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 7








 German gunboat Panther

The German Gunboat Panther, an unlikely cause of an international scare

Admiral Sir Arthur Knyvet Wilson, VC

Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, whose lamentable performance in the Committee of Imperial Defence helped to force Asquith's hand


For Germany, Agadir was to prove the most egregious example of a legitimate German grievance – the dispatch of a French military expedition to Fez on 11 May 1911 on the spurious grounds of protecting European lives and property following a revolt against the Sultan – turning into a diplomatic defeat through deviousness, heavy-handedness and plain ineptitude.[1] The German Foreign Minister, Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter, while not wanting to disinterest himself in the eventual settlement of the Moroccan question, looked at the map of Africa and dreamt of a large German colony carved out of the French Congo. On 7 May, before the French flying column had left on its mission, and a fortnight before it would reach Fez, an unauthorized approach was made by the French Minister of Finance, Joseph Caillaux, to the counsellor at the German Embassy in Paris to the effect that German recognition of French interests in Morocco would be rewarded with compensation to Germany elsewhere. Whatever the motives of Caillaux,[2] Kiderlen was already busy formulating his strategy. ‘The occupation of Fez’, he had written on 3 May,

would pave the way for the absorption of Morocco by France. We should gain nothing by protesting and it would mean a moral defeat hard to bear. We must therefore look for an objective for the ensuing negotiations, which shall induce the French to compensate us. If the French, out of “anxiety” for their compatriots, settle themselves at Fez, it is our right, too, to protect our compatriots in danger. We have large firms at Mogador and Agadir. German ships could go to those ports to protect the firms. They could remain anchored there quite peacefully — merely with the idea of preventing other Powers from intruding … The importance of choosing those ports, the great distance of which from the Mediterranean should make in unlikely that England would raise objections, lies in the fact that they possess a very fertile hinterland, which ought to contain important mineral wealth…[3]

                Kiderlen, therefore, was quite aware of British sensitivity to any attempt by Germany to establish a permanent naval facility in the Mediterranean, but gambled that an Atlantic base would not excite as much opposition. He was playing for high stakes with a poor hand: quite who would be taken in by these “large German firms” is hard to see, a fact tacitly admitted by the Germans themselves in their subsequent choice of a ship to protect these ‘extensive interests’.[4] For the time being, both sides waited for the other to make a move, which achieved nothing other than to allow Spain instead to step cynically into the vacuum and follow France’s lead by occupying Laraiche and El Kasr early in June. Time was running out for Kiderlen, with no sign that France would officially sanction territorial compensation. By 26 June his patience had evaporated; together with the Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, he travelled to Kiel to see Wilhelm aboard the Kaiser’s yacht, Hohenzollern, and request imperial authorization for the dispatch of a ship to Agadir to force the issue. The German Naval Staff was informed the following day and the decision was taken to send one of the 1,000 ton gunboats of the “Iltis” class, the nine-year-old Panther. With a maximum speed of just 13 to 14 knots it would take until 1 July before the little ship could arrive off Agadir, drop anchor, and intimidate the local inhabitants and, concomitantly, France with her two puny 105mm guns.

                By uncharacteristically poor timing, the Panther arrived off Agadir three days before the only German national, who had had to travel from Mogador, was able to reach the port, there to be suitably and visibly “protected”. Even then, his “rescue” had to wait a day as he was not able, immediately, to make himself known to the crew of the gunboat which was anchored half a mile off shore.[5] Kiderlen’s ill-conceived plan had in fact begun to go awry almost as soon as it was launched. The French, unable to compete with Germany by land or sea, had hopes of gaining the ascendancy in the air. Unhappily, on 21 May, at the start of the Paris-Madrid air race – one of those sanguine Edwardian events whose purpose was to demonstrate the potential of the aeroplane – an unfortunate pilot lost control of his machine which, as is the way with these things, then proceeded unerringly to pick out the French Minister of War in the crowd. The luckless M. Berteaux was mangled, dying on the spot; nearby, the Prime Minister, Monis, was seriously injured. Unable to continue, the administration of M. Monis resigned on 23 June to be replaced five days later by a new ministry led by none other then the shady Minister of Finance, Caillaux. Just who was in the more difficult position it would be hard to say: Caillaux’s unauthorized soundings[6] had spurred Kiderlen on in May; Kiderlen had sprung his trap in the last days of June and now, too late to disarm it, had to face Caillaux as Prime Minister.

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For the Admiralty, following the reduction in strength to six battleships and the unofficial arrangement with the French, the Mediterranean had been a pleasant backwater for a number of years. Admiral Sir Edmund Poë had succeeded Admiral Curzon-Howe as Commander-in-Chief in April 1910. Fisher’s comment was characteristically succinct: ‘Poë’s an ass’, he informed the First Lord, Reginald McKenna, ‘but the Mediterranean don’t require anything else.’[7] It had been less than a decade since Fisher himself had occupied that once coveted post; such had the status of the Mediterranean command slipped. By March the following year – only months before the Moroccan crisis flared – the young, thrusting Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, was proposing to his Cabinet colleagues that the whole Mediterranean position should be examined afresh:

1.  It is suggested that the maintenance there of a strong and costly subsidiary establishment is inconsistent  with accepted modern naval theory. The sea is all one, and the fleet which has established its superiority over the main battle fleet of the enemy is supreme not only in the waters where the battle was fought, but all over the world; and outlying squadrons of the enemy can subsequently be caught and destroyed in detail wherever they may be…

2.  From this point of view it is suggested that what matters to Great Britain is not to be able to hold the Mediterranean permanently but to be sure of being able to enter it in preponderant strength at any moment when circumstances require…

3.  It should be further remembered that we are no longer the strongest Power in the Mediterranean, and that to have an inferior fleet in those waters would lead, on the declaration of war, to great risks, to prompt reinforcement, or to a concentration at Gibraltar. It seems probable that in most contingencies the last course would be adopted. This is, in effect, an admission of the faulty strategic position involved in the separation from the waters of decisive superiority of so important a division of the fleet as the Mediterranean command: the first step in time of war or danger would be to alter that faulty strategic disposition.

4.  It should further be remembered that it is no longer possible to force the Dardanelles, that nobody would expose a modern fleet to such perils, that, therefore, the one decisive method of putting pressure on the Turks which depended upon speed has become inoperative…

5.  It is inconceivable that a descent will be made on Egypt by sea in the face of the certain interruption of communications which would follow the entrance of the British Navy in force into the Mediterranean…

6.  It is further suggested that the Mediterranean, though a very good peace route to India, could never be the true war route upon which the British Empire could rely. Warships and transports would be exposed to special risks in the Mediterranean which would be wholly absent from the Cape route.

7.  It seems, therefore, a matter for consideration whether the Mediterranean establishments should not be reduced to that of a cruiser squadron, capable of discharging all minor measures of police, and whether the assertion of the British flag in those waters should not be effected, not by the permanent retention of a very large but still inferior fleet, but by the periodical visits at convenient junctures of a preponderant battle fleet.

