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 8




The Right of Free Choice




The French naval base at Brest on the Atlantic Coast 

Until 1911 the French war plans continued to stipulate that Brest (at left) on the Atlantic Coast would be the main point of concentration for a war against Germany.

So well had the 23 August meeting gone for the Army that as, finally, the Committee began to break up that evening, Haldane saw his chance. He approached Asquith, whose thoughts just then were perhaps centred more upon the train that was to take him to Scotland that night, and told the Prime Minister that, unless sweeping reforms were made at the Admiralty, he would no longer be responsible for military affairs.[1] Haldane’s low-risk gamble – the strategy of persuading Asquith to convene the secret C.I.D. meeting, at which the War Office view was bound to prevail over the suicidal Admiralty policy – appeared to be about to pay off. Asquith knew there was no escape: Haldane was also travelling north that night to his estate in Scotland. The Secretary of State for War had wanted the Admiralty all year; he had earlier been prevented from asking Asquith due to the intervention of the Lords’ crisis but he was not going to miss his chance now. Asquith had to be pinned down. Haldane put his plea in writing:

My Dear A,

                You have recognised that the position disclosed at the meeting…is highly dangerous. By good fortune we have discovered the danger in time, but had war come upon us last month, as it very nearly did, the grave divergence of policy between the admirals and the generals might well have involved us in disaster. The fact is that the Admirals live in a world of their own. The Fisher method, which Wilson appears to follow, that war plans should be locked in the brain of the First Sea Lord, is out of date and impracticable. Our problems of defence are far too numerous and complex to be treated in that way. They can only be solved correctly by a properly organised and scientifically trained War Staff, working in the closest co-operation with the Military General Staff under the general direction of the War Office. Wilson’s so-called plan disclosed an ignorance of elementary military principles which is startling.

                I have after mature consideration come to the conclusion that this is, in the existing state of Europe, the gravest problem which confronts the Government to-day and that unless it is tackled resolutely I cannot remain in office. Five years’ experience of the W.O. have taught me how to handle the generals and get the best out of them and I believe that the experience makes me the person best qualified to go to the Admiralty and carry through as thorough a re-organization there as I have carried out at the W.O. In any event I am determined that things at the Admiralty shall not remain any longer as they are.[2]

What Haldane did not know was that there was a second suitor waiting in the wings. Churchill had, in 1910, expressed a desire for the Admiralty; at some point during the summer of 1911 this desire hardened into an ambition — and Winston’s ambitions rarely went unfulfilled. Churchill now also pinned his hopes on the Admiralty and his Cabinet paper of 15 March 1911 on the Mediterranean Fleet may have been an early attempt to establish his credentials as a naval strategist. Once the threat of war surfaced Churchill was all the more eager to place himself at the centre of the action. He would spend the next few months intriguing to achieve exactly that.[3]

                Admiral Wilson was presumably aware, even if he did not greatly care, of the impression he had left on those at the meeting. ‘The present position,’ Asquith later confided to Crewe, ‘in which everything is locked up in the brain of a single taciturn Admiral, is both ridiculous and dangerous.’[4] Even before the crucial meeting of the 23rd the position of the First Lord, McKenna, was open to question. As early as 8 August Esher was speculating that a section of the Cabinet was anxious to bring about McKenna’s fall and that he would be “pushed out” in November. It was Esher’s opinion that while the nominal excuse would be ‘recent bungling’ the real cause was the bloated naval estimates.[5] Whether or not there was already a plot hatching to remove McKenna, the C.I.D. meeting of 23 August sealed his fate. McKenna’s reluctance to ‘furnish the ships to take the expeditionary force to France’ was, so far as Haldane was concerned, the final straw.[6] When combined with the knowledge that Churchill was deeply unhappy at the Home Office,[7] Asquith’s mind was now all but made up. The fact that a proper Naval Staff would have to be forced on the Admiralty and McKenna, for all his qualities, was not the man to do it provided a convenient excuse. So long as his opposition to the Continental strategy remained intransigent, McKenna would have to go; and so for that matter would Arthur Wilson if he continued to prove unamenable. To add further to Admiral Wilson’s discomfiture at the time he was again forced to deal with the French.

