have allowed ample scope for Fisher to “Copenhagen” the German Squadron on the threatened outbreak of war. Indeed, in an attempt to appease Berlin, Grey had been thinking along novel lines since the start of the year; as he then informed Campbell-Bannerman:

In more than one part of the world I find signs that Germany is feeling after a coaling station or port. Everywhere we block this. I am not an expert in naval strategy, but I doubt whether it is important to us to prevent Germany getting ports at a distance from her base; and the moment may come when a timely admission that it is not a cardinal object of British policy to prevent her having such a port may have a great pacific effect. It may, for instance, turn out that a port for Germany on the west Atlantic coast of Morocco would solve all the difficulties of the Morocco Conference and be regarded by the French as a means of obtaining the recognition which they want in Morocco without prejudicing their interests in the long run. I cannot yet say that this is likely to be so, but in view of possibilities I should like to know what is the real opinion of the Admiralty or Defence Committee on such a point. The concession of a port to Germany is a card which might any day take a valuable trick in diplomacy, and the S. of S. for Foreign Affairs ought to know whether it is a card which it is not inconsistent with British interests for him to play. Hitherto it has been assumed that all the efforts of British diplomacy must be used to prevent Germany getting a port anywhere…[82]

As Grey was later to admit, however, ‘That the possibility of ceding a port to Germany on the west coast of Morocco should ever have been mentioned is evidence of how little I was aware of the pitfalls and quaking grounds around me’. Grey was apparently also unaware that Lansdowne had previously urged the French not to concede a Moroccan port to Germany; furthermore, the suggestion would never have been entertained by the Committee of Imperial Defence.[83] Similarly, the proposal the following month regarding Egypt ran into immediate opposition from Hardinge.[84]

                Faced with resolute opposition, by the spring of 1906 the Germans had backed down at Algeciras and had been forced to accept a compromise solution. It did not take long for them to speculate as to the possibility that an Anglo-French military convention had been concluded, particularly when ‘special facilities and favours’ were granted to Sir John French at the French manoeuvres; as a result the Kölnische Zeitung openly surmised as to the existence of a secret convention.[85] Worse was to follow in Paris in November when a “Nationalist” Senator, M. Gaudin de Villaine, rose from his seat and challenged the policy of the French Government. The Senator ‘subjected the President of the Council to a certain amount of “heckling” ’ by declaring ‘that M. Clemenceau’s statesmanship consisted of war on the Roman Catholics at home and of an “English Policy” abroad.’ When Clemenceau retorted that, ‘as to the latter point, it was impossible to answer anything so vague, M. Gaudin de Villaine interrupted him saying:— “Is there a military convention between France and England? Yes or No.” ’ Clemenceau was forced to reply lamely that he had only been at the Ministry for three weeks; however, of the documents he had seen, none contained ‘anything of the sort’. When Hardinge became aware of this incident he declared ‘that it would be awkward if a similar question were put in Parliament. There is no doubt that the German Gov[ernmen]t are very anxious for a denial of the existence of a military Convention which many Germans…believe to have been concluded.’ In Hardinge’s opinion, ‘in view of the fact that Conferences took place last spring to concert joint measures of action and that no Convention actually exists’, it would have been better if Clemenceau had given his tormentor a flat denial. Significantly, however, the French Ambassador ‘was not quite of the same opinion as he regards the myth of the existence of a Convention as a deterrent to Germany.’ The incident was certainly a lesson to Grey: ‘It would have been difficult’, he argued, ‘for M. Clemenceau to deny the existence of a convention without giving the impression that such a Convention was not desired. I shall endeavour to avoid a public denial, if I am asked a question.’[86] Please click to go to the top of this page






[1]    Balfour to Selborne, 5 April 1902, Selborne Papers, p. 142.

[2]    Lascelles to Balfour, no.4, 22 August 1898, BD, I, no. 87, pp. 68-9. See also, Lascelles to Balfour, no. 102, secret, 23 August 1898, BD, I, no. 122, pp. 100-1. See appendix.

[3]    Quoted in Nicholas d’Ombrain, War Machinery and High Policy, p. 1 [hereinafter referred to as War Machinery].

[4]    The peace treaty ending the Boer War would be signed on 31 May 1902.

[5]    Quoted in Mackay, Balfour, p. 116.

[6]    See, for example, Fisher to King Edward VII, 4 October 1907, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 139-143.

[7]    Sydenham MSS, BL Add. MSS 50836.