8.  It is further considered as a matter which should be considered in its general aspect that the old policy of occupying particular stations with squadrons particularly localised is now obsolete, and should be superseded by a system of keeping only a few ships on the spot for minor purposes and to show the flag, conjoined with regular cruises of strong squadrons detailed when they can be conveniently spared from home waters. This view appears to be entirely in accordance with the policy pursued by the Admiralty in recent years, and it is worth considering whether its more effective adoption would not conduce to economy as well as strength.[8]

                It was the debate of the 1890s all over again, with the vital difference that France and Russia were no longer the enemies. Churchill had already made his name as a radical, reforming minister and it was no secret that he wished to apply his reforming zeal to the Admiralty.[9] No decision was made at the time by the Cabinet and within months Churchill’s arguments seemed likely to be undermined. If, according to the Home Secretary, the Mediterranean was untenable in time of war, the vital Cape route was now also in danger of being threatened by the unwelcome prospect of a German naval station on the Atlantic coast at Agadir, which held, for the Germans, the additional bonus of being on the flank of the equally important Atlantic trade route. Yet the Admiralty was unconcerned. For all Wilson’s lack of strategic insight he knew well enough the immense task involved in trying to convert an undeveloped African port into a first class naval base. In addition, to maintain a credible threat, a significant force would have to be detached from the German High Seas Fleet, weakening it at a crucial period. Wilson was not unduly worried about Agadir; an assurance from Germany that no Atlantic port would be fortified would suffice. What did worry Wilson was a German port on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco and this he would not countenance.[10]

                Instead, pressure on the Foreign Secretary regarding the German move was applied not by the Admiralty but through the hawkish Ambassador Bertie in Paris[11] and, especially, from within the Foreign Office by Nicolson (now returned from his ambassadorship at St Petersburg to take up the position of Permanent Under-Secretary) and Eyre Crowe (the Senior Clerk who would soon become the Assistant Under-Secretary). Bertie was now convinced that, as a result of the information they were receiving from London, the Germans were sure that British support for the French would not be forthcoming. ‘I feel equally confident’, he wrote privately to Nicolson, ‘that the German Government if we join with the French in refusing to agree to the establishment of a German port, call it what you may, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, may bluster, but there will be nothing else. If the Germans increase their naval force at Agadir and land men I think that we ought to do so also with the French and also the Spaniards whom I believe we can drag along with us.’[12] But the Germans had no intention of increasing their naval force and in this respect the over-reaction by the likes of Nicolson and Crowe was as crass an error of judgment as Kiderlen’s overplaying of his hand. The new French Minister for Foreign Affairs, de Selves – no more than a figurehead – urged Grey to join with France in sending a gunboat: coming from a minister ‘devoid of diplomatic experience’[13] and from the country most directly threatened the request did not seem out of the ordinary. When, however, Nicolson also pressed Grey to dispatch a gunboat and Crowe spoke of ‘a trial of strength’ and of German plots to weaken the Anglo-French Entente the foundations were laid for a first-class war scare.

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                One should not lose sight of the fact that it was Kiderlen’s rash, unexplained gambler’s action that had left the other Foreign Ministers to speculate on his “real” motives. A further complication for Grey was the secret provision of the 1904 Agreement, by which any attempt by France to modify its policy in respect of Morocco, after ‘finding themselves constrained by the force of circumstances’, would receive British support.[14] Fortunately Grey’s natural tendency was towards vacillation and in this he was sustained by that most supine of Prime Ministers, Asquith. The advent of the crisis (on a Saturday) had taken Grey, who was out of London, by surprise.[15] On the afternoon of Monday, 3 July Cambon at last had the opportunity to see Grey at the Foreign Office, to press once more for the dispatch of British ships. This time Grey relented — conditionally. He could give no definite assurance until the following day, when an emergency meeting of the Cabinet was scheduled, to determine Britain’s response.[16] The German Ambassador in London, Count Metternich, who had been ‘extremely nervous and constrained’ when confronting Nicolson with the news of the German move on 1 July[17] was instructed by Bethmann-Hollweg three days later that, should ‘active measures’ be threatened by England, he was to inform Grey that the dispatch of the Panther was ‘a provisional measure of precaution’ necessitated by the breach of the Act of Algeciras by both France and Spain.[18]

                What Metternich did not know was that feeling against France in particular was running almost as high in some quarters on the British side. Lord Stamfordham, the King’s Private Secretary, while admitting a pro-German bias, nevertheless argued that:

If Germany chooses to establish herself at Agadir what business have we to object – If France was not in such a blue funk of Germany we should not be mixed up in the question at all – If I remember rightly the Cabinet at first merely said “No German port in the Mediterranean” but now, electrified by French alarm, we go much further and say “Go out of Agadir”. We are shocked at German demands for compensation in the F. Congo: in fact we refuse to allow Germany to expand – and I’m not at all sure that this autumn we shall not see a reproduction of the tragedy of 1870 – For while we are blowing up the German Fleet her armies may be marching to Paris and then God help France.[19]

In reality, however, the Cabinet had been remarkably conciliatory, resolving that, though England could not disinterest herself in the negotiations on the Moroccan question, it was up to the French to make suggestions to settle the dispute. Although Germany must not be allowed to obtain a port on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, a port on the Atlantic coast would be acceptable provided it remained unfortified; no British gunboat would be sent to Agadir.[20] Grey informed Metternich later that day that the British attitude ‘could not be a disinterested one’ in view of the ‘new situation [which] had been created by the despatch of a German ship to Agadir’ and then sat back to await the German response.[21] The Cabinet’s decision was a severe disappointment to Crowe and Nicolson who lost little time expressing their disgust to Grey. The Foreign Secretary who, for his part, entertained some sympathy for German colonial aspirations, was able to turn the rancour of his officials aside. Similarly, the French were equally disappointed, especially so, after the British determination in 1905 to resist German pressure for a port in Morocco.[22]

                The British public also had other things to worry about: the constitutional crisis in the House of Lords, social and industrial unrest, and, perhaps worst of all, a heatwave.[23] The normally strident Daily Mail was – for once – restrained by its Paris correspondent who believed the Morocco affair would blow over. Metternich had reason to be pleased. Then, on 6 July, Asquith made a short statement in the Commons that British interests were affected by the arrival of the Panther and the mood changed. The Mail now joined its more august stablemate The Times in identifying various naval and strategic reasons for the public to be alarmed by the German descent upon Agadir.[24] Grey would not be pushed; instead he sanctioned separate Franco-German discussions to be held in Berlin between Kiderlen and Jules Cambon, the brother of the French Ambassador in London. Cambon’s initial gambit – that, by not making difficulties for France in Morocco, a piece of territory on the border of the Congo could be ceded to Germany – was rudely rebuffed by Kiderlen. The German Foreign Minister was not concerned about details; he wanted the whole of the French Congo. Cambon was “aghast” (he ‘nearly fell over backwards’ according to Kiderlen[25]) though when the Emperor, aboard the Hohenzollern, was informed of Cambon’s reaction the All-Highest doubted his sincerity: ‘He is a good actor’, minuted Wilhelm, unconvinced.[26]

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                For Kiderlen, the absence of the Emperor on his summer cruise was a mixed blessing: while Wilhelm was ill at ease with Kiderlen’s deviousness, closer to the centre of events he might have been able to play Grey to Kiderlen’s Crowe; however, even his presence in the Baltic and North Sea could cause disquiet for the Foreign Minister. The itinerary of the Royal Navy’s Atlantic Fleet was scheduled to place the British Squadron in Molde on 29 July, a day before the Emperor was due to depart. Wilhelm had previously been much taken with the idea of a meeting between the British and German fleets to improve relations; Kiderlen, though, could see nothing other than the prospect of the All-Highest being carried away. ‘You can imagine how excited he will be at the sight of the two squadrons’, Kiderlen quietly informed Goschen, the British Ambassador in Berlin. As an admiral in both navies, Wilhelm would ‘want to make the most of the opportunity’; however, ‘sailors had never realized what such meetings would mean nor the effect they might produce on other Powers.’ The two diplomats probably nodded sagaciously in the sweltering Berlin heat as Kiderlen came to the gist of the delicate matter: ‘the movement for a combined naval demonstration, such as His Majesty would love was’, Kiderlen added with a wink, ‘not propitious and would not suit his [Kiderlen’s] present preoccupations at all.’ Another knowing nod, a private letter to Nicolson, and the cruise of the Atlantic Fleet was cancelled[27] to the chagrin of the C-in-C of the Atlantic Fleet who had been anxious for a meeting which, he hoped, would have had a beneficial effect on relations between the two countries and, more importantly, ‘because it was desirable to know as much as possible about the German Navy and its personnel, if unfortunately we should ever have to meet each other in conflict.’[28]