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                The informal talks between Admiral Wilson and the French Naval Attaché regarding the formulation of a joint naval code had been interrupted by René Pumperneel’s untimely death. However when the preceding Naval Attaché, Captain Mercier de Lostende (who had conducted the somewhat bizarre 1908 talks with the Admiralty) returned to London for the funeral an opportunity was provided for the latest discussion to be continued. At the prompting of the French Ambassador, Paul Cambon, a meeting was arranged with Wilson to take advantage of Lostende’s temporary visit. This took place on 24 August, the day following the C.I.D. meeting, when Wilson was apprised of the three conventions agreed upon at the 1908 meeting. Although the first two – that Britain would have overall operational control but that each nation would have a clearly defined zone of action – met with Wilson’s approval, he wished to alter the third which dealt with the defence of the Straits of Dover, originally a French task, but which it was now proposed to assign to both forces; as a concession, it was suggested that the French sphere in the Mediterranean could be extended eastward to include the Gulf of Taranto.[8] This would appear, at first, to be in accord with the French doctrine of 1907 of concentrating in the Mediterranean. However, early in July 1910, the French Naval General Staff had issued new instructions (apparently dictated by the current unsuitability of Toulon to meet the needs of the fleet) that the new point of concentration would be Brest, on the Atlantic coast — the German Navy was to be defeated first before the victorious French navy then re-entered the Mediterranean to deal with the Austrians and Italians. Only if the British were active allies, which they were singularly reluctant to become, would the French revert to the original plan of a Mediterranean concentration. The result, therefore, was that Grey’s supposed “free hand”, by which he encouraged the French to pursue a certain course of action without definitely entering into a commitment upon which the French could count, had thrown the Mediterranean position wide open, virtually giving a clear reign to the dreadnoughts then being completed in Italian and Austrian yards which could command the sea unopposed.[9]

                Two events tipped the balance in France’s, and incidentally Britain’s, favour. In March 1911 Theophile Delcassé assumed the onerous responsibility of French Minister of Marine and sought immediately to raise the prestige and fighting value of the French fleet. In this forbidding task he was successful: in his first year of office it was the opinion of the Naval Annual that no navy had made greater progress. Secondly, between Delcassé’s accession and September 1911 the six “semi-dreadnoughts” of the Danton class entered service to form the First Squadron of the French Mediterranean Fleet. Despite being laid down after the Dreadnought in 1906-7 the ships mounted only four 12-inch guns with a large secondary battery of twelve 9.4-inch. Although they were powered by turbine engines these were ‘little known in the French navy’ which resulted in a ‘number of mishaps on their trials’ with consequent delay.[10] Nevertheless, they represented a powerful squadron solely in terms of the Mediterranean balance of power.

                The 1911 French manoeuvres were scheduled to commence on 5 September. Ships of all classes made their way to Toulon where, on the 4th in the presence of President Fallières and many prominent members of the Government, a great review was held. With the whole of the fleet under way, it was described as ‘the most important French naval demonstration…since 1901.’[11] Notwithstanding the fact that the doctrine of concentrating against Germany remained in force, powerful visions of Mediterranean dominance appeared before the awe-struck onlookers. Overcome by the display of naval power, a wireless expert and interpreter, Lieutenant Charles Gignon, was quickly dispatched to London. Gignon, acting upon Delcassé’s personal orders,[12] brought with him a new secret code to be used in time of war and, more importantly, a proposed modification to the second convention concerning the zones to be assigned to each power. The French, now confident of their command of the sea, sought to extend their zone to cover the whole of the Mediterranean, including operations against both Italy and Austria, and to guarantee ‘the security of navigation in this region within the limits that it can be guaranteed by a fleet which is the mistress of the sea.’ This was precisely what Fisher had proposed in 1908. Diplomatic sanction of the operational changes would not be forthcoming, a fact which was also tacitly accepted by the French. Paul Cambon judiciously briefed Gignon beforehand not to expect anything in writing due to Fisher’s legacy by which the Admiralty had convinced itself ‘that it was surrounded by a net of spies in the pay of Germany and had on many occasions proof of important leakages on the most secret questions’.[13] Wilson accepted the proposals after a further modification: he foresaw that, at the commencement of hostilities, the French would not be strong enough to cover both the Adriatic and the west coast of Italy and so would be unable to prevent raids by enemy cruisers. For the purposes of commerce protection therefore Britain had to maintain cruisers in the Mediterranean, a proviso which matched precisely the strategic interpretation of the new French C-in-C. After three days hectic work, Gignon raced back to Paris on 7 September with the results of his handiwork. But there was to be no immediate follow-up. The explanation for this dilatoriness lay in a combination of events: Admiral Wilson’s departure on leave soon after; the upheaval at the Admiralty following McKenna’s displacement; and the continued absence in London of a French Naval Attaché.[14]

