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 6




A New Enemy




Vice-Admiral Boué de Lapeyrère 

The new French Minister of Marine Vice-Admiral Boué de Lapeyrère, who had been the naval prefect at Brest. Lapeyrère figured prominently in the formulation of pre-war French Mediterranean naval policy.

The precautionary mobilization of the Austrian Fleet during the Bosnian crisis,[1] coupled with the realization that the Italians had a dreadnought programme of their own, highlighted the weakness of the Austrian navy. Spreading the same sort of alarm which had worked so successfully for Fisher, Admiral Rudolf Count Montecuccoli, Chief of the Austrian Naval Department (or Marine Commandant) warned of the possibility of a surprise attack by Italy after the Italians had attained Adriatic naval mastery, which, if Austria remained passive, would occur in 1912.[2] Early in 1909 Montecuccoli circulated a memorandum in which he proposed the construction of a fleet of sixteen battleships (four of which were to be dreadnoughts), twelve cruisers and over a hundred smaller craft. Despite the grandiose nature of the proposed programme, it remained for the time being no more than wishful thinking; worse, when the memorandum was leaked to the press in April it was sufficient to cause the Italians to begin construction of their own dreadnoughts.[3] As Austria-Hungary’s own dreadnought programme was hampered in part by political considerations, later that year Montecuccoli employed the novel expedient, in conjunction with the private yard of the Stabilimento Tecnico, Trieste, of acquiescing in the laying down of two “unofficial Dreadnoughts”. In July 1909 two slips had become vacant in the Stabilimento Tecnico’s yard following the completion of the Radetzky class.[4] The company had sought orders from the Marine Commandant which he could not give. With the possibility looming of a partial suspension of the lucrative work and the concomitant laying off of hands the Stabilimento then approached Montecuccoli with an offer to build three battleships on its own account with plans to be sanctioned by the Naval Department. As, at the time, even Spain and Turkey were expanding their fleets it was an offer the Marine Commandant could hardly refuse. It proved impossible to put the request before the Delegations[5] due to yet another political crisis in Hungary. Montecuccoli’s authorization to negotiate came only from the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the two Prime Ministers.[6]

                After ‘mature reflection’ the Admiral ‘requested’ that the competent authorities should accept the offer. Although aware of the negligible risk he was taking, Montecuccoli had decided that only two such unofficial dreadnoughts should be sanctioned.[7] It was evident, he said,

that the Stabilimento counted upon the ships being taken over by the Naval Department as soon as the requisite funds should have been constitutionally granted. By placing the plans for these ships at the disposal of the Stabilimento, the Department obtained the advantage of being able, provided the Delegations granted the means, to have these ships ready at an early date. But neither the price agreed upon nor any instalment has been paid by the Austrian or the Hungarian Government, and the budgetary rights of the Delegations had been completely respected.[8]

Montecuccoli then had to prepare an argument to assuage the Hungarians: at that moment, he suggested, the country could not endure a blockade of the Adriatic by a hostile fleet. To counter this would necessitate the concentration of the Empire’s Army – including the Hungarians – along the Austrian coast. Therefore, Montecuccoli asserted, ‘the importance to Hungary’ of maintaining a strong fleet stemmed from the fact that the military would then be relieved of some of its responsibilities in that area.

                Montecuccoli was reported to be ready to present a comprehensive programme in the autumn of 1909 with the eventual aim of restoring the Fleet to the relative position it had held in the 1860s. That he was prevented from doing so was due to the incessant political crisis in Hungary. Indeed, taking advantage of this, the Hungarians did not display the altruism expected of them and held out for a higher price. In the meantime, the first dreadnought, Viribus Unitis, had been laid down in Trieste in July 1910[9] but not before the arrangement concerning the ‘unofficial Dreadnoughts’ had been exposed by the Socialist newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung[10] forcing Montecuccoli eventually to disclose the fact to the Delegations. The fiction regarding the speculative nature of the yard’s work was maintained for a little longer as Montecuccoli contended that the bill for the work would not be presented till 1911 when he intended to introduce a new programme to provide for thirteen battleships by 1916 and, ultimately, twenty by 1920. Above all, Montecuccoli wished to avoid the continual need to resort to extraordinary appropriations; to support this course the Admiral employed a simple but effective argument. ‘No navy, whatever its size,’ he insisted, ‘is so costly as a war.’ A Naval Department spokesman continued in the same vein: ‘We require a Fleet prepared for the outbreak of an eventual war, whose attack would be feared by the enemy. A Fleet which is intended only for defence, and must withdraw before the enemy is valueless.’[11]

                But things were never that simple in the Dual Monarchy. The basic arguments employed ignored the objections of the Hungarians who now sought the maximum concession: not only was the programme itself in jeopardy but Montecuccoli’s own position was becoming increasingly difficult. Any attempt to appease the Hungarians laid him open to attack by the Austrian Delegation; he had, however, little choice. Aware that two dreadnoughts had already been laid down in an Austrian yard, the Hungarians demanded that one of the remaining pair proposed be constructed in an Hungarian yard and, for good measure, that they receive orders for material in ‘the same proportion of total naval expenditure that their half of the monarchy contributed to the common defense: 36.4 per cent.’[12] Although the Hungarian Delegation approved the Estimates on 28 February 1911 without modifications, it would be a year before the fourth ship of the class could be laid down at the Danubius Yard, Fiume (then part of Hungary) which had, hitherto, constructed only small vessels;[13] progress would be much slower compared with the efficient yard at Trieste.

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                Both the Austrians and Hungarians were careful to proclaim the regional nature of the proposed fleet though Montecuccoli, after admitting that the basis of a strong fleet would be to seek to exercise influence in the Adriatic and eastern basin of the Mediterranean, nevertheless speculated that it was legitimate to compare the fleet with that of other naval Powers because ‘in case of warlike complications, the Mediterranean fleets of Powers with Atlantic coasts could not be greatly reinforced.’ This aspect was not last on the Russians. The Tsar himself remarked to the British Ambassador ‘that Austria-Hungary was about to build four Dreadnoughts, and would not such an increase to her fleet necessitate some strengthening of [the British] Mediterranean fleet, which of late had been considerably reduced?’[14] The Hungarians, for their part, were quick to deny that their naval efforts were inspired more by the desire to benefit Germany than by their own national self-interest while at the same time admitting that the strength of the Navy would make them more valuable as an ally.[15]

                All this was grist to the rumour mill: the French Naval Attaché in Rome reported that the four Austrian dreadnoughts had been demanded by the Kaiser and were all eventually destined to fight Britain; the Naval & Military Record in London reported that, if the necessary appropriations were not forthcoming, the Germans would buy two of the projected dreadnoughts.[16] This estimate was not altogether wide of the mark. The Chief of the Austrian General Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, had already suggested that, should the unofficial dreadnoughts not be approved, they could be sold to ‘a reliable ally’. Conrad had no need to be more specific.[17] ‘I cannot help thinking’, Sir Charles Hardinge, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, commented, ‘that these new Austrian Dreadnoughts are intended as a thank offering to Germany for her recent support and to force us to place Dreadnoughts in the Mediterranean and so relieve the strain [for Germany] in the North Sea.’[18] One thing is clear: the knowledge of the Italian and Austrian plans ‘had a decisive impact on British naval policy’[19] by ensuring, as related, that the contingent four battleships originally intended to meet the scare aroused by the supposed German naval acceleration would be laid down without prejudice to the 1910-11 programme. ‘I am very glad of the [Austrian] announcement’, Hardinge added, ‘as it will knock out entirely the little Navy people in the Cabinet of whom there are less than six…’[20]