                In London, Kiderlen’s attempt to grab the Congo had similarly unseated Grey: in the Cabinet on 19 July it ‘was agreed that the proposals put forward by Germany to France for the practical absorption of the French Congo were such as France could not be expected, and probably was not intended, to accept.’[29] Instead, France was to be advised ‘to submit without delay to Germany their counter-proposals for “compensation” in that region. Grey, under even greater pressure from his permanent officials, was wavering.[30] He proposed ‘the Assembly of a Conference to deal with the new situation’, a prospect that must have made Kiderlen blanch, remembering the fiasco of Algeçiras. Even this timid suggestion encountered strenuous opposition from within the Cabinet (‘on the ground that our direct interest in the matter was insignificant, and that, as a result of such a communication, we might soon finding ourselves drifting into war’) leaving Grey to complain to Asquith that the continued silence from the Government was sending the wrong signals to Berlin.[31] On the next day, 20 July, The Times printed exaggerated details of the German demands, probably leaked by Nicolson; then, on the 21st, influenced by the jittery hand of its military correspondent, Repington, the newspaper added to the general feeling of uneasiness by considering what would happen if the German High Seas Fleet, on its way to rendezvous with the Kaiser off the Norwegian coast ‘should suddenly emerge out of the mists before Portland?’[32]  That such a surprise German descent was a possibility was brought home forcibly to the Director of Military Operations, Sir Henry Wilson, when he was informed that ‘our Admiralty have lost the German Fleet and have asked me to find them.’[33] The British Fleet was itself widely dispersed with the Second Division at Portland in the unenvious position of being marooned in port, short of coal, while the colliers required were delayed in Cardiff due to a strike.[34]

                The Cabinet reconvened on the 21st but first had to discuss the crisis in the Lords before Grey was called upon to give an account of the current state of play on the Continent: it appeared France was ‘about to make counter-proposals to Germany in regard to the Congo frontiers. Otherwise matters remain much where they were.’ Grey, however, had become concerned that there had been no further communication from Metternich following the interview of 4 July; almost as great was his concern that the Radicals in the Cabinet were about to dictate the agenda. The Foreign Secretary had earlier approached Asquith to warn him that the ‘continued silence and inaction’ of the British Government may result in ‘irreparable harm’.[35] Grey was therefore authorized by the Cabinet to see Metternich immediately to point out ‘that 17 days had elapsed without any notice being taken by Germany of the British statement of our position’ and to conclude with a warning that a Moroccan settlement in which Britain did not have a voice would not be recognised.[36] To upset the German Ambassador further, Lloyd George rose that evening at the Mansion House to have his say (and to render Grey’s earlier discussion superfluous) in the unlikely setting of the Lord Mayor’s dinner for the Bankers’ Association. The bombshell was not so much in the words as in the speaker.

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                The Chancellor had, apparently on his own initiative, added a postscript to his speech which could only be construed as a very public warning to Germany. He took the draft to Grey on the afternoon of the 21st; the Foreign Secretary read it through, evidently suggesting some changes. This took longer than expected so that the usually punctual Lloyd George kept the Lord Mayor waiting half an hour.[37] The speech, in which Lloyd George argued that, ‘allowing Britain to be treated where her interests were affected as if she were of no account in the Cabinet of nations’, would be an intolerable humiliation, was sufficient to arouse some cheers amongst the audience, but otherwise ‘caused comparatively little notice at dinner.’[38] ‘As befitted the occasion and his own reputation as an orator’, it has been remarked, ‘Lloyd George’s speech was a magnificent rhetorical exercise … but which read soberly after the event, seems a little short on substance and content.’[39] Morley, the Lord President, wrote to Asquith that the speech was unnecessarily provocative; Grey’s private secretary, William Tyrrell, on the other hand, thought Lloyd George ‘by his timely speech has saved the peace of Europe and our good name.’[40] Indeed, the F.O. was delighted with its new convert. Nicolson, in particular, was animated by the sight of ‘such complete unanimity throughout the Government, even extending to the extreme Liberal wings’ with, he might have added, only a few exceptions.[41]

                But were Britain’s interests ‘vitally affected’, or was the scare in London simply a reaction to perceived French military and naval weakness? One of the most complete accounts of the immediate aftermath of Lloyd George’s speech is provided by C. P. Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian and ‘responsible for the Liberal organisation in Manchester’.[42] Lloyd George, anxious to secure Scott’s support,[43] invited him to breakfast on the morning of Saturday, 22 July[44] to explain that the Government’s ‘present demand was simply to be made parties to any resettlement of the Moroccan question.’ The Chancellor then went on to argue that, ‘as to Morocco we had a strong interest not in preventing the acquisition by Germany of territory … on the South Moroccan coast … — on the contrary it would give her useful occupation and take up some of the money that might otherwise go into Dreadnoughts; but in preventing the formation of a great naval base right across our trade routes.’ Scott, who might have reasoned that Lloyd George’s knowledge of naval strategy was not that deep, was too well-informed to let such a comment pass. The Manchester Guardian had already argued (on 11 July) that there was little need to be concerned about a German base at Agadir, which could achieve little other than to weaken the German High Seas Fleet.[45] How could this be, Scott answered Lloyd George, when Germany ‘could not afford to divide her battleships’? At worst, she might detach a cruiser squadron which would entail the British sending ‘twice as many cruisers to watch them.’ Lloyd George feebly replied that ‘this would be a serious weakening of our forces’. Scott continued to press the Chancellor as to ‘what interests had we for which in the last resort we were prepared to go to war and was the prevention of a German naval station at Agadir one of them’? Lloyd George could provide ‘no clear answer to this.’ Churchill, who drifted in and out of the discussion, made only one serious contribution, to the effect that Germany needed to be taught a lesson.

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                Scott then had a brief conversation with Asquith, during which the P.M., after further prodding, admitted that it would not be ‘worth our while to go to war about Agadir (i.e. its being made into a fortified port)’ but that ‘we should strongly resist the acquisition by Germany of a port on the South Mediterranean coast.’ Scott could get no further with Grey when, at a subsequent meeting, he sought clarification on the supposedly critical issue as to whether ‘the question of the fortification of Agadir as a naval base [was] a vital interest for us.’ Grey replied, without thinking, ‘The fortification. Oh! yes. That is certainly a vital interest.’ This allowed Scott to pounce: what, he wanted to know, did it amount to? A German base there would be ‘very undesirable no doubt and would place us at a certain disadvantage in the event of war with Germany, but would it be worth while to go to war in order to prevent a relatively slight disadvantage…?’ The most that Grey could do was to assert that the disadvantage might be greater than Scott had made out.

                It had become clear during the interview that Grey’s major concern was the German belief that the 1904 Anglo-French Agreement had given France a free hand in Morocco. To correct this misapprehension, Grey declared that ‘it should be at once and clearly understood in Germany that we should regard the presence of a great naval power like Germany on the Atlantic coast of Morocco as constituting a new situation and giving us a right which we meant to assert to be considered and consulted.’ Once Grey was forced to admit this as the real reason, Scott was able to extract from him the admission that, ‘As to the capabilities of Agadir as a naval base his information from the Admiralty was that it was better than Mogador but that to make it really formidable would be very expensive…’ It seems clear that Grey was in the hands of his naval advisers more than he would care to admit and that he, personally, had not given great consideration to the strategic implications, for either Britain or Germany, which would result from a German naval presence on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. As far as the Mediterranean coast of Morocco was concerned, Grey was content to parrot the standard Admiralty response: ‘for Germany to acquire a naval base on the Mediterranean would be infinitely more serious’ as ‘it would involve a great and permanent increase of our naval force in the Mediterranean (which we had been able by our agreement with France to reduce)[46] in order to prevent our communications with Egypt from being cut…’