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                Although the July 1911 French war orders continued to stipulate that Brest would be the main base from which action would be in a conflict between France alone and either Germany or the Triple Alliance, Delcassé did not expect to have to face Germany unaided. In the, to Delcassé, almost certain eventuality that Britain would defend the northern coast of France, it made little sense to station the newest French ships at an Atlantic port.[15] Therefore, on 31 October 1911, by ministerial decree, the new French First Squadron of Dantons combined with the Second Squadron to form the First Armée Navale, based at Toulon, under the command of Vice-Admiral Boué de Lapeyrère, a former Minister of Marine. A third squadron, of old battleships only, would be based at Brest.[16] The euphoria of the great review of September had, by this time, passed and Lapeyrère saw things in a clearer light: ‘His first preoccupation,’ the British Naval Attaché reported,

and the one that would put him in a most difficult position, would be to know whether Italy would join her allies in case of such a war [with Germany]. Of Austria he considers there is no doubt at all, but the impression prevails that Italy would not definitely cast in her lot with either side until that side had gained some advantage.

                To start with it may be stated that the Admiral considers with his present force of 12 battleships and 6 armoured cruisers, all fully commissioned, he can hold the command of the Mediterranean, with the following reservations: first, he cannot guarantee the safe passage of the Algerian Army Corps to France, a point on which the General Staff of the Army insist, unless he has been reinforced by the Third Battle Squadron of 6 older battleships, who are usually stationed in Northern Waters; secondly he cannot guarantee the security of commerce in the Mediterranean without assistance from British cruisers.[17]

The Admiral was in agreement with his English counterpart that, while the French blocked the western exit of the Mediterranean, the British should block the Adriatic. In other words, despite their previous promises, the French Mediterranean Fleet would not be able to achieve either of its two primary objectives without assistance.

                Lapeyrère’s reservations were reinforced in February 1912 when Vice-Admiral Marie Aubert resumed the position of Chief of the Naval General Staff. Aubert looked at the plan to concentrate against Germany and did not like what he saw. In particular, the position of the Third Squadron at Brest was isolated and vulnerable: at the start of a war the ‘German fleet required less time to steam from Wilhelmshaven to Brest than it took the Third Squadron to complete its crews and get underway.’[18] In addition, the planned Italian and Austrian building programmes would place France in a position of inferiority. The solution was obvious and the dispatch of the Third Squadron to the Mediterranean was eventually sanctioned by Delcassé although a cruiser squadron would remain in the northern port. Thus, apart from the continued though temporary presence of six British pre-dreadnoughts at Malta, the wartime dispositions of the British and French fleets in the Mediterranean had been settled between the two Admiralties amounting to an unauthorized informal alliance and, at least on the British side, with few in the know and almost nothing committed to paper.