                In the excitement, the anxiety over German naval ambitions subsided and was even temporarily replaced by some doubts as to whether the new naval powers could afford to meet the bill. ‘The fact that both Austria-Hungary and Italy are entering the ranks of “Dreadnought”-building Powers’, the British Minister to Switzerland, Henry Bax-Ironside, remarked in November 1909, ‘is doubtless the subject of much discussion in the leading capitals of the world.’ Bax-Ironside had learned that his German counterpart ‘frankly faced the fact that in the case of all the three nations interested serious financial difficulties would be met with, but he gave it as his opinion that both Germany and Austria-Hungary, at any rate, would make all necessary sacrifices: the former to obtain one of the leading, if not the leading Navy of the world, the latter, to satisfy and content her close ally. It was, he thought, still too early to give an opinion on the shipbuilding capacity of Italy.’ Nevertheless, Herr von Bülow ‘lamented the increase of Imperial German taxation’. When Bax-Ironside remarked ‘that even this increase did not appear to be sufficient to meet the requirements of the situation, he replied, “Unfortunately, the Emperor is determined to have one of the largest Navies of the world, and the expenses of such a Navy, combined with those of the German Army, demand a rich Exchequer.” Further taxation would, in his opinion, lead to a large increase in the Social-Democratic vote.’ Bax-Ironside also reported ‘that considerable dissatisfaction is already being expressed in the interior of the Austrian Empire at any idea of a further increase of taxation for Naval Expenses: neither is it probable that any financial scheme with such an object will meet with favour in Hungary. Should the German Emperor, therefore, persist in his present course, not only will he be faced with a large deficit in his own country, but he will have to use all his powerful influence with the Emperor of Austria to oblige the latter to satisfy the shipbuilding requirements which the German Emperor has demanded from his Allies.’[21]

                The contest to command the Adriatic, fought between those dubious allies, Italy and Austria-Hungary, would profoundly influence the naval situation in the Mediterranean. Already, French fears had been aroused. The naval scare in Britain had its parallel in France, where a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into naval affairs was established following the tabling of a report in March, 1909 by Picard, the Minister of Marine. Picard’s memorandum confirmed to, amongst others, Delcassé, the lamentable state of the French navy and the former Foreign Minister, whose voice was raised the loudest, was appointed the Commission’s president.[22] Enough disturbing evidence had been leaked by the end of April for the Petit Parisien to declare that ‘it looks almost as if our naval authorities were depending on our friends in order to assure the safety of our Channel and Atlantic coasts.’[23]

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                When the massive report (220 pages plus a further 730 pages of evidence) was tabled on 28 June 1909, the feeling of unease was found to have been fully justified. On the subject on naval construction, the report concluded:

During the last ten years the Chambers had been asked to authorise the construction of ships, for which in many cases plans had not been definitely prepared. Months and often years had elapsed between the contracts for parts of ships, the hulls, turrets, boilers, &c., entailing considerable loss of time and of money … While the Gloire was on the stocks she was lengthened, her displacement increased, and her armament and machinery designed afresh. During the building of the Justice she was the subject of fourteen different acts, entailing two hundred various modifications. Apart from increase of expenditure and retardation of construction, the result of such procedure was to impair the homogeneity which is the supreme quality of a squadron. Most of these defects were aggravated in the case of the six battleships of the Danton class, the original contract for which, signed at the end of December, 1906, had undergone hundreds of modifications, which must now be placed on a proper basis. The Commission proposed to the Chamber to censure severely proceedings of this sort which, while prejudicial to the public finances, were incompatible with any kind of rational, methodical, or rapid construction; and to decide that henceforth it would not authorise the construction of any ship before it had assured itself that the plans — at least, as regards the essential parts — had been definitely decided, and that the contracts were ready for signature.


In the debate which followed an attempt was made to explain the paradox that French naval expenditure was actually greater than that of Germany. M. Gaston Thomson,[24] the former Minister of Marine, sought to defend his own administration by pointing to the fact that ‘the German Navy is new, and has not the burden of large numbers of vessels to maintain effective, nor such great non-effective charges to support.’ Delcassé countered by describing the French Navy as ‘the victim of fashion, caprice, and specious theories.’ Unlike the ‘scare’ in Britain, the crisis in France was real, not imagined and, as such, claimed its victims. The three-year-old administration of Georges Clemenceau was defeated on a vote of confidence. Picard was displaced as Minister of Marine and his position taken by Vice-Admiral Boué de Lapeyrère, who had been the naval prefect at Brest.[25]

                The French crisis, naturally, did not go unnoticed in London where the Admiralty would have to face the fact that, within a matter of years, Austrian and Italian dreadnoughts might appear in the Mediterranean before those of France were ready.[26] On the predictions then current it was believed that, by 1913 or 1914, ‘these Powers [Italy and Austria-Hungary] will possess eight of the most powerful battleships in the world’. And so:

a situation will have arisen, which other Powers will have to meet. It may be met by a regrouping of international friendships, by the weakening or dissolution of the Triple Alliance, by the counterpoise of other naval forces – those of France, of Turkey, perhaps of Russia, freed from the bar that forbids the passage of the Dardanelles – but it must be met most of all by strong political direction and vigilant naval foresight in Great Britain.[27]

Instead, these elusive if commendable objectives were forced to assume a subservient rôle as the Fisher-Beresford feud reached its climax.

                After simmering for years, the feud had exploded in the spring of 1909 at the same time as the other great naval crisis, the German dreadnought scare. Beresford had hauled down his flag on 24 March with two years to go before compulsory retirement but no prospect of re-employment. The frustrated Admiral, never one to retire gracefully, fired a final broadside by writing to Asquith on 2 April denouncing Fisher’s administration: the Navy, Beresford argued, was not properly organized for war; there existed a dire shortage of cruisers and destroyers; and, most damaging of all for the Admiralty, Beresford raised once more the question of War Plans and a War Staff when he ‘attributed many of the Admiralty’s alleged shortcomings to the absence of a proper strategical department.’[28]

                In what was rapidly developing into a standard response, Asquith announced in the House on 22 April his decision to appoint a Sub-Committee of the C.I.D. to investigate the charges. How the Prime Minister must have tired of this constant naval in-fighting. This time, however, Asquith cleverly limited the scope of the inquiry: the 1904-5 reforms were off the agenda. If it accomplished nothing else, the recent dreadnought scare had finally vindicated Fisher in most observer’s eyes.[29] Lloyd George, of course, was another matter: Fisher was a great man, the Chancellor grudgingly acknowledged, ‘but too prone to be always making the pace, so that other nations are urged on to do more than they would otherwise’.[30] The first meeting of the new Sub-Committee was held on 27 April (two days before the introduction of Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget”); the final evidence was heard at the fifteenth meeting on 13 July. Fisher himself took no active part. What the self-proclaimed reformers – Slade, Corbett, Richmond, and so on – had failed to realize was that, to accomplish his great reforms in the first place, Fisher could brook no opposition nor make any concessions.[31] But while his autocratic methods were needed in 1904, by 1909 his intended reforms were in place while he, himself, embittered by the struggle, was showing the first signs of the megalomania which would later engulf him. Ultimately the choice would have to be made between a properly functioning war staff or a new First Sea Lord; yet paradoxically Fisher had, at one time, also advocated the formation of a war staff. In a letter to the First Lord on 25 February 1902 he wrote of his ‘absolute conviction that we must have a very much larger department than the present Intelligence Bureau…The Great German General Staff, the admiration of the world and the organizer of the greatest victories of modern times is absolutely applicable in its ideas and organization to meet all the needs of the Navy.’[32]