                The net result of Scott’s investigation was that Lloyd George objected to a German naval base at Agadir as it would threaten the trade routes; Asquith would not object to a German port at Libreville, which was ‘far to the east of the trade routes’, but did not think it worthwhile to risk war over Agadir; while Grey was relatively unconcerned at the prospect of a German presence at Agadir but would strongly resist any attempt for her to obtain a Mediterranean base. In view of this confusion, perhaps the underlying cause of the fear felt in London was the opinion ‘repeatedly’ voiced by Lloyd George, namely, ‘France’s weakness and terror in the face of Germany.’ France, according to the Chancellor, ‘had her eyes fixed on “those terrible legions across the frontier … [which] could be in Paris in a month and she knew it.” The result would be the end of France as a Great Power, leading possibly to German hegemony in Europe on a scale similar to Napoleon’s.[47]

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                Following Grey’s warning to Metternich and Lloyd George’s to the world at large on Friday, 21 July diplomatic activity, but not Metternich’s anger, would cease over the weekend. The German Ambassador was still furious on Monday when he saw Grey — the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer over port and cigars to a bemused city audience had not resulted in a blowing off of steam, but had stoked the fires. Metternich commenced by saying that he had finally heard from his Government and had now been instructed to tell Grey that the Panther had been sent to Agadir ‘in order to protect German interests, and for no other reason.’ The German interests turned out to be a farm which had been attacked by natives; Grey replied that this was a new one on him. Metternich was forced to admit that it was also the first time he had heard of it. The Ambassador then maintained to Grey that ‘Germany had never thought of creating a naval port on the Moroccan coast, and never would think of it. Such ideas were hallucinations. She had no intentions on Moroccan territory, but demanded that France should keep strictly to the Act of Algeciras, or else come to explanations with Germany.’ Metternich also informed Grey that secret Franco-German negotiations (which had in fact commenced on 9 July[48]) were in progress. For his part, Grey, upon being reassured that no Germans had been landed at Agadir, asked whether he might not make a statement to that effect in the House; Metternich cried off, until he could consult Berlin. The strained tone of Monday’s interview deteriorated sharply on Tuesday, when Metternich returned to deny Grey permission to repeat what had been said the previous day. The German Ambassador then launched into a furious denunciation of Lloyd George’s speech, which had ‘been interpreted without contradiction as having a tone of provocation for Germany.’[49] The Foreign Secretary appeared to have been genuinely taken aback by Metternich’s tone. Indeed, following this interview, Grey sent for Lloyd George who happened to be walking by the fountains at Buckingham Palace with Churchill. ‘I have just received a communication from the German Ambassador so stiff’, the rattled Foreign Secretary informed the Terrible Twins, ‘that the Fleet might be attacked at any moment. I have sent for McKenna to warn him!’[50] Finally, after this intervention by Grey, and with the Admiralty still unconcerned, precautions were taken. The Home Fleet, which had been widely dispersed, was sent to Scotland where ‘guns were manned at night in case the Germans should try a surprise attack.’[51]

                Then, as August approached, the tension was eased. This remarkable turnaround was facilitated by a number of events: at the end of July, Kiderlen had to face the Emperor who had now returned from his summer cruise and who was not happy. Kiderlen’s hopes of a quick, advantageous settlement had risen briefly only then to disappear like the wisps of smoke emanating from the cigars at the Mansion House on that warm Friday evening. Kiderlen was chastened. Caillaux meanwhile reverted to his old habits – going behind the back of his hapless Foreign Minister to try to initiate a settlement at any price – but had been caught out when his secret correspondence was deciphered by his own Foreign Office. Caillaux, thus compromised, was forced to take a firmer line. Kiderlen’s strong-arm tactics would no longer work.[52] Then, following an assurance from Metternich that British interests were not affected by the Franco-German negotiations, Asquith made soothing noises in the House. Finally, dare one add, with the coming of August the holiday season beckoned; or at least it did for some — untypically, Asquith, Grey, Lloyd George, Churchill and Haldane all remained in London. This cabal of suddenly like-minded ministers directed strategy at their meetings in Haldane’s house where Churchill and Lloyd George almost, or so it appeared, longed for hostilities to commence. Nicolson wrote privately that the two, ‘whom we always regarded as dubious and uncertain factors, were those who took up the strongest line, and who were the readiest to go to the utmost extremities. In fact I believe they were a little disappointed that war with Germany did not occur.’[53]

                Churchill, under the spell of the able Director of Military Operations, Sir Henry Wilson,[54] began to focus attention on the navy: the vexing problem was that, while the Admiralty had done nothing wrong, it had not done much right either. Admiral Wilson had not been overly concerned with the prospect of a German presence in Agadir which was to his credit in the early part of July but which reflected against him after Lloyd George had raised the stakes. Hankey, for example, was struck by the ‘extraordinary apathy’ of the Admiralty and was terrified that the Germans would strike over the weekend following the momentous events of Friday 21 July. Admiral Wilson, convinced war would not ensue, saw no reason to disrupt his weekend and made the fatal mistake of going to Scotland for some shooting.[55] The decision to place the Fleet on a war footing had been prompted by Grey; there was no knowing what, if it came to war, the Admiralty would do.

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                Fisher, still making mischief while enjoying a lengthy Continental holiday, cheerfully wrote to Esher from Bad Nauheim on 1 August, ‘I don’t think there is the very faintest fear of war! How wonderfully Providence guides England! Just when there is a quite natural tendency to ease down our naval endeavours comes AGADIR!’[56] From a different perspective, three days after Kiderlen’s climbdown, Admiral Tirpitz wrote, ‘The more we are humiliated, the more uproar there will be. The possibility of a new Naval Law comes ever nearer.’[57] The cynicism of the two old admirals was more than matched by the new-found enthusiasm of the two young radicals in the British Cabinet but although the Home Secretary, Churchill, has sometimes been given the credit for persuading Asquith to call a special meeting of the C.I.D.[58] to consider strategy in the event of war, to which meeting Churchill would, of course, be invited[59] in reality it was Haldane who determined once and for all to lay to rest the Admiralty opposition to the Continental strategy.[60] Opposition from the pacifists, pro-Germans and troublemakers would be conveniently avoided: Crewe, Morley, Harcourt and Esher, amongst others, were all out of London.[61] Harcourt would subsequently complain that the meeting had ‘been arranged some time ago for a date when it was supposed we should all be out of London…to decide on where and how British troops could be landed to assist a French Army on the Meuse!!!’[62] Kitchener was also sent an invitation, which he turned down, citing as his reason his belief that the French were certain to be defeated by the Germans, and he wanted ‘no part in any decision’ which would involve Britain in such a disaster.[63]

                Setting the unofficial agenda for the meeting was the War Office and, in particular, General Sir Henry Wilson, who was notorious, according to Hankey, for having ‘a perfect obsession for military operations on the continent.’[64] By 15 August, Wilson had completed two papers to prove ‘conclusively that we must join France.’[65] In his memorandum, The Military Aspect of the Continental Problem, which defined the policy to be adopted to meet various contingencies, Wilson maintained that,

As regards the naval aspect of the problem, what we ask from a military point of view is that it shall be possible safely to transport troops and supplies across the Channel…and that the Navy will protect the United Kingdom from organised invasion from the sea. If that cannot be done the scheme falls to the ground…

A decisive naval conflict in the early part of the war was not envisaged as the ‘weaker Power generally adopts a defensive attitude.’[66] Hankey, alerted to the pressure which would be exerted upon the naval members of the C.I.D. to reach a decision on the fate of the British Expeditionary Force promptly warned McKenna that if Henry Wilson could get a decision ‘in favour of military action he will endeavour to commit us up to the hilt.’ Hankey suggested that the Admiralty could either ‘very properly decline before war [breaks out] to say how long it will be before the transport of troops will be feasible; or else they can stick to the line they took in 1908 that the policy of sending an expedition is altogether a wrong one’.[67] In the days remaining before the meeting, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson attempted, not very successfully, to set out the Admiralty view, which had changed little since the previous inquiry in 1909 and which remained firmly in opposition to military intervention.[68]