                While, with good cause, Wilson might not have trusted the politicians, his mania for secrecy, rivalled by Fisher’s, extended even to the British Naval Attaché in Paris. Captain Howard Kelly later recorded that:

One day I was calling on M. Delcassé, the Minister of Marine, and in the course of our conversation he made some reference to the agreement which existed between the [British] Admiralty and the Ministry of Marine concerning action in the event of war with Germany. Of this agreement I had no knowledge at all, and I answered to the best of my ability as if I knew all about it. I finally withdrew. I was seething with indignation. I took the afternoon train to London with the intention of resigning my appointment. The next morning I saw the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, who was not an easy person to confront, and having told him what M. Delcassé had said I pointed out that my position was impossible, and suggested that if I had not got the confidence of the Admiralty it would be better to appoint someone who had. Sir Arthur, as may be expected was quite unperturbed by my attack and said I could go and see the newly appointed Chief of the Naval Staff and find out all about it. I then returned to Paris and asked at the Ministry of Marine if I could see their record of the transaction which I suggested I should copy out and take to London to check with the Admiralty copy as there appeared to me to be various discrepancies. This was done and it was found that there were material differences which were cleared up, and finally the draft of the Ministry of Marine was accepted as correct.[19]

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It had become apparent after the August C.I.D. meeting, as Haldane subsequently pointed out to the General,[20] that Henry Wilson had, on the day, won over Asquith, Lloyd George, Grey and Churchill, with McKenna the only dissentient amongst the politicians present. Admiral Arthur Wilson, conversely, not only did a disservice to his own cause, but also prevented a wider examination of the War Office proposals; in particular, Admiral Wilson’s abysmal performance prevented a more thorough investigation of the Army’s scheme, with its emphasis upon simultaneous mobilization with the French, concomitant with the dispatch of all six British divisions.[21] The outer ring of the Cabinet – Morley, Crewe, Harcourt, Loreburn and what were derisively termed ‘the small fry’ by Henry Wilson – who were deliberately excluded would not, in any event, have counted for much as they were, peculiarly it would seem, ‘opposed to all idea of war.’ This otherwise admirable propensity should not have disqualified them from the debate on the War Office proposals; however Haldane and Henry Wilson were determined that the ‘wasters’ (another of the General’s derogatory descriptions) should not be allowed to act as the Cabinet’s conscience.[22] This position was occupied, by default, by Asquith; the Prime Minister’s anxiety regarding the dispatch of all six divisions had been evident at the C.I.D. However, the second thoughts he had now developed concerned only the extent of the military commitment —not the commitment itself. ‘Sir A. Wilson’s “plan” can only be described as puerile,’ Asquith informed Haldane on 31 August, ‘and I have dismissed it at once as wholly impracticable. The impression left on me, after consideration of the whole discussion, is … that, in principle, the General Staff scheme is the only alternative but … that it should be limited in the first instance to the dispatch of 4 divisions. Grey agrees with me, and so (I think) does Winston.’[23]

                Winston, in fact, did not entirely agree. Churchill’s still unformed opinion was moulded by a letter he received from Lloyd George, written two days after the C.I.D. meeting, by which time the Chancellor had left London for Criccieth where he sat, pondered, and feared the worst. Lloyd George was less than enamoured of the proposition that the British force should act as no more than an adjunct on the left wing of the French army. ‘What about Belgium?’ he inquired, following the line he evidently believed had been too rapidly discounted on 23 August. The British Expeditionary Force, ‘supporting the Belgian army on the German flank would’, he maintained, ‘be a much more formidable proposition than the same number of troops extending the French line.’ Lloyd George speculated that the fear on an attack on their flank would force the Germans to divert at least half-a-million troops to protect their lines of communication. Additionally, British command of the sea would make the great fort at Antwerp ‘impregnable’, and it was upon this position that the Anglo-Belgian army should pivot.[24] It did not take long for Churchill’s views to converge with those of the Chancellor. Churchill was soon writing to inquire of Henry Wilson whether, ‘If Belgium were our ally w[oul]d it not be better to send the whole army to Antwerp & act against the German flank than simply to take posts on the left of the French. If the consequences of such a promise were to bring the Belgians in — ought we not to make the promise.’[25]