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                Of course this was before Fisher himself became First Sea Lord; once power was in his hands he proved remarkably reluctant to release his grip.[33] Fisher used the War College, for example, in a purely advisory capacity — to the extent of having the spurious War Plans of 1907 produced to deflect criticism away from the absence of a responsible staff with executive authority. Furthermore, while, in the early part of the century, the army had been in turmoil and the Navy in the ascendant position at the C.I.D. by 1909 the position was reversed: the Army had found its “Fisher” in the shape of Haldane and had effectively hijacked the C.I.D. since 1906. Fisher, in Hankey’s judgement, ‘would not have a General Staff imposed by Haldane, and he would not have an army organization forced on the Navy.’[34] Despite these strictures, Fisher had little room to manoeuvre. To assist him the previously indistinct figure of Maurice Hankey now emerged from the shade to supplant the equally shadowy Esher whose influence would begin to wane following the death of his patron, King Edward, the following year.[35] Hankey had been appointed assistant secretary at the C.I.D. in January 1908. By the time of the Beresford inquiry he felt sure enough of his position to approach the First Lord directly ‘and tell him that my personal impression was that the sub-committee would report favourably to the Admiralty provided that they would come forward with a scheme for the creation of a General Staff.’ Notwithstanding that Fisher was currently bedridden with influenza – he was usually thus afflicted when an awkward C.I.D. meeting was in progress – the First Lord, McKenna, sanctioned an approach to him by Hankey.

                Hankey had already become an inveterate author of memoranda, schemes, plans: “Be prepared” could equally have been his motto. Although Hankey eschewed Esher’s creed of influence without responsibility, nevertheless it was very much his policy to act in the wings rather than centre stage in the full glare of the spotlights. Having already presented Fisher with a paper on a general staff in November 1908 Hankey was not going to Fisher’s bedside unarmed: he carried in his breast pocket his own scheme for a Naval War Staff. When, at last, during the conversation Fisher casually assented, and asked Hankey to draw up a scheme, the paper was produced. If Fisher was caught off-guard he would not be the last to be so trapped by the wily Marine’s method of doing business. Whether, for his part, Fisher saw his chance to escape censure by utilizing Hankey’s compromise only to emasculate it subsequently is problematical. Certainly, by the time McKenna presented the scheme to the sub-committee shortly after Fisher’s assent, it was already, Hankey later complained, ‘in a somewhat diluted form’[36] and was promptly accepted.

                The task of drafting the final report of the sub-committee was given to Ottley who, understandably, sought Hankey’s collaboration. Probably as a result of this, the first draft ‘was rejected as too detailed and elaborate’ which, perhaps, might otherwise have not presented too great a problem; however, ‘as the Committee wished to publish it’, the need was felt to simplify the report. Fisher pleaded with Esher that the ‘point is to make clear to Asquith beforehand “no compromise”, and he ought to see the Admiralty through! I’m not doubting Asquith, but the line of the powerful social influences backing Beresford is to get Asquith to put in “soft gander” for Beresford.’ This apparent conversion in Fisher’s opinion of Asquith was of fairly recent origin: the previous month, following a meeting of the Committee, he had asked Esher if he could find out whether Beresford had blackmailed Asquith.[37]

                Ottley and Hankey were sent away with instructions to produce precisely the compromise report which Fisher wanted to avoid and which, ‘without bringing discredit on Beresford and his colleagues, would show clearly that the Admiralty had retained the confidence of the Government.’[38] This they did, and the bowdlerized version was published on 12 August 1909, while Fisher was on holiday in the South Tyrol. Both sides could gain some comfort: publicly at least. Beresford issued a letter to the press announcing that he had derived ‘in the main great satisfaction’ from the report; Fisher’s supporters claimed the report was ‘a decisive vindication of the Admiralty’, but the old Admiral was, himself, ‘bitterly disappointed’.[39]

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                Apart from the lack of appreciation for his work, Fisher, not being privy to the machinations involved in producing the report to order, could well have laboured under a misapprehension based on his knowledge of the evidence presented; or could simply have been misled. ‘I am very sick about it all’, he wrote to his Admiralty secretary, Commander Crease, ‘considering what each member of the Committee had previously said to me.’[40] According to the final report of Ottley and Hankey, ‘the investigation has shown that during the time in question no danger to the country resulted from the Admiralty’s arrangements for war, whether considered from the standpoint of the organization and distribution of the fleets, the number of ships, or the preparation of War Plans.’ Fisher 1 Beresford 0. However, they added, ‘arrangements quite defensible in themselves, though not ideally perfect, were in practice seriously hampered through the absence of cordial relations between the Board Of Admiralty and the C-in-C of the Channel Fleet.’ Fisher 1 Beresford 1. But, they continued, Beresford ‘appeared to have failed to appreciate and carry out the spirit of the instructions of the Board, and to recognize their paramount authority.’ Fisher 2 Beresford 1. The sting, though, was in the tail: ‘The Committee have been impressed with the differences of opinion amongst officers of high rank and professional attainments regarding important principles of naval strategy and tactics, and they look forward with much confidence to the further development of a Naval War Staff, from which the Naval members of the Board and Flag Officers and their staffs at sea may be expected to derive common benefit.’[41] Fisher 2 Beresford 2.

                Although level on points, Beresford had won by default; the report, in effect, signalled Fisher’s retirement. Any lingering hope that the pliant and discrete War College at Portsmouth or the pre-emptive announcement, before the hearings, of a projected “Navy War Council”, would divert the sub-committee or appease the critics was dashed. Fisher complained that it was ‘a very dirty trick to bring in the red herring about the Naval War Staff, when all five members knew about the great work done in establishing the Naval War College’, while, to McKenna, he referred to the ‘poisonous allusion’ to the War Staff as being a ‘covert onslaught on the Admiralty.’[42] The Admiralty now had no choice — a genuine reform would have to be seen to be made which, once the agitation had subsided, could then, if necessary, be allowed to wither.