On 23 August 1911 the 114th meeting of the C.I.D. was convened.[69] Present were Asquith, Lloyd George, Grey, Churchill, McKenna, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, Rear-Admiral A. E. Bethell (the Director of Naval Intelligence), Haldane, Field-Marshal Sir William Nicholson (the Chief of the Imperial General Staff), General Sir Henry Wilson, General Sir John French (the Inspector-General of the Forces), Major-General Sir A. J. Murray (the Director of Military Training) and Rear-Admiral Ottley, the Secretary. As the delegates settled in their chairs, Asquith opened the proceedings by referring to the European situation, which was ‘not altogether clear’; it was possible, as a result, ‘that it might become necessary for the question of giving armed support to the French to be considered.’ Asquith then reminded those present of the conclusion of the 1908 report on the Military Needs of the Empire. Although ‘conclusion’ is perhaps too strong a word for the first recommendation, which merely noted that the ‘expediency of sending a military force abroad or of relying on naval means alone is a matter of policy which can only be determined when the occasion arises by the Government of the day.’ Now, it looked as if the occasion had arisen. Asquith then noted that the General Staff had prepared a fresh memorandum, ‘in the light of recent developments’, the most important point of which was that Britain ‘should mobilise and dispatch the whole of our available army of six divisions and a cavalry division immediately upon the outbreak of war, mobilising upon the same day as the French and Germans.’[70] As a necessary component of this scheme, the General Staff required from the Admiralty an assurance that the Expeditionary Force ‘could be safely transported across the Channel and from other directions indicated in their paper, and that the Navy will protect the United Kingdom from organised invasion from the sea.’

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                Admiral Wilson immediately replied that the Admiralty ‘could spare no men, no officers, and no ships to assist the Army.’ The battle lines were drawn. While those around the table digested this apparently unequivocal statement, Wilson then explained his reason, which was that the ‘whole force at the disposal of the Admiralty’ would be required to block the enemy in the North Sea; however, so long as the French ‘protected the transports within their own harbours’, Wilson felt able to give a limited guarantee covering the transportation of troops across the Channel only, as this would be ‘covered by the main [naval] operations.’ This, Sir William Nicholson replied, was all that was needed. McKenna, acting on Hankey’s suggestion, then proceeded to undermine even this grudging offer of assistance. There would, he insisted, be no help at all from the Navy ‘during the first week of war’ when the ‘whole efforts of the Admiralty would be absorbed in mobilising the Navy’. When challenged by Nicholson, McKenna declared that he had never previously heard of the Army’s scheme for simultaneous mobilization. Arthur Wilson agreed that ‘the scheme had not been brought to his attention’; it was his understanding that such a scheme had been mooted, only to be subsequently abandoned.

                Asquith intervened at this point to remind the naval contingent that the plans of the General Staff had, since 1908, always laid stress on the necessity of mobilization taking place as soon as war was declared. This was the only way in which British military intervention would be ‘valuable’. He was also ‘at a loss to understand why it should be supposed that the Fleet would not be mobilising at the same time.’ This, McKenna contended, was not the issue; the First Lord then drew Asquith’s attention to a paragraph in a previous Admiralty memorandum, which, he clearly hoped, would dispose of the current problem:

The general principle which has for many years governed the question of reinforcements is that the movement of troops by sea in the early stages of a maritime war is an operation attended with serious risk, and the Admiralty cannot guarantee to protect the transports so employed.

If McKenna thought he had the measure of the Prime Minister, he was mistaken for, according to Asquith, this principle was not applicable to the case under consideration, which involved ‘ferrying troops over narrow waters to a friendly country’. Asquith further expressed his surprise at the Admiralty’s apparent reluctance to guarantee the safety of the transports.

                When Lloyd George helpfully interjected to ask whether the co-operation of the French Fleet could not be counted on, he was informed by McKenna that ‘almost the entire French Fleet was in the Mediterranean.’ As McKenna appeared to be getting off too lightly, Haldane tried to pin him down: all of this, to Haldane, missed the point, which centred upon the provision of transports. The Secretary of State for War demanded of the First Lord: ‘Could the Admiralty carry out the scheme as worked out or not?’ There was no escape. Regretting that there may have been a misunderstanding, McKenna then agreed to have the subject re-examined, presumably in the knowledge that this would occupy many months. Again his ploy failed: Asquith reminded him that the question of time was ‘all important’ as ‘the simultaneous mobilisation of our army and that of the French, and the immediate concentration of our army in the theatre of war were essential features of the scheme.’

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                At this point Sir Henry Wilson, standing by a huge map, commenced his exposition. Referring to the large-scale map he stated that, for the purposes of war, Luxembourg should be regarded as German, while the Germans would not hesitate to march through Southern Belgium. Germany could, in all probability, marshal eighty-four divisions on the French frontier and twenty-seven on the Russian border. To attempt to repel this force, the French could count on sixty-six divisions[71] plus approximately 200,000 fortress troops. Although the British Expeditionary Force, numbering 160,000 men (consisting of six divisions and one cavalry division), should have mattered little in the clash of the Titans on the Continent, Henry Wilson was convinced that:

The Germans would, of course, attack all along the line, but their main effort must be made through the 90-mile gap between Verdun and Mauberge. Through this gap there ran only thirteen through roads. Each could accommodate three divisions, but not more. So that the limit of numbers which the Germans could employ along this front was about 40 divisions. A similar result was arrived at upon the basis of the extent of front upon which a division could fight, namely from 2 to 2½ miles. Against this force the French could probably place 37 to 39 divisions. So that it was quite likely that our six divisions might prove to be the deciding factor … On the whole front the broad result was that, although the Germans could deploy 84 divisions against the French 66 and the garrisons of their frontier fortresses, the Germans could not concentrate their superior force against any one point. Our 6 divisions would therefore be a material factor in the decision. Their material value, however, was far less than their moral[e] value, which was perhaps as great as an addition of more than double their number of French troops to the French Army would be. This view was shared by the French General Staff.

Having fluently disposed of the principle argument, some consideration then followed of the utility of the Belgian Army which, Henry Wilson contended, ‘though small, could not be ignored, and its strategical position upon the German flank was strong.’ Grey was not convinced; it was his opinion that the Belgians ‘would avoid committing themselves as long as possible in order to try and make certain of being on the winning side.’ Lloyd George re-entered the fray, to voice his agreement with Henry Wilson: ‘Even if the Belgians did not attack, while the Germans were advancing,’ he insisted, ‘the Germans were bound to make provision against their doing so, if the course of events should prove adverse to Germany.’

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                Warming to his task, and convinced of his unassailable conviction that war between Britain and Germany was ‘as certain as anything human can be’,[72] General Wilson stood up well under cross-examination which, however, as Hankey pointed out, ‘was not so severe as it would have been if Morley had been present.’[73] Nevertheless, Hankey admitted that it was a performance of ‘remarkable brilliancy’. As the discussion turned towards consideration of a French retreat, Henry Wilson was sure that the French Field Army would retire to the ‘richer southern provinces’ leaving Paris to fend for itself with its immobile garrison of a quarter of a million men. He did not believe that the Germans would invest Paris until they had disposed of the French Army, and, once this had happened, ‘France would be conquered.’