                Asquith’s own misgivings were not assuaged by the sudden awakening of strategic insight in both Churchill and Lloyd George. Of the two the “conversion” of Churchill was, perhaps, more foreseeable. As the memorable heatwave continued,[26] the protracted crisis prevented Grey ‘from enjoying the glorious weather at Fallodon’ to the full; as other ministers decamped to escape the limited attractions of a baking capital, ‘One other colleague, not tied to London by official work’ kept Grey company ‘for the love of the crisis’.[27] Grey’s companion was, of course, Churchill; it was, in the circumstances, perhaps with an added sense of relief that Grey, despite the denial in his memoirs, did manage to escape for a few days, north to Fallodon, after the C.I.D. meeting, leaving Churchill a free reign. One other member of the C.I.D. also not joining the exodus was Sir Henry Wilson. Churchill spent the afternoon of 28 August deep in discussion with Wilson, who reiterated his belief that a ‘Belgium, hostile to Germany, would mean that the line of the Meuse was secure, that the fortresses of Namur and Liège and the work at Huy were impregnable.’ The consequence of this would be that the British force would have ‘an open and friendly country’ to operate in, while here would be ‘a constant and ever increasing menace to the German right flank and the German line of communication.’ Finally, and ‘most important of all’, the ‘superiority in German numbers could not be brought into play’ against the French for fear of a flank attack.[28] After the discussion had ended, Churchill asked Wilson for a letter, which could be shown to both Asquith and Lloyd George, on the following topics: ‘Policy; Value of Antwerp; Confining Germans south of Meuse; Strength of Russia.’ Wilson did as instructed and forwarded a long letter the next day, in which he ‘wrote freely on policy and strategy going hand in hand.’

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                The more that politicians such as Churchill and Lloyd George could be made to accept the necessity for the British Expeditionary Force to operate on the Continent, whether in conjunction with the Belgian army, as Wilson would have preferred, or on the flank of the French army, which was still the preferred War Office option,[29] the more that policy would be dictated by considerations of strategy. Such was the size and detailed nature of the military commitment that, once the finer points of either military strategy were settled, the question of policy would become irrelevant.[30] Just in case, there was one other method by which policy would cease to be dictated by politicians: once an alliance was definitely concluded, the military minds could plan to their heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that they would be free thereafter from political interference. It was no surprise, therefore, that Wilson was ‘especially anxious to enforce the necessity of a policy, the particular policy which I advocated being an offensive and defensive alliance of England, France, Belgium, Denmark and Russia.’[31] Primed with Wilson’s opinion, Churchill, now a thorough-going disciple, wrote to Grey on 30 August with the helpful suggestion that, should the Morocco negotiations fail, Britain, France and Russia should form a triple alliance ‘to safeguard (inter alia) the independence of Belgium, Holland and Denmark.’ Britain, Churchill proposed, should come to Belgium’s aid militarily in the event of a violation of neutrality, contingent upon the Belgian Army taking the field. ‘Let me add’, he continued, ‘that I am not at all convinced about the wisdom of a close blockade, and I did not like the Admiralty statement. If the French send cruisers to Mogador and Saffi, I am of opinion that we should (for our part) move our main fleet to the north of Scotland into its own station. Our interests are European, and not Moroccan. The significance of the movement would be just as great as if we sent our two ships with the French.’[32] Churchill asked for the letter to be sent on to Asquith.

                Grey, still at Fallodon, replied that he would be in London again on 4 and 5 September if Churchill wished to discuss matters.[33] Meanwhile, Churchill had a further discussion with Henry Wilson on 31 August on the ‘great strategic advantages [which] w[oul]d be immediately derived from our being able to move into a friendly Belgium, and from being able to threaten the German flank in conjunction with the Belgian army.’ The only sour note was struck when Wilson mentioned the doubtful view entertained by Sir William Nicholson as to the ‘utility’ of the Belgian Army.[34] Churchill promptly informed Lloyd George of what had passed between himself and Wilson and hoped that ‘we shall be in pretty close accord.’ According to the newspapers, ‘the Belgians are taking steps to hold the Liège-Namur line’, which Churchill thought ‘excellent’, but was this of their own accord, or at French prompting? The Belgians, Churchill warned Lloyd George, must ‘be made to defend themselves.’