                On 11 October 1909 the Admiralty announced that it was organizing a Navy War Council and added, disingenuously, that the change was being made ‘in further development of the policy which has actuated the [Board] for some time past.’ A new Naval Mobilization Department was created, under the direction of a flag officer, to be responsible for war plans and mobilization, previously the province of the Naval Intelligence Department and the Naval War College. The First Sea Lord assumed the presidency of the new Council which would also consist of the Assistant Secretary of the Admiralty, the Director of Naval Intelligence and the new Director of the Mobilization Department, together with the Rear-Admiral commanding the Naval War College who would attend ‘when the business was such as to require his presence.’[43] The two obvious faults of the new set-up were that, first, the Council would only meet on the prerogative of the First Sea Lord; and, second, its function was to be solely advisory. The first of these might have been rectified with the advent of a new First Sea Lord, as Fisher’s retirement had been arranged in October. Indeed, that the Council met just four times during the remaining three months of Fisher’s tenure was perhaps foreseeable; what was not foreseeable was that, although his successor, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson – “Old ‘ard ‘art” – was also known to share Fisher’s dislike of a Staff, the Council would meet a mere seven times in almost two years.[44]

                Wilson would have been better advised to lay a smokescreen of regular meetings at which little was decided; however he was too honest to follow that course. The one trait shared by the garrulous Fisher and aloof Wilson (apart, of course, from intense patriotism) was a resentment of any encroachment upon their authority. The War Plan, for example, would remain locked in Old ‘ard ‘art’s head, a fact acknowledged by Fisher who declared that Wilson ‘would sooner die than disclose it.’[45] Whatever may have been the merits of Wilson’s appointment as a reward for his lifelong and distinguished service to the Navy, his great attraction was to have been untainted by the Fisher/Beresford feud. In fairness to Wilson, he himself recognized his shortcomings yet could not refuse when the invitation was proffered. Fisher, for his part, was quick to realize the irony: as Wilson had taken over at the Admiralty in December 1909, shortly before Fisher’s official retirement, this allowed the outgoing First Sea Lord the chance to observe to Esher: ‘I think Wilson is getting hold of all things. He don’t like it! Private. Already they are beginning to find out they have got King Stork for King Log!’[46]

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                Fisher’s allusion to Aesop’s Fables quickly went the rounds. A. H. Pollen, the inventor of the fire control system spurned by the Navy, speculated to Slade that it would ‘be a surprise to those who objected the most to the Fisher regime, on the ground of the First Sea Lord’s autocracy, to discover that they have really exchanged King Log for King Stork. With all Fisher’s remarkable qualities, I do not think that he ever had that total disregard for the opinion of other people which is the true mark of the autocrat. As far as I know Sir Arthur Wilson, he possesses this disregard to an absolutely unparalleled degree…I do not believe that Wilson has any capacity for compromise in matters of principle.’[47] There was no surprise in store for the Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman, who knew exactly what he was in for. Upon learning of Wilson’s acceptance of the post, he wrote to Fisher, ‘I dare say that under the circumstances Wilson is the best solution, but I know from experience with him that there is no joy to be found in serving either with him or under him! Deadly dull!! and uncompromising, as you know. He will never consult any one and is impatient in argument, even to being impossible!’[48]

                It should not be imagined that Fisher and Wilson were alone or untypical in their opposition to a Naval War Staff. Indeed, in common with their brethren, a combination of ignorance and the natural desire to band together when under attack placed them squarely in the majority. Even those within the Service advocating reform had little concept of the true nature of staff work and how it was to be applied in the hierarchical and compartmentalized world of naval officers.[49] A recurring theme in the analyses at the time was that every ship was self-contained, needing no General Staff to ‘evoke her full belligerent efficiency.’ A single telegraph could result in the dispatch of a fully-manned fighting ship to wherever she might be needed whereas:

The case of an army is altogether different. If the General Commanding-in-Chief at Aldershot received orders to despatch a suitably composed force of, say, 2000 men to a particular destination, it would be necessary to gather together members of different arms of the Service, to provide for their being accompanied by the due proportion of persons and material attached to several departments, to see to their transport, and to arrange for their supply. This would involve the necessity of setting in motion a variety of elements quite independent of each other. It will be seen at once that to effect the above some such organisation as a Staff is absolutely necessary.[50]

And this was the line taken by Wilson.[51]

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                The success of the Prussian General Staff under Count von Moltke, it was explained, had deluded people ‘that therefore a Staff on similar lines must be a necessity for the Navy, but the conditions and the problems to be solved are so entirely different that no analogy can be drawn between them.’ Besides, Wilson might have added in his own defence, had not Moltke once said that there ‘are generals who need no counsel, who deliberate and resolve in their own minds, those about them having only to carry out their intentions’? Unfortunately for Wilson, Moltke then went on to add that such generals ‘are stars of the first magnitude, who scarcely appear once in a century.’[52] If Fisher shone in that galaxy, Wilson most certainly did not. When what was required was a thorough review of the strategical assumptions upon which the next war would be fought the Admiralty found instead that at its head was the leading exponent of the material school — get the ships right and the strategy would look after itself.

                ‘The requirements of the Navy are quite different’, argued Wilson. ‘In the aggregate probably more thinking has to be done to produce an efficient Navy than an efficient Army, but it is on entirely different lines’:

The thinking in the Navy is mainly occupied with producing the most perfect ships, guns, and machinery, with crews trained and organised to make the most perfect use of them, and constantly practised under conditions approaching as nearly as possible to those of war. All this requires an enormous thinking department, but the Staff that does this thinking is not called by that name. It is comprised of the principal members of every department of the Admiralty, supplemented by the Admirals, Captains, Executive Officers, and heads of the different departments in every ship afloat, all organised for one end. The Navy has learned, by long experience, thoroughly to distrust all paper schemes and theories that have not been submitted to the supreme test of trial under practical conditions by the Fleet at sea, and the whole Admiralty has been gradually developed to make the most of the experience so gained.[53]

With Wilson at the helm the conversion of the Admiralty from an ‘institution that held executive sway and command over a fighting force into one primarily engaged in providing the material equipment of that force’[54] was completed. Even Fisher’s earlier solution, the Naval War College, fell back on drumming “historical facts” into officers with the hope that analogies might be drawn at some subsequent stage in the officers’ careers. The navy under Fisher had been given a new body in the hope that the brain could be attended to later; under Wilson, the brain atrophied. Shock therapy would have to wait till 1911 in the form of the Agadir crisis.


Following the Anglo-French Entente of 1904 the Foreign Secretary at the time, Lansdowne, had hoped to supplement it with an Anglo-Russian agreement; but time ran out for him and the Conservative Government. Any fears entertained by Count Alexander Benckendorff, the Russian Ambassador in London, that the new Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, would follow a different line were quickly dispelled. Grey assured Benckendorff as early as 13 December 1905 that he was in favour of an agreement with Russia which he saw as a ‘natural complement’ of the agreement with France. Then, on 25 May 1906, Sir Arthur Nicolson left London on the long and tedious trip to St Petersburg. The new British Ambassador would be responsible for conducting the equally long and tedious negotiations which eventually resulted in a convention being signed on 31 August 1907 to settle the outstanding differences between the two countries in Tibet, Persia and Afghanistan.[55] Since then, debate has raged over the precise objectives of the Anglo-Russian Convention. Both Nicolson and Grey were later at pains to refute the suggestion that the principal aim was to act as a check upon Germany. ‘There was no question of “encircling” Germany’ Nicolson had written in the winter of 1916-17, though he was forced to admit that it was unlikely ‘that an Anglo-Russian understanding would be pleasing to Germany.’[56] Similarly, Grey subsequently argued that ‘The cardinal British object in these negotiations was to secure ourselves for ever, as far as a treaty could secure us, from Russian advances in the direction of the Indian frontier.’[57] In both cases, of course, while not denying the validity of the claim, Grey and Nicolson were anxious to prove that their diplomacy had not provoked Germany.