[8]    d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 3.

[9]    Marder, Anatomy, pp. 505-7.

[10]  Mackay, Balfour, p. 181; Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 45.

[11]  d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 7.

[12]  Marder, Anatomy, pp. 504-5.

[13]  Quoted in Mackay, Balfour, p. 183.

[14]  Minutes of 76th meeting, 20 July 1905, PRO Cab 38/9/61; Minutes of 77th meeting, 26 July 1905, PRO Cab 38/9/65.

[15]  d’Ombrain, War Machinery, pp. 68-73, 126-7; Mackay, Balfour, pp. 184 ff.

[16]  Grant-Duff argued that, without ‘a powerful army to back our sea power we can exert little influence on the peace of Europe. If the Admiralty accept this conclusion we have taken the first step towards real reform.’ Memorandum by Grant-Duff, quoted in, Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 49.

[17]  Ibid.

[18]  Mackay, Fisher, pp. 333-4.

[19]  Memorandum by Callwell, quoted in Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 386.

[20]  Mackay, Balfour, p. 189.

[21]  Paul Haggie, The Royal Navy and War Planning in the Fisher Era, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 8, no. 3 (1973), pp. 127-8.

[22]  Diary entry, 10 November 1905, quoted in d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 61.

[23]  Fisher to Sandars, 10 October 1905, Balfour mss, BL Add MSS 49711.

[24]  Gooch, The Plans of War, pp. 280-1.

[25]  John Ehrman, Cabinet Government and War 1890-1940, p. 28.

[26]  Viscount Simon, Retrospect, (London, 1952), p. 69.

[27]  Grey was not Campbell-Bannerman’s first choice. In November 1905 he apparently favoured Lord Elgin, and actually offered the position to Lord Cromer on 5 December. Cromer declined, citing ill health (his crippling arthritis). Other names mentioned included Morley, Lord Fitzmaurice and Lord Crewe. See, Wilson, Policy of the Entente, pp. 21-2.

[28]  Clarke to Esher, 15 December 1905, quoted in Mackay, Fisher, pp. 350-1.

[29]  d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 83.

[30]  When later quizzed about this, Grierson referred only to one meeting, which he said took place ‘about the 16th or 18th December’. Huguet asked him ‘some questions about our war organization, and I referred him to the Army List, which shows it and actually gives the composition on mobilisation of a division which does not exist in peace.’ Grierson to Sanderson, 11 January 1906, BD, III, no. 211, pp. 172-3. In fact Grierson saw Huguet first on 20 December, and again the following day. Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 65 and n.16. This unauthorized approach by Grierson resulted in his ‘punishment’ by being replaced as D.M.O. in October 1906 with two years of his appointment left to run. Christopher Andrew, Secret Service, p. 32.

[31]  Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 65.

[32]  Repington to Esher, 29 December 1905, quoted in, d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 84.

[33]  Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 67.

[34]  Repington to Grey, 29 December 1905, BD, III, p. 169. See also, Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice, Haldane, vol. I, p. 173; Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, pp. 67-9.

[35]  Repington to Esher, 18 January 1906, Esher MSS, cited by Gooch, The Plans of War, p. 281.

[36]  d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 84.

[37]  Hankey, Supreme Command, vol. I, p. 62.

[38]  Clarke to Esher, 1 January 1906, quoted in, Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 69.

[39]  Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 71. Huguet was also made to understand that the British government could ‘continue the conversations or drop them as they pleased.’

[40]  Gooch has made the point that, ‘The Admiralty were currently claiming that the fleet could protect England against serious danger from raids much better than the army, but now sought to argue that the same strategic principle did not apply in the case of a German fleet seeking to prevent a British landing.’ The Plans of War, p. 281.