How do we know [the Home Secretary continued] what their secret relations with Germany are? All their interests are with the French; but it is possible that British neglect & German activities may have led to some subterranean understanding — for instance, that the Germans sh[oul]d not go above the Namur-Liège line, & that the Belgians, in consideration of this, should forbid either British or French troops to come to their aid. This w[oul]d deprive us at once of the Belgian army and of the strategic position on the German flank, as well as of a casus belli wh[ich] everyone here w[oul]d understand. Wilson said in conversation that Anglo-Belgian co-operation, promptly applied to the German flank, might mean the subtraction of as much as 10 or 12 divisions from the decisive battle front. But I have grave misgivings lest we may be too late, and that the Belgians are got at already. I hope also that you will think well of my idea of meeting any fresh German move at Agadir, not by sending ships in concert with the French, but by moving the fleet to its Scottish station, where it w[oul]d be at once the most effective & least provocative support to France, & a real security to this country. It is not for Morocco, nor indeed for Belgium, that I w[oul]d take part in this terrible business. One cause alone c[oul]d justify our participation — to prevent France from being trampled down & looted by the Prussian junkers — a disaster ruinous to the world, & swiftly fatal to our country.[35]

Once again, fear of French weakness became a determining factor in the formulation of policy. Lloyd George similarly pestered Grey with his thoughts on strategy which included his belief that the crisis had demonstrated the need for ‘great expenditure’ on national defence which had ‘been stinted up to now.’

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                Churchill saw Henry Wilson yet again on Monday, 4 September. By now a number of disparate pieces of information, from sources apparently more reliable than newspaper reports, had been received which, when combined, pointed to the possibility of a surprise German attack. First, Churchill was notified by the Secretary of the C.I.D. that, on 5 September, ‘the entire German High Sea Fleet (25 modern battleships, 5 armoured cruisers, 11 smaller cruisers and about 80 torpedo craft) will be concentrated at Kiel…’ This ‘imposing force’, Ottley added, ‘would call for no remark if we could feel sure that the sky was clear, but that is just what I don’t feel certain about!’ Then Churchill learned that the Belgians ‘have hurried as many as 4000 infantry into Liège, & it is probable that a similar number are in Namur’; further, the Germans had allegedly concentrated twelve regiments of cavalry on the border, at Malmedy; and, finally, Captain Vernon Kell, head of the recently formed Secret Service, reported ‘that the price of flour has risen today by 6/– on large German purchases in “floating bottoms” otherwise destined for this country.’[36]

                Grey, who returned to London that day, was alarmed by his colleagues’ martial enthusiasm: the last thing he needed was another provocative public utterance, another Mansion House. In an attempt to ‘restrain their ardour’ Grey dined with Churchill at the Café Royal on 4 September.[37] As they supped, in another part of London Henry Wilson received a letter in the late post from one of his officers in Bavaria which, he considered, ‘of such importance as describing the present warlike temper of the German people’ that he telephoned the restaurant and asked Grey and Churchill to come to his house. They arrived soon after 11 pm and stayed just over an hour; long enough for Wilson to get out his maps ‘with the French and German troops laid out on them, which interested them greatly.’ Grey left, promising that, if the present crisis passed without war, he would consider Wilson’s proposal for a five-nation defensive alliance.[38] Churchill was again closeted with Wilson the following morning, by which time the situation appeared to have calmed markedly. The news from Berlin was now ‘quite indeterminate’ and Churchill had since ascertained that Captain Kell’s alarming ‘flour news’ was ‘all wrong’. There had been a rise in prices, but this was symptomatic of a bad harvest and nothing else.[39] In itself this might not have been enough to soothe frayed nerves; perhaps, therefore, Churchill’s new found insouciance could be explained by the fact that he was just about to depart for a week’s vacation at Dieppe. With Churchill no longer on the scene in London, the flow of correspondence offering advice to Grey ceased abruptly.