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                On the other hand, on 20 February 1906, as the Franco-German crisis still simmered and war remained a possibility, Grey recorded in a memorandum:

The door is being kept open by us for a rapprochement with Russia; there is at least a prospect that when Russia is re-established we shall find ourselves on good terms with her. An entente between Russia, France and ourselves would be absolutely secure. If it is necessary to check Germany it could then be done. The present is the most unfavourable moment for attempting to check her…[58]

Some months later Grey further observed that ‘The Germans do not realize that England has always drifted or deliberately gone into opposition to any Power which establishes a hegemony in Europe.’[59] At this point Grey was probably being influenced by certain of his permanent officials: Hardinge unquestionably favoured an Anglo-Russian Entente, while the Senior Clerk, Eyre Crowe, was scathing with regard to the possibility of reaching an accommodation with Germany:

All this talking about an “understanding” between the two countries [Britain and Germany] has an air of unreality. We have come to an understanding with France, and there may be one with Russia. But the essential thing in both cases is a common ground of action or negotiation. There were actual differences to be adjusted with France; an understanding with Russia would presumably mean a removal of similar differences. But with Germany we have no differences whatever. An understanding which does not consist in the removal of differences can only mean a plan of cooperation in political transactions, whether offensive, defensive, or for the maintenance of neutrality. It is difficult to see on what point such cooperation between England and Germany is at the moment appropriate…Past history has shown us that a friendly Germany has usually been a Germany asking for something, by way of proving our friendship…[60]

                On this basis, it would be possible to argue that the agreement was solely concerned with the maintenance of the Balance of Power in Europe. Russia, it was clear, had been humiliated by Britain’s ally, Japan, in the recent war, while the Anglo-Japanese alliance had been extended in 1905 to cover India. Torn by internal strife, Russia hardly seemed capable of mounting a credible threat against India. Therefore the 1907 Convention was not simply a safeguard of India’s northern frontier but, rather, an attempt to balance the scales in Europe. The encirclement of Germany was complete; to the Germans only one interpretation was possible. As Admiral Müller explained to the British Ambassador in Berlin, ‘the Russian-French Entente which England has joined is a connection absolutely hostile to Germany; it is a very intimate one, and is based on mobilization measures and war plans. England’s joining had to be interpreted as an act unfriendly to us.’[61] This was, naturally, very convenient if one happened to want justification for a larger German Navy. A different reading is, however, possible.

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                Although cast down, there was never any question that Russia would not rise again to constitute a threat once more to India, while the thought of Japanese troops defending the frontier was anathema. Grey was thus presented with a favourable opportunity to negotiate with a weakened Russia safe in the knowledge that an agreement would appease both Kitchener and the War Office – who favoured a forward policy in India to the extent of wanting a declaration of war should Russia encroach upon Afghanistan – and Fisher and the Admiralty who thus saw the Russian navy, then being rebuilt, effectively neutralized.[62] If the “winners” were, therefore, India and the Royal Navy, could not the agreement, with justification, also be said to have been ‘devised in the interests of England’s Imperial position, not for the sake of the balance of power in Europe’?[63] Grey, for one, after his earlier comment, was always later careful to declare that:

this talk in Germany about being “ringed-in” was nonsense. Germany had two allies in Europe. France and Russia had one each: namely, each other. We had our agreements with France and Russia, which were public to the whole world. Germany had stood in the middle of Europe, with two allies and the strongest Army in the world, and no one dreamt of attacking her. We were the only Power against whom Germany could invent even a fiction about attack without being completely ridiculous, and of course we had not the least intention of attacking her. She could invent such a fiction about us only because we were the one Power that was out of her reach.[64]

‘There is nothing in our agreements with France and Russia’, Grey maintained, ‘which is directed against Germany, and therefore nothing to bar a friendly arrangement with Germany. But we have no general political understanding formulated either with Russia or France; and to do with Germany what has not been done with Russia and France would look as if we were intending to change friends. I want a good understanding with Germany, but it must be one which will not imperil those which we have with France and Russia.’[65]

                Nevertheless, one of the earliest judgments on the convention is still the most valid. Sir Arthur Nicolson’s biographer, his son Harold, recorded in 1930:

Propagandists both in England and in Germany have obscured the issue by insisting on extreme interpretations: by arguing on the one side that the Anglo-Russian Convention was a purely Asiatic agreement, by contending on the other side that its sole purpose was the encirclement of Germany. The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. It is a fact that the negotiations were strictly confined to those points of friction which caused Anglo-Russian “rivalry” in Central Asia, and that they in no way affected the interests of other European Powers. The immediate objective of the British Government was to facilitate the defence of India by creating sanitary cordons against the “spontaneous infiltration” of Russian influence into Thibet, Afghanistan and Persia. It would be untruthful, however, to contend that the British Government were not also guided by considerations of a wider scope. Inevitably they were alarmed by the prospect of a Russo-German Alliance, and of a subsequent European coalition into which France would be incorporated almost by force…[66]

As the German Ambassador in St Petersburg soon pointed out, ‘No-one will reproach England for such a policy: one can only admire the skill with which she has carried out her plans. These plans need not necessarily be ascribed to any anti-German tendency, yet Germany is the country which is most affected by the Agreement.’[67]

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                The limited scope of the new Convention was soon put to the test. The restless, roving eyes of the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Isvolsky, turned to the Baltic and the Straits of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus. His attempt to abrogate the provisions prohibiting the fortification of the Åland archipelago off the coast of Sweden ended in failure; although his foray into the diplomacy of the Straits question was more ambivalent, the result was a personal catastrophe. The Treaty of Paris (30 March 1856) had established the conditions under which the Sultan of Turkey could close the Straits of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus. These stipulations were subsequently confirmed by the Treaty of London (13 March 1871) and finally by Article LXIII of the Treaty of Berlin (13 July 1878). Isvolsky now sought the abrogation of Article LXIII. Benckendorff in London had brought the question of the Straits to Grey’s attention in March 1907, before the signing of the Anglo-Russian Convention, by proposing that ‘while Russia should have egress from the Black Sea through the Straits, other Powers should have liberty to send vessels of war into the Straits without going into the Black Sea.’[68] Although Grey was open to discussion, he made it clear that it was undesirable to avoid upsetting the interests of other Powers by the mention of the Straits in the Convention. This public admonition to Benckendorff was undermined by Grey’s own private opinion, expressed categorically to Nicolson in St Petersburg, that ‘The fact is that if Asiatic things are settled favourably, the Russians will not have trouble with us about the entrance to the Black Sea’.[69]

                Isvolsky, misinterpreting generalities for specifics, was suitably emboldened. The result would be his odyssey in the late summer of 1908 to seek a revision of the Straits question, leading eventually to the opening of the Straits to Russian warships. Instead, the ill-fated Isvolsky fell at the first hurdle after being led into a compromising agreement by the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Baron Aehrenthal; then followed his consequent humiliation during the Bosnia annexation crisis.[70] In London any negotiations regarding the Straits were compounded by the Young Turk revolution of July 1908 which attracted considerable initial sympathy in Britain. Grey was aware that a new complication had arisen: ‘we have now to be pro-Turkish’, he minuted, ‘without giving rise to any suspicion that we are anti-Russian.’[71] Grey was able to use the uncertainty in Constantinople to delay any discussion of the Straits question knowing that Isvolsky, desperate for support as the annexation crisis raged, could not but agree. All that Isvolsky was able to obtain was a declaration that Britain would consider an arrangement whereby, in time of war, all belligerents would have equal rights; however, for the moment, no pressure could be applied to Turkey ‘to make an arrangement which she might regard, however unreasonably, as a menace to her interests’.[72]

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                Sir Arthur Nicolson, for one, was convinced that the crisis had been engineered as a deliberate act of policy on the part of Germany and Austria. ‘Algeciras has to be revenged, the “ring” broken through’, he privately informed Grey, ‘and the Triple entente dissipated.’ Now, when Russia was ‘temporarily weak, with a timorous Foreign Minister’ was the perfect time. Russia, Nicolson warned, ‘had to be frightened out of the entente, and the first step towards this has been eminently successful’:

The Franco-Russian alliance has not borne the test: and the Anglo-Russian entente is not sufficiently strong or sufficiently deeprooted to have any appreciable influence. The hegemony of the Central Powers will be established in Europe, and England will be isolated. The activity in building up the German navy is significant: and the sudden entry of Germany on the scene here is also significant. When we have passed through the present “Sturm ünd Drang” period, I should not be surprised if we were to find both France and Russia gravitating towards the Central Powers, as neither of the former, distrustful of each other, feels that she can stand alone against the power of the central combination.[73]

Nicolson’s final prediction was not borne out, and Grey refused to countenance his suggestion that the agreement with Russia should be turned into an alliance. In the meantime, the military and naval build-up continued apace and the problem of the Straits and, with it, the status or otherwise of Russia as a Mediterranean Power would remain in abeyance until October 1911 in the aftermath of the Agadir crisis.