                Admiral Wilson continued to fight his corner. The B.E.F., apart from its small numbers, would, the Admiral argued, ‘labour under disadvantages due to difference of language and training, and diversity of ammunition, arms, and equipment. It would also be handicapped by its dependence for its supplies upon French railways. In the early days of the war, when it was proposed to dispatch our forces, the French would also be mobilising, and there would be congestion on the railways.’ All of this, Nicholson patiently pointed out, had already been worked out, and no serious difficulties were envisaged. McKenna, aware of the General Staff’s abhorrence at the prospect of relinquishing any form of command over its own troops, then tried a new line of argument. If a British force had to be sent to France at all, it was his opinion that it should be placed under French command. Henry Wilson’s reaction was swift and emphatic: under no circumstances, he declared, could the General Staff accept this view. With his options rapidly narrowing, McKenna then returned to the question of numbers. The French force of sixty-six divisions seemed, to him, ample to defend the frontier. ‘Was the probable effect of our intervention with six divisions so great’, he wanted to know, ‘that without it the French would not resist German aggression, while with it they would.’ This was a valid question, which resulted in the following exchange:

SIR EDWARD GREY said that we must postulate that the French intended to fight. The point was whether our intervention would make the difference between defeat and victory.

MR. McKENNA asked whether, if we gave the French an assurance of assistance now, it would make the French less inclined to accept the German terms.

THE PRIME MINISTER said that the point which the Cabinet would have to decide was what we were going to do if we resolved to commit ourselves to the support [of] the French against German attack.

LORD HALDANE said that he thought the Committee were now acquainted with the probable effect of our military intervention.

McKenna’s question remained unanswered. Indeed, as Douglas Porch has noted, knowledge of the possibility of a German advance through southern Belgium ‘makes the British decision to accept [the French] Plan XVII without question, and to join their small army to the French left wing, thereby placing them in the direct path of the German juggernaut, appear all the more negligent.’[74]

In a further exchange which later might have haunted the participants, Lloyd George speculated as to the possibility of Russian troops being sent to France if the Navy provided the transports. No, said Admiral Wilson, transports could not pass through the Baltic. Well, asked Churchill, was there a chance of making terms with Turkey so the Russian troops could pass through the Dardanelles? In Asquith’s opinion, the passage of the Dardanelles was ‘an insuperable difficulty’ to which Grey added that the Turks ‘were in close relations with the Germans, and we certainly could not force the Dardanelles in these circumstances.’ Throughout the morning and early afternoon General Wilson had, according to Churchill, ‘swept away many illusions’ before an adjournment was called at 2 p.m.[75]

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An hour later it was the turn of the Admiralty. General Henry Wilson’s namesake, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, laboured under a number of difficulties: his performance throughout July had been technically correct and assured but politically maladroit and he was a singularly ineffective speaker. He shared Fisher’s secrecy paranoia: the War Plans should remain locked, not in the Admiralty safe, but in his own head.[76] He was on record, by virtue of his comments on the 1907 War Plans, as doubting the value of France as an ally. This is not to say that he ignored his duties as First Sea Lord: conversations, of a sort, had already occurred between the British and French Admiralties during the previous crises of 1905-06 and 1908 and a rough plan of campaign had been agreed upon even if nothing, in London at least, had been committed to paper. The current crisis appeared the most threatening of all and it was no surprise when the French Naval Attaché, Captain René Pumperneel, was duly prompted to approach Admiral Wilson on 12 July to discuss the possibility of a joint naval code.[77] After all, Henry Wilson had been in close touch with the French General Staff (an association he used to good effect); so the prospect arose that in the great debate of August Arthur Wilson could, similarly, point to his contact with Pumperneel. Unfortunately for the Admiralty – and, not unincidentally, Pumperneel himself – the Frenchman inconveniently dropped dead on 19 August. Admiral Wilson would be on his own in more ways than one on the afternoon of the 23rd.

                The result was unedifying: Arthur Wilson commenced by stating that, ‘from the naval point of view, the following considerations were important in an examination of the operations suggested by the General Staff:—’

1. The effect upon public confidence in this country if the entire regular Army were dispatched abroad immediately upon the outbreak of war. There appeared to be a grave possibility of an outbreak of panic. This might result in the movements of the Fleet being circumscribed with serious effect upon our naval operations.

2. The consequences to the Navy of there being no regular troops in the United Kingdom to assist the Navy in defence matters. It was not a question of invasion by 70,000 men. The guarantee of the Navy against any number like that was absolute, but small raids might cause serious damage unless very promptly met. There would also be many points on the North Sea coast not now defended which might acquire importance to the Navy in war, and for which the Army would be called upon to furnish protection.

3. The consequences to the Navy of there being no regular troops available for direct co-operation in the naval operations.

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                Admiralty policy of the outbreak of war (if indeed it could be dignified with such a word), ‘would be to blockade the whole of the German North Sea coast.’

We could not foretell [Wilson continued] where the German Fleet would be on the outbreak of war. Normally the first division was at Wilhelmshaven and the remainder at Kiel. At the moment the whole was in the Baltic. The German Dreadnought class could not pass through the Kiel Canal at present, but the remainder of the Fleet could, and the enlargement of the canal was to be completed in 1915. Owing to the Kiel Canal we should also be compelled to watch the entrance to the Baltic. We had no wish to prevent the German Fleet from coming out, but unfortunately, if we left them free to do so, their destroyers and submarines could get out also, and their exit it was essential to prevent [sic]. If possible we should maintain our watch upon the German coast-line with destroyers. They would, however, be 300 miles away from any British base, so that none of them could remain very long at a time on the station, and consequently the number present at any one moment would be reduced. At night a few only would be necessary; more in the daylight. Outside the destroyers would be the scouts and cruisers, and on these the destroyers would retire when driven off by the enemy’s larger ships, whose own retirement would then, if possible, be intercepted. Engagements would constantly occur, and there would be losses upon both sides every night. How long this phase of the operations would continue depended upon the results of these minor actions.

Admiral Wilson advocated the landing of small raiding parties to capture and hold such (apparently) strategically vital locations as, for example, Wangeroog and Schillighorn, while ‘a force might be landed to threaten the Kiel Canal.’ By this means he planned to keep the German North Sea coast ‘in a state of constant alarm’. With the use of ‘one division, perhaps more’ Wilson thought that such operations could cause the retention in the vicinity of ten German divisions and he would be ‘very sorry’ if he could not count upon regular troops. A necessary prelude to this scheme was the capture of Heligoland which could be done, he declared, by Marines, without any difficulty. It was then pointed out that the Admiral’s raiding parties could be quickly thrown back into the sea as the Germans rushed reinforcements along interior lines on their excellent railway network. Nicholson inquired of Wilson whether the Admiral possessed a map of the German strategical railways, to which Wilson unwisely replied that it was not the Admiralty’s business to have such maps. ‘I beg your pardon’, countered Sir William, ‘if you meddle with military problems you are bound not only to have them, but to have studied them.’[78]

                Both Nicholson and Churchill then alluded to the evident danger of keeping both the Fleet and the transports close to shore, exposing them to attack by torpedoes and shore-based guns. Furthermore, as Nicholson pointed out, ‘The truth was that this class of operation possibly had some value a century ago, when land communications were indifferent, but now, when they were excellent, they were doomed to failure. Wherever we threatened to land, the Germans could concentrate superior force.’ Checked on this account, Arthur Wilson then moved on to contemplation of the Baltic scheme: following a successful Fleet action in the North Sea it would become necessary to enter the Baltic for the purpose of blockading the Prussian coast. Surely, Churchill inquired, this would entail a great risk? Admiral Wilson thought not; the Danes, he expected, would remain neutral and he doubted that ‘the Germans would outrage their neutrality, by laying mines in their waters’. Wilson reiterated that all that was required by the Admiralty to accomplish their strategy was one division. Nicholson then ‘asked if the Admiralty would continue to press that view if the General Staff expressed their considered opinion that the military operations in which it was proposed to employ this division were madness.’ To this rebuke, Wilson lamely replied that ‘Any direct assistance which the Army could give would be invaluable.’ It was left to Sir Edward Grey, of all people, to point out the obvious. The Foreign Secretary said ‘that the problem which they had to solve was how to employ the Army so as to inflict the greatest possible amount of damage upon the Germans. So far as he could judge, the combined operations outlined were not essential to naval success, and the struggle on land would be the decisive one.’ By late afternoon the argument had become heated: Nicholson ‘lost his temper hopelessly’, while Haldane ‘had many sharp passages with McKenna’.[79]