                It did not take long after the Home Secretary’s return for the flow to commence once more. Churchill was back in London on 12 September, where he was joined for dinner by Lloyd George, who had returned from Criccieth. By this time, Churchill and Lloyd George were also in agreement with Henry Wilson’s insistence upon simultaneous mobilization with the French and the dispatch of all six divisions.[40] On the following day Churchill, apparently alarmed once more, now that his holiday had finished, inquired of Asquith whether the ships presently at Cromarty were ‘strong enough to defeat the whole German High Sea fleet? If not they sh[oul]d be reinforced without delay.’ Churchill’s endeavour to be transferred to the Admiralty had begun in earnest. Unimpressed by Admiral Wilson’s continued sang froid, Churchill questioned Asquith:

Are you sure that the Admiralty realise the serious situation of Europe? … After his revelation the other day I cannot feel implicit confidence in [Sir Arthur] Wilson. No man of real power c[oul]d have answered so foolishly. The Adm[iralt]y have ample strength at their disposal. They have only to be ready & to employ it wisely. But one lapse, as stupid as that revealed at our meeting, and it will be the defence of England rather than that of France which will engage us.[41]

Churchill’s sense of unease was heightened when he learned that ‘practically everybody of importance & authority [at the Admiralty] is away on his holidays, except [Admiral] Wilson who goes tomorrow.’ When Sir William Nicholson expressed surprise at this state of affairs, he had been informed by Arthur Wilson that ‘everything was ready, & that all that was necessary was to press the button, which could as well be done by a clerk as by anyone else.’ Churchill could only ‘hope this may be so.’[42]

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                How much of this was actual anxiety, and how much the product of his own desire for the Admiralty is a moot point. The perception by this time, however, was that most of the steam had gone out of the crisis. The consensus at the Foreign Office now favoured a settlement, while Churchill’s own opinion of French military prowess had been buoyed following a chance meeting with Kitchener[43] who was ‘much more respectful about French chances and military qualities.’ Furthermore, Huguet — still the French Military Attaché — had told Kitchener that the Germans would not make a move, as they were waiting for winter ‘because at that season Russia c[oul]d not move.’[44] Churchill immediately telephoned Henry Wilson to tell him the good news, only to be informed by the General that this was the ‘exact opposite to the truth’ and that the ‘best months for Russian movement are September to March.’[45] Wilson, at the very least, should have been able to put Huguet straight, as he had seen the Military Attaché five days previously and, like Churchill and Grey before him, had shown Huguet his maps ‘with German and French troops on them’. So ‘immensely struck’ was Huguet by this that he at once volunteered to Wilson ‘where the French G[eneral] S[taff] want us to go, and what their plans are.’[46] Wilson himself would travel to Paris at the end of the month for detailed consultations with Joffre and his staff at the French War Office. ‘They were most cordial and open’, Wilson confided to his diary.

They showed me papers and maps, copies of which they are giving me, showing the concentration areas of their northern armies. Intensely interesting. Then they showed me papers and maps…showing in detail the area of concentration for all our Expeditionary Force. We had a long discussion. Afterwards we went though many other matters. They also showed me a map, and are giving me a copy, showing 15 through roads in lower Belgium. They told me of a Kriegspiel held by the Great General Staff in Berlin in 1905, a copy of which, with v. Moltke’s remarks, was in their possession. In fact, by 12.30 I was in possession of the whole of their plan of campaign for their northern armies, and also for ours.[47]

                The French openness was not the result of altruism, but was guided more by fears of Wilson’s loyalty to the scheme of joint action with the French.[48] Wilson was not the only British officer to enjoy Joffre’s confidences. Colonel Fairholme, the British Military Attaché in Paris, had forwarded the report of an interview with Joffre late in August which was sufficient to awaken other, more substantial, doubts in Asquith’s mind; these doubts were then fuelled by a counter-attack from an unexpected quarter.