[41]  d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 85. Perhaps nothing could better characterize the lack of sustained strategic thinking throughout the service than the war game which was played out at the Naval War College during January. The game was predicated upon the basis that, with relations between Britain and America being strained, ‘Germany conceives it to be a good opportunity of pressing her claims in Morocco’. As the game opened, the threat from America had drawn off the Atlantic Fleet and the 2nd and 4th Cruiser Squadrons while Germany threatened to overrun Denmark and close the Baltic if the Danes would not consent to form an alliance. The Germans dispatched 3,200 men to attack Newcastle and a further 12,000 to attack Barrow-in-Furness. The former convoy was attacked by destroyers when in the midst of disembarkation; the latter expedition, conveyed in ‘four large German liners’, proceeded unseen round the north of Scotland and rendezvoused off the Isle of Man. With the fate of Cumberland hanging in the balance the situation was saved by two British submarines which ‘happened to be leaving that morning for their station, having just been completed at the works’. The intrepid submarines torpedoed all the German ships. Meanwhile, to establish a forward base, the British dispatched 10,000 men to seize Borkum. ‘As the Germans were not expecting this blow,’ it was happily reported, ‘it was successful. As soon as possible afterwards another expedition was dispatched to attack Sylt Island; this was unsuccessful on account of the weather.’ Suitably impressed, the Danes remained neutral. The German battle fleet came out of harbour to drive off the raid on Sylt but when they found the weather had done the job for them they retired, which was just as well as the British battle fleet then came out to drive off the Germans. A proposed German descent upon Pembroke Docks was, probably wisely, cancelled. All in all, it was perhaps fortunate that the Moroccan crisis did not result in war! Short Summary of Other War Games, Fisher Papers, vol. II, pp. 451-3.

[42]  Ottley to Fisher, 13 January 1906, BD, III, p. 186 [my emphasis].

[43]  Quoted in Mackay, Fisher, pp. 353-4.

[44]  Fisher’s standing in Repington’s eyes was seriously lowered after this episode. Gooch, the Plans of War, p. 282.

[45]  Quoted in d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 86.

[46]  In this he was spectacularly successful: the Liberals, with a 49% share of the total vote, secured 400 of the 670 seats in the House. Between them, the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists (who favoured tariff reform) could muster just 157 seats while the Irish Nationalists accounted for 83 and Labour 30. Cook and Stevenson, The Longman handbook of modern British history, 1714-1980, (London, 1983), p. 68.

[47]  Quoted in, Viscount Simon, Retrospect, (London, 1952), p. 71.

[48]  Grey arranged to spend three days at the F.O. (Monday to Wednesday), before travelling up to Northumberland on Wednesday night, and returning to London the following Sunday. Twenty-Five Years, (New York, 1925) vol. I, p. 69.

[49]  Clarke to Esher, 9 January 1906, quoted in, Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 72. In reporting the details of the conversation to Esher, Clarke admitted that he had told Grey that nothing had yet been mentioned to Campbell-Bannerman and that Grey ‘seemed to think it was better not to do so at this stage.’ Clarke added that, ‘Of course if Grierson will play up loyally and intelligently there is no need of involving the P.M. just now.’

[50]  Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, p. 145. As Robbins makes clear: ‘in his first fortnight in office, amidst all his other concerns, Grey was poorly placed to conduct an elaborate inquiry into the subtle differences between “talks about talks”, official conversations, unofficial but authorized talks, indiscretion officially connived at and sheer indiscretion. Probably correctly, he believed that “something” had been said to encourage the French.’

[51]  Grey to Bertie, no. 22, very confidential, 10 January 1906, BD, III, no. 210 (a), pp. 170-1. See also, K A Hamilton, “Great Britain and France, 1905-1911”, in F H Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy under Sir Edward Grey, p. 114.

[52]  Grey’s lack of facility with the language was well known. Campbell-Bannerman admitted in December 1905 that, for Grey to be given the position of Foreign Secretary, he ‘must have a good linguist behind him.’ When he did try, Grey reputedly spoke French with a Northumbrian accent. Editorial note in Hazlehurst and Woodland (eds), A Liberal Chronicle: journals and papers of J A Pease, 1908 to 1910, p. 20.

[53]  Grey, Twenty-Five Years, (New York, 1925) vol. I, p. 86.

[54]  Minute by Lord Sanderson, 11 January 1906, BD, III, no. 210 (b), pp. 171-2 [my emphasis].

[55]  Grierson to Sanderson, 11 January 1906, BD, III, no. 211, pp. 172-3.

[56]  Minute by Grey, 13 January 1906, ibid., p. 174.

[57]  ‘In the case of the Admiralty’, Grey declared, ‘I gather that whatever is being done is known to Sir J. Fisher.’ Ibid.

[58]  Grey to Bertie, no. 33, very confidential, 15 January 1906, BD, III, no. 215, p. 177.

[59]  d’Ombrain (p. 85) suggests that, by the time of the meeting with Grey, Haldane was aware of what was going on. Williamson, on the other hand, maintains (p. 75) that Clarke, afraid of leaks at the War Office, had not informed Haldane who, in any event, was almost wholly engaged in the election campaign.