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                Churchill then returned to the problem posed by the close blockade. However, to his inquiry that the fleet, being so close in, would be dangerously exposed Wilson calmly replied that recent manoeuvres had demonstrated that close blockade was needed to reduce the number of destroyers required, while the safety of the fleet depended upon the German destroyers being prevented from getting out. Wilson then proceeded to write his own epitaph. ‘The intention of the Admiralty to order this close blockade’, he finished, ‘was one which it was absolutely essential to keep secret. It was not even known to the Fleet.’ Asquith then asked Arthur Wilson for his criticisms of the General Staff proposals. Wilson replied,

that the Admiralty felt confident that troops would be required to second the efforts of the Navy, and also he did not know whether the number of troops which would remain in the United Kingdom after the departure of the 6 divisions was sufficient to insure that [enemy] raids would be immediately overwhelmed. Moreover, in addition to the points to be held on the east coast, others such as Great Yarmouth, Blyth and Grimsby might be found to require military protection when war broke out.

The Admiral performed badly in cross-examination: his own memorandum on invasion was ‘thrown in his face’ to demonstrate the impracticability of close blockade. There was no strategic insight whatsoever. Those present were alarmed; Hankey admitted that, though he had not been totally convinced by the General, the Admiral, by comparison, had filled him with dismay.[80] In the light of such feeble criticism of the General Staff proposals, McKenna then stepped in once more to assist the First Sea Lord. ‘There was no real danger of invasion,’ he maintained, ‘but many well-known officers and others had declared repeatedly throughout the country that we were not safe from invasion and there was, therefore, considerable risk of panic on the outbreak of war.’ The result would be ‘great pressure being brought to bear upon the Government to tie the Fleet to the defence of our coast. The moral effect upon the English people would be so serious as to be disastrous. In addition the strain upon the Admiralty of having to provide the sea transport required by the Army immediately on the outbreak of war would, assuredly, hamper the initial operations of the Navy.’ McKenna loyally supported Wilson and, in doing so, condemned himself to remain aboard the sinking ship and go down with the First Sea Lord.

                Seeking a compromise Asquith referred back to the conclusions of the 1908 Sub-Committee, which recommended that ‘at least two divisions of the Regular Army should remain in the United Kingdom until such time as the Territorial Force shall be considered fit to take the field.’ Haldane pointed out that, after the dispatch of the six divisions, there would still be 420,000 troops available for home defence, the great majority of whom were Territorials, although the total did include 40,000 Regulars. Did that mean, Asquith responded, that the C.I.D. wished to depart from the 1908 conclusion? He repeated the opinion of the 1908 Committee: ‘Until at least four months had elapsed after the embodiment of the Territorial Force it would seem necessary to retain two divisions of Regular Troops fully mobilized in the United Kingdom.’

                Lloyd George chose this moment to say he had never been convinced that the retention of the two divisions was ‘really necessary’ while Churchill wanted to know ‘why the Admiralty thought that there was so much danger from raids in view of the very close blockade which it was proposed to maintain’? When Arthur Wilson volunteered that, despite the blockade, the ‘whole German Fleet might come out’, Churchill pounced: surely ‘that was exactly what our Navy most desired’. Before he could answer, if indeed he did have an answer, Sir Archibald Murray re-entered the room, allowing Haldane to ask the Director of Military Training his opinion on the question of the retention of two Divisions. There was nothing, Murray argued (as well he would), that the Territorials could not cope with. The only problem would be acquiring the requisite number of horses, but this could be circumvented by using a ‘large number of cyclists who could be dispatched very rapidly to any threatened point on the east coast.’

                Asquith, still not convinced, reverted to the question of what would constitute a sufficient force to ‘overwhelm a serious raid’. Assuming that a decision was made in favour of intervention on the Continent, ‘it was obviously desirable that our intervention should be effective, but at the same time it was necessary to retain sufficient force in this country to meet all probable contingencies.’ Asquith asked his military advisers once more for their opinions. Henry Wilson rigidly maintained his contention that the General Staff believed ‘our whole available strength should be concentrated at the decisive point, and that point they believed to be on the French frontier.’ Then the back-pedalling began. Although this was so, General Wilson thought that the dispatch of five divisions ‘would no doubt be almost as great as the dispatch of six.’ Nicholson added that it was better to send four divisions than none. Nevertheless, McKenna continued to object ‘most strongly to the denudation of the country of all regular troops in the early days.’

                One means of circumventing this problem, in the longer term, would be to transport reinforcements from India. Even here Admiral Wilson foresaw problems: he preferred that they should be sent through the Suez Canal, but could not guarantee this. The Austrian Fleet, he said, ‘though small was of good quality.’ And, although ‘as a fighting force the French Navy had suffered from want of continuity of policy and from want of discipline, due to political interference’, it was ‘second only to the German Fleet, and it could easily defeat the Austrians.’ If at all possible, Wilson would have liked ‘to bring our Mediterranean Fleet to home waters.’ Soon after, the talking ceased; the long day had ended.Please click to go to the top of this page






[1]     The French force consisted, in the first echelon, of 92 officers and 3,700 men (plus 1,150 mules and horses and 400 camels); in the second echelon of 55 officers and 1,700 men (plus “innumerable” camels); and in the third echelon of 60 officers and 1,850 men. Porch, The Conquest of Morocco, p. 226.

[2]     For example, Geoffrey Barraclough, From Agadir to Armageddon, p. 101, speculates that powerful financial interests in Paris would go to any lengths to avoid a breach with Germany: it was better that she should be bought off.

[3]     Memorandum by Kiderlen, 3 May 1911, E T S Dugdale (ed.), German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 2-4.

[4]     Grey reported early in August that ‘France was technically justified in going to Fez by the request of the Sultan and by the necessities of the case. There was real danger to her subjects at Fez, and there was none to German subjects at Agadir.’ Nevertheless, Grey believed that the ‘indirect consequences’ of the French action would be to make the Sultan more dependent upon France, which, in itself, could be said to have ‘offended’ the 1906 Algeçiras Act. Note by Sir Edward Grey, 2 August 1911, given in, Lowe and Dockrill, The Mirage of Power, vol. III, p. 435.

[5]     A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918, p. 467, n. 2.

[6]     In July, following the decryption of the German diplomatic telegrams by the French, evidence of Caillaux’s secret meetings was uncovered. Threatened with exposure, Caillaux requested the original copies of the telegrams from the German Ambassador so that he could confirm the accuracy of the decrypts. Thus alerted, the Germans promptly changed their codes. Porch, The French Secret Service, p. 51.

[7]     Fisher to McKenna, 1 February 1910, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 302.

[8]     W. S. Churchill, The Mediterranean Fleet, 15 March 1911, PRO Cab 37/105/27.

[9]     For example, see Churchill to Asquith, 5 February 1910, quoted in, R S Churchill, Winston S Churchill, 1901-1914, pp. 364-5.

[10]    Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, pp. 240-1.

[11]    Hamilton, Bertie of Thame, pp. 228-32.

[12]    Bertie to Nicolson, 12 July 1911, Nicolson mss, PRO FO 800/349.

[13]    Henry Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. I, p. 341.

[14]    Secret article 1 of the Cambon-Lansdowne Agreement of 8 April 1904.

[15]    Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, p. 239.

[16]    Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 145.

[17]    Nicolson, Lord Carnock, p. 341.

[18]    Bethmann-Hollweg to Metternich, 4 July 1911, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 7-8.