                Before this, 1910 was to prove, from the point of view of naval affairs, one of the quieter years of the Edwardian ‘golden age’. The scare of the previous year had run its course and been consigned to hazy memory, while the new dangers and perils lurking ahead belonged to the future. As The Times noted, the 1910 Parliamentary session was ‘marked by no such stormy debates on naval topics as characterized its two immediate successors.’[74] To take their place, other ‘stormy debates’ intervened: Asquith’s ship of state was to be tossed relentlessly by domestic political crises and the over-riding requirement of all administrations — to cling to power. The major crisis would begin when Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” was rejected in the House of Lords. Asquith had recognized that this eventuality might arise as early as August 1909[75] and had discussed then with his Chief Whip, ‘Jack’ Pease, the possibility of calling a General Election in January 1910.[76] Pease, having been briefed by constituency agents on 3 September, predicted that the Liberals (with the support of Labour) would be returned with a majority of forty.[77] Asquith’s fears were realized when the Budget was overwhelmingly rejected on 30 November by 350 votes to 75; a general election was called. Pease remained sanguine,[78] confident in his prediction of a forty-seat majority. When all the returns had been counted the result instead was a forty-seat minority.[79] From then, until the outbreak of war in 1914, the Liberals would be dependent upon the support of the Irish Nationalists. A second election, in December 1910 on the question of reform of the House of Lords, saw the position virtually unchanged.

The desultory Anglo-German naval talks following the dreadnought scare were, of necessity, interrupted by the January 1910 election. The British decision to proceed with the ‘contingent four’ and the advent of a new German Chancellor (Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg) together was sufficient reason to reopen naval conversations, but only as a corollary to a more general political understanding. The German proposals, presented in concrete form in October 1909, promised only a relaxation of the tempo of naval building. Grey was unenthusiastic. A general political understanding would, he argued, ‘have no beneficial effect on public opinion, and indeed would be an object of criticism, so long as naval expenditure remained undiminished.’ Grey desired a naval arrangement, or at least a ‘frank exchange of information between the German and British Admiralties’, as a necessary precursor to talks aimed towards a political understanding; the Germans wished to agree to a political formula first, before proceeding to naval talks.[80]

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                To try to break this deadlock a new German proposal of 4 November attempted to combine the two sets of talks. ‘Germany then urged’, Grey later admitted, ‘[that] we must be prepared, before entering into negociation [sic] to be willing to arrive at a reciprocal understanding not to attack each other in combination with any other power.’ However, Grey, strongly encouraged by his permanent staff,[81] found it impossible to agree to any such formula, which, he believed, France and Russia would regard with misgiving and which would result in ‘all the blessings of the entente’ disappearing. Ultimately, he declared, ‘we might be again on the verge of war with 1 or other of these powers.’[82] It was no surprise, therefore, that the new proposal was deemed totally unacceptable, and it was probably with some relief that Grey, to avoid giving an outright rejection, was able to plead the excuse of the forthcoming election.

                The Anglo-German negotiations, which were unjustly viewed with suspicion in Paris,[83] then lapsed until 22 March 1910, when Metternich raised the subject once more with Grey.[84] The Foreign Secretary, perhaps forgetting what had passed previously, alluded to the fact that no modification of the German naval programme had been announced, leaving Metternich to declare that this had never formed part of the agenda. The spur for the German Ambassador’s approach was, in all probability, provided by an exchange in the Commons the previous day. Aristide Briand, Clemenceau’s successor as French premier, in seeking to defend higher French naval estimates, alluded to the moral obligation which was owed by France to Britain in view of the alleged naval Anglo-French naval talks. When Grey got to hear of this he decided that the best course was to maintain a dignified silence; Grey refused to correct Briand’s assertion, however valid he, personally, may have thought it. And there matters might have rested. Until, that is, Asquith was asked in the House on 21 March:

whether any treaty or naval or military convention of which this House is yet uninformed exists between this country and France, by which the French Navy is to maintain absolutely free and secured against all danger the English commerce which passes down the Mediterranean to use the Suez Canal and by which there is assured to French and English flags, in case of conflict, the absolute mastery of the Mediterranean.

Asquith replied, in a correct formal sense, that ‘no treaty or convention of the nature specified by my hon. friend exists between this country and France.’[85] It was an easy escape for the Prime Minister, who was fortunate that the question did not probe more deeply. On this occasion, Grey was able to put Metternich off by referring to the political situation, which was ‘too uncertain to justify going on’ with the talks.[86] Grey remained adamant that no political understanding could be entered into with Germany ‘which would separate us from Russia and France and leave us isolated’, and that the only understanding which would ‘be appreciated here’ would have to involve a decrease in German naval expenditure.[87]

                The next stage was reached in July 1910, with a fresh German offer of retardation, while leaving the Navy Law unaltered. This was debated in Cabinet on 20 July, at which Grey maintained that, ‘If Germany would agree to no expedition or increase of naval law it would reduce her ships to 33 first class battleships by 1920.’[88] To sweeten the pill, he would ‘advocate a similar friendly feeling being created with Germany to that secured by settlement of Morocco question with France. — but no political agreement.’ After listening to Grey’s poorly presented case, the ‘prevailing opinion of cabinet was not to upset present equilibrium but Grey to put on paper for us proposals which we could place before Germany to bring about cordial relations, [and] a reduction of naval expenditure.’[89] Grey’s platitudinous response to Bethmann-Hollweg,[90] and the German delay in responding meant that the intermittent negotiations were still in progress when the second election of 1910 intruded. The talks lapsed once more; before they could restart, the ‘Morocco question’ recurred in acute form.