[60]  Richard Burdon Haldane, An Autobiography, pp. 189-190.

[61]  Maurice, Haldane, vol. I, p. 174; Haldane, Autobiography, p. 191.

[62]  Grey to Bertie, no. 33, very confidential, 15 January 1906, BD, III, no. 215, p. 177. Campbell-Bannerman in fact returned on 26 January: see, Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 76.

[63]  Minute by Grey, BD, III, p. 213.

[64]  Grey to Bertie, private, 15 January 1906, BD, III, no. 216, pp. 177-8. Grey admitted that his own views as to what answer to give the French were still ‘in solution’ and he had not yet determined on what proposal he would make to Campbell-Bannerman.

[65]  Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, p. 147.

[66]  Haldane, Autobiography, p. 191; report of Sir Edward Grey’s speech, The Times, 4 August 1914.

[67]  Grey, Twenty-Five Years, (New York, 1925) vol. I, p. 84.

[68]  Only Campbell-Bannerman, Ripon and Asquith, of the new administration, had had such previous experience: Grey, Twenty-Five Years, (New York, 1925) vol. I, p. 86.

[69]  Sanderson admitted to Cambon that, ‘as I was no longer an official, I might speak to him quite freely…’ Memorandum by Lord Sanderson, 2 February 1906, BD, III, no. 220 (b), pp. 184-5.

[70]  Memorandum by Lord Sanderson and note by Grey, 2 February 1906, BD, III, no. 220 (b), pp. 184-5.

[71]  Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, pp. 82-3; Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, p. 148. Williamson lists the most frequent explanations advanced to account for  Grey’s behaviour: ‘(1) Grey was an inexperienced Cabinet minister in the midst of an election campaign and did not realize the full importance of the French demands; (2) the conversations were merely a logical extension of the terms of the 1904 accord and thus involved no question of policy; (3) the conversations had begun in the Lansdowne period; (4) Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister, not Grey, had the final responsibility for bringing the talks before the Cabinet; (5) the death of Grey’s wife on 1 February detained him so long at Fallodon that the issue was forgotten when he returned to London; and (6) the talks were purely departmental matters and thus permissible if the responsible ministers were informed.’ See chapter 20, below.

[72]  Cambon to Rouvier, 31 January/1 February 1906, quoted in, Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 83.

[73]  Grey to Bertie, no. 76, secret, 31 January 1906, BD, III, no. 219, pp. 180-2.

[74]  And not only Grey’s: Cambon’s report of this interview alluded ‘to the intention of the British Admiralty in case of a conflict with Germany, to bar the Channel against the German squadrons.’ Memorandum by M. Cambon, 31 January, and minute by Eyre Crowe, 2 February 1906, BD, III, no. 220 (a), pp. 182-4.

[75]  Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, pp. 152-3.

[76]  Grey to Bertie, private, 15 January 1906, BD, III, no. 216, pp. 177-8. See also, Grey to Tweedmouth, ibid., p. 203, in which Grey mentions that ‘the French Naval Attaché has been unofficially and in a non-committal way in communication with Fisher, as to what help we could give in a war between Germany and France. We haven’t promised any help, but it is quite right that our Naval and Military Authorities should discuss the question in this way with the French and be prepared to give an answer when they are asked, or rather if they are asked.’

[77]  Quoted in Haggie, The Royal Navy and War Planning in the Fisher Era, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 8, no. 3 (1973), p. 124.

[78]  Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 118.

[79]  Quoted in Mackay, Fisher, p. 355 [emphasis in original].

[80]  d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 99.

[81]  Memorandum by Grey, 20 February 1906, BD, III, no. 299, pp. 266-7.

[82]  Grey to Campbell-Bannerman, 9 January 1906, given in, Grey, Twenty-Five Years, (New York, 1925), vol. I, pp. 114-5.

[83]  Ibid., pp. 115-6.

[84]  Minute by Hardinge on Grey’s memorandum, 20 February 1906, BD, III, no. 299, pp. 266-8.

[85]  Minutes by Hardinge and Grey, 18 September 1906, BD, III, no. 439, pp. 389-90. ‘The present elastic situation’, Hardinge noted, ‘is more satisfactory for us although the fact that we are not bound hand and foot to the French makes the latter nervous and suspicious.’

[86]  Bertie to Grey, no. 463, 21 November 1906, and minutes by Grey and Hardinge, BD, III, no. 443, pp. 394-5 [my emphasis].



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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