[19]    Stamfordham to Nicolson, 23 July 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/349. Stamfordham had speculated that their must be a “kink” in his political nature as he distrusted the French ‘alliances’ and believed in a natural affinity of England to Germany. Stamfordham’s concern was echoed by C. P. Scott, who informed Asquith on 20 July that there was ‘no feeling among Liberals here [Manchester] against Germany.’ Scott to Asquith, 20 July 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 44. See also, Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, I, pp. 341-2, for criticism of French ‘imprudence’ and the concerted press campaign to promote an Anglo-German understanding.

[20]    Asquith to the King, 4 July 1911, PRO Cab 41/33/20.

[21]    Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. I, pp. 214-5.

[22]    Hamilton, Bertie of Thame, pp. 230-1.

[23]    When George Riddell called on Lloyd George in July, he found the Chancellor, together with the Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, and some Government officials, discussing the Insurance bill in the garden, seated under a tree to escape the baking heat. Riddell, undated diary for November 1911, in McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries, p. 26.

[24]    A. J. A. Morris, The Scaremongers, p. 289.

[25]    Barraclough, Agadir to Armageddon, p. 126.

[26]    Marginalia by Wilhelm II on Bethmann-Hollweg to the Emperor, 15 July 1911, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 11-12.

[27]    Goschen to Nicolson, 14 July 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/349.

[28]          Autobiographical notes by Jellicoe, Jellicoe mss., BM Add Mss 49038, pp. 229-233.

[29]    Asquith to the King, 19 July 1911, PRO Cab 41/33/22.

[30]    The pressure Grey was under from that quarter was well known. Asquith was ‘quite conscious of the anti-Germanism of the Foreign Office staff and was prepared to resist it.’ C. P. Scott, diary entry for 22 July 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 47.

[31]    Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. I, pp. 41-2. Loreburn, the Lord Chancellor, was the leading dissentient.

[32]    Morris, The Scaremongers, p. 290 and n. 24.

[33]    Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 97. Happily, the German Fleet was ‘found’ the following day. According to Sir Frank Lascelles, the former Ambassador in Berlin, the scare ‘that we were on the point … of being attacked by Germany … had no better foundation than that the Admiralty had lost sight of two German gunboats…’ C. P. Scott, diary entry for 7 November 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 54.

[34]    Ibid, p. 98; Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 243.

[35]    Quoted in Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 151.

[36]    Asquith to the King, 22 July 1911, PRO Cab 41/38/3.

[37]    Riddell, undated diary for November 1911, in McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries, p. 26. There was a further delay when Lloyd George was heckled by a (male) supporter of women’s rights. Gilbert, David Lloyd George, vol. I, p. 450.

[38]    Riddell, undated diary for November 1911, in McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries, p. 26. Riddell was present at the dinner, having been alerted by Churchill earlier in the day that Lloyd George was going to make ‘a big declaration’.

[39]    Barraclough, Agadir to Armageddon, p. 131.

[40]    Morley to Asquith, 27 July 1911, Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, pp. 434-5; Tyrrell to Spring-Rice, 1 August 1911, Spring-Rice mss., PRO FO 800/241.

[41]    Nicolson to Goschen, 1 August 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/349.

[42]    Scott to Asquith, 20 July 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 44.

[43]    Gilbert, David Lloyd George, vol. I, p. 453. It would, according to Scott, ‘smash the party’ if the Government and the Guardian were at odds. Scott, diary entry for 22 July 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 46.

[44]    Gretton to Scott, 21 July 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 45.

[45]    Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, pp. 240-1.

[46]    My emphasis.

[47]    Scott, diary entry for 22 July 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 46. The episode marked the beginning of Lloyd George’s estrangement from the Radical wing of the party. He was particularly censorious of Loreburn’s actions, which he described as ‘petulant’ and ‘unreasonable’. See also, Gilbert, David Lloyd George, p. 453.

[48]    Hamilton, Bertie of Thame, p. 238.

[49]    Grey to Goschen, 24 and 25 July 1911, both given in, Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. I, pp. 218-22.

[50]    Winston S Churchill, The World Crisis, (One volume, abridged and revised, London 1943), pp. 45-6.

[51]    King-Hall, My Naval Life, p. 95.

[52]    Barraclough, Agadir to Armageddon, pp. 134-5.

[53]    Nicolson to Hardinge, 17 August 1911, Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, p. 436.

[54]    Henry Wilson recorded in his diary that, following the meeting at Haldane’s residence, he saw Churchill who ‘had put in a ridiculous and fantastic paper on a war on the French and German frontier, which,’ Wilson added immodestly, ‘I was able to demolish.’ [Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 99] This paper, Military Aspects of the Continental Problem [PRO Cab 38/19/50], which Churchill’s official biographer has described as ‘extraordinarily prescient’, was one of which Churchill was inordinately proud, which must have made Wilson’s response all the more deflating. Realizing that he would make little headway arguing strategy with the General, it was little wonder that Churchill turned his sights on the Navy, a much easier target.

[55]    Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, pp. 242-3.

[56]    Fisher to Esher, 1 August 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 379-80.

[57]    Quoted in Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, p. 472.

[58]    See, for example, Lowe & Dockrill, vol. I, p. 43 where the decision by Asquith was ascribed to the ‘enthusiasm’ of Churchill, abetted by General Wilson.

[59]    Churchill later noted disingenuously that he ‘was invited to attend, though the Home Office was not directly concerned.’ World Crisis, p. 52.

[60]    General Wilson himself makes clear that Haldane was responsible for persuading Asquith. Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 99; see also d’Ombrain, War Machinery, pp. 100-1.

[61]    Hankey, Supreme Command, vol. I, p. 78.

[62]    Quoted in Stephen Koss, Asquith, pp. 144-5.

[63]    Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 188 and Gilbert, David Lloyd George, p. 454 both citing Esher’s diary entry for 6 September 1911.

[64]    Hankey to McKenna, 15 August 1911, quoted in, Roskill, Hankey: Man of Secrets, vol. I, p. 101.

[65]    Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 184.

[66]    Memorandum by Sir Henry Wilson, 15 August 1911, PRO Cab 38/19/47. Note: not to be confused with Churchill’s similarly titled paper. The Admiralty also, late in the day (21 August), submitted its short effort also entitled The Military Aspect of the Continental Problem: see, PRO Cab 38/19/48.

[67]    Hankey to McKenna, 15 August 1911, quoted in, Roskill, Hankey: Man of Secrets, vol. I, p. 101.

[68]    The Military Aspect of the Continental Problem — Admiralty Remarks, 21 August 1911, PRO Cab 38/19/48.

[69]    Committee of Imperial Defence, minutes of the 114th meeting, 23 August 1911, PRO Cab 38/19/49.

[70]    It was ‘further suggested that additional reinforcements, consisting of two or three divisions of British and native troops might be drawn from India, and possibly the seventh division from the Mediterranean and South Africa.’

[71]    The French Army numbered seventy-five divisions, however nine were required to watch the Italian border.

[72]    Wilson to Churchill, 29 August 1911, PRO Adm 116/3474. If the war does not come today, Wilson noted, ‘it will come tomorrow or the next day, and in all probability it will come at a time which suits Germany and not us. There is only one way to victory and that is to see that our foreign policy and our strategy go hand in hand and that sufficient force is available to carry out the policy which has been previously determined.’

[73]    Hankey, Supreme Command, vol. I, p. 80.

[74]    Porch, The French Secret Services, p. 533, n. 10.

[75]    Churchill, World Crisis, p. 53.

[76]    There was a story that the War Plan did exist on paper: a single sheet locked in a safe to which only Wilson had the key. see Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 244.

[77]    The First Sea Lord ‘immediately declared himself a partisan of the project’ and insisted on ‘absolute secrecy’. Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 245.

[78]    Quoted in Haldane, An Autobiography, p. 227.

[79]    Hankey to Fisher, 24 August 1911, quoted in, Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, pp. 392-3.

[80]    Hankey, Supreme Command, vol. I, p. 81. According to Henry Wilson, the Admiral ‘ran no chance in that audience.’ Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 99.



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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