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The early months of 1911 witnessed a fresh attempt by the French Government to consolidate the Entente with Britain. By the end of the year, what could not be achieved by polite inquiries had been forced upon the reluctant military partners by inept German diplomatic manoeuvrings. During March and April, Jean Cruppi, the new French Foreign Minister (a lawyer with limited experience in the field of foreign affairs), soon discovered that for Grey, as far as the Entente was concerned, the status quo was the preferred option; particularly at a time when a section of the British Cabinet still favoured an attempt to reach an accord with Germany.[91] On 30 March 1911 Grey, as Asquith had done before him, provided a contrived answer in the House on the nature of the British commitment to France. Grey’s interpretation of the Entente was too rigid for Cruppi who (possibly at the instigation of his own officials) decided therefore to force the issue. The French Foreign Minister approached Frank Bertie, the British Ambassador, on 5 April and allowed him to read the text of a statement Cruppi intended to deliver in the Senate. Although the statement itself was relatively anodyne,[92] Bertie objected to the proposed language, leaving Cruppi to surmise that there was no longer whole-hearted support in Britain for the Entente.[93]

                In a ‘coincidence’ reminiscent to that of December 1905, when the Director of Military Operations, Major-General Grierson, “chanced” to meet the French Military Attaché, while riding in Hyde Park, General Foch, the Commandant of the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre, now chose this moment to engage the British Military Attaché in a lengthy discussion which revolved around the extent to which the French depended upon a guarantee of British assistance. On a purely practical level, argued Foch, rolling stock would have to be specially reserved for the transport of British troops, but this could not be done unless the French Government ‘had received a previous assurance that it could count with certainty on the arrival of the British contingent.’[94] Grey was not slow to take the hint, and circulation of the dispatch reporting the conversation was severely restricted. Cruppi, himself, approached Bertie once more on 12 April to request that matters be carried further ‘as regards possible co-operation in certain eventualities than had hitherto been done.’[95] As soon as word of this arrived in London, Grey was left in a quandary — he had no desire to be boxed in either by renewed French ardour or by a repeat of his earlier actions in January 1906, when he failed properly then to disclose the opening of the military talks.

                Please look at Bertie’s desp: No 168 Secret of April 13 [Grey informed Asquith]. I have marked it for you, Morley, and Haldane and I would suggest that as soon as Haldane returns it you and Morley sh[ould] have a talk with him.

                Early in 1906 the French said to us ‘will you help us if there is a war with Germany?’

                We said ‘we can’t promise — our hands must be free.’

                The French then urged that the Mil[itar]y Auth[orit]y should be allowed to exchange views — ours to say what they could do — the French to say how they would like it done, if we did side with France. Otherwise, as the French urged, even if we decided to support France on the outbreak of war we shouldn’t be able to do it effectively. We agreed to this. Up to this point C[ampbell-] B[annerman], R. B. H[aldane] and I were cognizant of what took place — the rest of you were scattered in the Election.

                The military experts then convened. What they settled I never knew — the position being that the Gov[ernmen]t was quite free, but that the military people knew what to do if the word was given.

                Unless French war plans have changed, there should be no need for anything further, but it is clear we are going to be asked something.[96]

The ‘something’ that Grey expected to be asked was to prove a long time coming; by the middle of May, Cruppi was in ‘a despondent state’. Bertie, who had to deal face to face with the Foreign Minister, complained privately to Nicolson that what Cruppi (and, he supposed, ‘many others’) ‘hanker after is something more visible to Germany and useful to France than the existing Entente.’ The Ambassador, while appreciating the difficulty that a ‘formal and binding agreement’ would present to the British Government, maintained that ‘everything military and naval ought to be arranged to meet the contingency of British and French forces having to act together. Otherwise in these days of quick locomotion we might arrive a day too late for the fray and find our essential interests already compromised.’ Perhaps, Bertie intelligently surmised, ‘these arrangements have been made.’[97] Grey, however, continued to remain immovable on the subject and the French feelers ceased for the time being; already, other forces were on the move.

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[1]    Despite the mobilization, the Fleet could accomplish little against land-locked Serbia, although a cruise down the Danube by Austria river monitors was enough to cause panic in Belgrade. Sondhaus, The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918, p. 182.

[2]    Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of War, p. 139.

[3]    Sondhaus, The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918, p. 183.

[4]    The pre-dreadnought Radetzky had been launched on 3 July at Trieste, an event witnessed by the British Naval Attaché, who returned with a report that ‘Austrian naval officers universally expressed regret…at enmity of England against Austria.’ Cartwright to Hardinge, private, 4 July 1909, BD, V, no. 861, p. 800.

[5]    The ‘Delegations’ were the two bodies appointed by the parliaments of Austria and Hungary to deal jointly with imperial questions.

[6]    Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of War, p. 139.

[7]    Sondhaus, The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918, pp. 191-2.

[8]    The Naval Annual 1911, p. 29.

[9]    As with her Italian counterpart, the Austrian ship had triple turrets. Although laid down after Dante Alighieri, the Viribus Unitis entered service before her and thus took the honour of being the first battleship in service to feature triple turrets.

[10]  The exposé appeared in April 1910. Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 160.

[11]  Captain Lucich, quoted in The Naval Annual 1911, p. 30. Hence, remarked the Naval Annual cogently, there would be a programme but no Navy Law.

[12]  Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 162.

[13]  The Naval Annual 1912, p. 52.

[14]  Nicolson replied: ‘this might be possible, but that there was plenty of time to consider the question.’ Nicolson to Grey, no. 239 confidential, 14 April 1909, BD, V, no. 836, pp. 782-5.

[15]  The Naval Annual 1911, p. 31.

[16]  Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, pp. 160-1 and note 40.

[17]  Sondhaus, The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918, p. 192.

[18]  Hardinge to Nicolson, 12 April 1909, given in, Lowe and Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, pp. 465-6.

[19]  Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 171.

[20]  Hardinge to Nicolson, 12 April 1909, given in, Lowe and Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, pp. 465-6. Hardinge’s “six” were: Churchill, Lloyd-George, Harcourt, Burns, Morley and Loreburn.

[21]  ‘That such influence is already being brought to bear is apparent from the many meetings which have taken place this year between the Emperor and the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and the special efforts made by the former to solve, in a sense favourable to the Archduke, the problems of etiquette raised by the position of the Duchess of Hohenberg.’ Bax-Ironside to Grey, no. 50 confidential, 15 November 1909, BD, V, no. 874, p. 813.

[22]  The Naval Annual 1910, pp. 14-5.

[23]  Quoted in, Woodward, Great Britain and the Germany Navy, p. 245.

[24]  Thomson, himself, had been severely criticized by Delcassé the previous October in the debate following the investigation into the Iéna disaster. So heated did the debate become that Thomson resigned on the spot to be replaced by Picard. Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, pp. 229-31.

[25]  The Naval Annual 1910, pp. 14-17.

[26]  Woodward, Great Britain and the Germany Navy, p. 245.

[27]  The Naval Annual 1910, p. 152.

[28]  Report and Proceedings of a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence appointed to inquire into certain questions of Naval Policy raised by Lord Charles Beresford, 12 August 1909, PRO Cab 16/9.

[29]  Williams, Defending the Empire, pp. 136-7.

[30]  Riddell, dairy entry for 25 March 1909, given in, McEwen, The Riddell Diaries, p. 23.

[31]  d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 160.

[32]  Quoted in Mackay, Fisher, p. 256.

[33]  There is also the possibility that, at the time, Fisher might well have been acting under the influence of Prince Louis of Battenberg in his belief that the German Army model could be transposed to the Royal Navy.

[34]  Hankey, Supreme Command, vol. I, p. 74 [emphasis in original].

[35]  Opinions differ as to Esher’s loss of influence: Mackay, Fisher, p. 425 maintains that he managed a ‘suave transition from the old Court to the new.’ However, a more recent study argues that ‘Regy’s influence over the monarchy and affairs of state’ declined rapidly after 1910. Lees-Milne, The Enigmatic Edwardian, p. 219.

[36]  Hankey, Supreme Command, vol. I, p. 74.

[37]  Fisher to Esher, 12 June 1909 and early July 1909; F.G.D.N., vol. II, p 251, p. 254. Fisher, himself, throughout his tenure, consistently counted on the support of Balfour. Williams, Defending the Empire, p. 137.

[38]  Hankey, Supreme Command, vol. I, p. 74.

[39]  See F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 212-4; Mackay, Fisher, pp. 416-7.

[40]  Fisher to Crease, 22 August 1909, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 214.

[41]  F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 213; Mackay, Fisher, p. 416.

[42]  Fisher to McKenna, 19 August 1909, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 260.

[43]  The Naval Annual, 1912, p. 115.

[44]  Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 248.

[45]  Fisher to Esher, 25 December 1909, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 286.

[46]  Fisher to Esher, 14 December 1909, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 283-4.

[47]  Pollen to Slade, 24 January 1910, quoted in Mackay, Fisher, p. 424.

[48]  Bridgeman to Fisher, 21 November 1909, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 282 [emphasis in original].

[49]  See d’Ombrain, War Machinery, pp. 160-1; Schurmann, Corbett, pp. 76-8.

[50]  The Naval Annual, 1910, p. 84.

[51]  Memorandum by A K Wilson, 30 October 1911, PRO Cab 37/108/136.

[52]  The Naval Annual, 1912, p. 115.

[53]  Memorandum by A K Wilson, 30 October 1911, PRO Cab 37/108/136.

[54]  The Naval Annual, 1910, p. 87.

[55]  Miller, Straits, pp. 25-6.

[56]  Harold Nicolson, Lord Carnock, (London, 1930), p. 235.

[57]  Grey, Twenty-Five Years, (New York, 1925), vol. I, p. 154.

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

[59]  Minute by Grey, 9 June 1906, BD, III, no. 418, p. 358.

[60]  Minute by Eyre Crowe, 28 May 1906, BD, III, no. 416, p. 358.

[61]  Quoted in Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 223.

[62]  Although the Anglo-Japanese alliance had eased Admiralty responsibilities in the Far East, Fisher was unenthusiastic to say the least. The Russians, for their part, blamed Britain to some extent for egging on Japan to go to war in 1904.

[63]  Wilson, Policy of the Entente, p. 77.

[64]  Grey to Nicolson, private, 26 November 1908, BD, V, no. 441, pp. 494-5.

[65]  Grey to Goschen, private, 1 September 1909, BD, V, no. 867, pp. 803-4.

[66]  Nicolson, Lord Carnock, p. 234 [my emphasis]. I cannot agree with Dr Wilson’s contention that the balance of power in Europe played no part in the considerations of the Anglo-Russian Convention.

[67]  Quoted, ibid., p. 257.

[68]  Grey to Nicolson, no. 318 secret, BD, V, no. 379, pp. 442-4. See also, Grey, Twenty-Five Years, Vol. I, pp. 176-9

[69]  Grey to Nicolson, 1 April 1907, Grey mss, PRO FO 800/71.

[70]  Miller, Straits, pp. 39-48.

[71]  Minute by Grey on Lowther to Grey, 7 August 1908, PRO FO 371/545.

[72]  Memorandum by Sir Edward Grey, 14 October 1908, BD, V, no. 377, p. 441. Isvolsky’s defeat on this issue was then compounded by his humiliating climbdown in the face of German pressure. See, Miller, Straits, chapter 3, for a more detailed analysis of the 1908 Straits discussions.

[73]  Nicolson to Grey, private, 24 March 1909, BD, V, no. 764, pp. 736-7.

[74]  The Times, 28 November 1910, quoted in, Williams, Defending the Empire, p. 178.

[75]  ‘He [Asquith] feels there is at least an equal chance of the Lords chucking the Budget, owing to the pressure of the less eminent & the hot heads.’ Pease to his wife, 27 August 1909, given in, Hazlehurst and Woodland (eds.), A Liberal Chronicle: journals and papers of J A Pease, 1908 to 1910, p. 130.

[76]  Pease, diary entry, 26 August 1909, ibid, p. 129.

[77]  The prediction was 331 Liberals plus 24 Labour, giving a total of 355 in the 670 seat Commons. The estimate for the opposition was 222 Unionists plus 83 Irish Nationalists, a total of 315. Pease, diary entry, 6 September 1909, and editorial note, ibid, pp. 130-2.

[78]  Pease, diary entry, 11 December 1909, ibid, p. 149.

[79]  The figures for January were: Liberals, 275 seats; Conservatives and Liberal Unionists, 273; Labour, 40; Irish Nationalists, 82. Cook and Stevenson, The Longman Handbook of Modern British History, 1714-1980, p. 68

[80]  Grey to Goschen, 28 October 1909, quoted in, Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, pp. 174-5.

[81]  Crowe and Corp, Our Ablest Public Servant: Sir Eyre Crowe, p. 142.

[82]  Pease, diary entry, 20 July 1910, given in, Hazlehurst and Woodland (eds.), A Liberal Chronicle: journals and papers of J A Pease, 1908 to 1910, pp. 195-7.

[83]  Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 135.

[84]  Woodward, Great Britain and the German Navy, .p. 281.

[85]  Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 134.

[86]  Pease, diary entry, 20 July 1910, given in, Hazlehurst and Woodland (eds.), A Liberal Chronicle: journals and papers of J A Pease, 1908 to 1910, pp. 195-7

[87]  Hardinge to Goschen, 26 April 1910, given in, Lowe and Dockrill, The Mirage of Power, p. 431.

[88]  McKenna at once announced that Britain must have 60% more, which was the Admiralty margin, and this meant a fleet of 52 dreadnoughts, which would be ‘some reduction of our present rate.’

[89]  Pease, diary entry for 20 July 1910, given in, Hazlehurst and Woodland (eds.), A Liberal Chronicle: journals and papers of J A Pease, 1908 to 1910, pp. 195-7.

[90]  Grey would give an assurance that ‘there is nothing in any agreement between ourselves and any other power which is directed against Germany, and that [the Government] themselves had no hostile intentions respecting her.’ Grey to Goschen, 29 July 1910, quoted in, Crowe and Corp, Our Ablest Public Servant: Sir Eyre Crowe, p. 143.

[91]  Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, p. 238; Hamilton, Bertie of Thame, pp. 217-8.

[92]  To the effect that Britain and France ‘would remain friends and united in the presence of every eventuality, and they would entrust to their respective Governments the care of giving a precise form to their entente when the moment came.’ Quoted in, Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 138.

[93]  Hamilton, Bertie of Thame, pp. 217-8.

[94]  Report of Colonel Fairholme, enclosed in Bertie to Grey, 9 April 1911, quoted in, Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 138.

[95]  Quoted in, Hamilton, Bertie of Thame, p. 219.

[96]  Grey to Asquith, 16 April 1911, in, Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. I, pp. 91-2; also quoted in, Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 139. Williamson argues that Grey’s ignorance of military developments subsequent to 1906 and his apparent lack of knowledge of ‘what was settled’ indicates that his ‘conduct and control of British foreign policy left something to be desired.’ This argument is rebutted, not entirely successfully, by Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, pp. 238-9. Robbins does point out, however, that such denial of what the ‘military people’ decided suited Grey in his dealings with the French.

[97]  Bertie to Nicolson, 14 May 1911, given in, Lowe and Dockrill, The Mirage of Power, vol. III, p. 433 [emphasis in original].



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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Chapter 20 Summary Resurgam Bibliography Index Ordering Order Form Biographies Links

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