                Although, according to Loreburn’s subsequent recollection, it appeared already ‘that everything had been arranged for the landing of a force of 150,000 men on the French coast down to the minutest detail of the time of departure and arrival of the trains and the stations at which they should get refreshments’,[49] this did not mean that the inner circle of the Cabinet would be allowed to triumph in their fait accompli. Loreburn, Morley and Harcourt would go on the offensive. ‘I greatly fear that France expects our military and naval support’, Loreburn warned Grey some days after the C.I.D. meeting. ‘I fear’, he continued, ‘that we have been drifting in this business, and that in a very natural desire to avoid making up our minds prematurely, and to avoid telling disagreeable things to our French neighbours, we have got into a position in which it will be more difficult than it would have been at an earlier stage. But I suggest to you that it is only fair to the French to tell them plainly that even if you and the Government desired to join them in any war against Germany, it is at least doubtful whether it would be possible to obtain the support of the country in such a course.’[50]

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                Thus alerted, Grey began to prepare the groundwork for his own defence. In his own opinion, ‘an assurance that in the case of war between Germany and France we should remain neutral would not conduce to peace. Even if I thought such a statement should be made either to Germany or France it could not be made except as the result of a Cabinet decision.’[51] The Cabinet, which had not been informed of the military conversations, was now the only body which could veto what, the Radicals may have reasoned, was the logical outcome of those talks. Loreburn took his feeling of disquiet with him and approached Asquith, whom he ‘begged…to wrestle with Grey’. Although Asquith was ‘friendly’,[52] and admitted that he ‘largely agreed with’ Loreburn, the Lord Chancellor doubted that anything would come of it.[53] Yet, something was to come of it. Asquith’s doubts now extended to the very nature of the commitment. He wrote to Grey on 5 September: ‘Conversations such as that between Gen. Joffre and Col. Fairholme seem to me rather dangerous; especially the part which refers to possible British assistance. The French ought not to be encouraged, in present circumstances, to make their plans on any assumptions of this kind.’ Grey replied three days later:

It would create consternation if we forbade our military experts to converse with the French. No doubt these conversations and our speeches have given an expectation of support. I do not see how that can be helped. The news to-day is that the Germans are proceeding leisurely with the negotiations, and are shifting the ground from the Congo to economic concessions in Morocco. Cambon has just been to see me, and on the whole thinks well of the prospect. To me it looks as if the negotiations were going to enter upon exceedingly tedious but not dangerous ground.[54]

                Increasingly, Grey would become the focus of Radical anger: the Foreign Secretary was, in Loreburn’s opinion, ‘hopeless and impervious to any argument. It was impossible to control him in detail, yet everything depends in diplomacy on the handling of detail.’[55] The problem with focusing on Grey personally was that he was the one member of Asquith’s Cabinet who might justify the description ‘indispensable’. ‘Grey no doubt ought to go,’ admitted Loreburn, ‘but who was there to take his place? Either Churchill or Haldane would be worse, the one irresponsible the other with his closed mind and passion for intrigue. Morley was now really senile and Crewe was not at all the same man since his illness. Birrell, honest and able fellow, would be the best. But in any case the resignation of Grey would mean the break-up of the Cabinet as probably George, Churchill and Haldane would go with him.’ The ‘root of the recent mischief’, in Loreburn’s opinion, ‘was the perversion of the friendly understanding with France into an alliance but that was a subtle thing and how could you prevent it except by changing the Minister? You could not take a vote in the Cabinet on an abstract proposition.’[56]

  While the Radicals formulated their own strategy, by late September a further complication had arisen in the Mediterranean. On the day of the Panthersprung (1 July) the Italian Premier, San Giuliano, had duly been informed of the act by the German Ambassador. Upon the emissary leaving, San Giuliano pulled out his watch. It was five minutes to midday. The Premier announced to his Under-Secretary of State that, ‘from that moment the question of Tripoli had entered on an active phase.’ Thereafter, the British Ambassador noted, ‘the process of preparing public opinion for what was to take place at the end of September began.’[57] Italy had long coveted Ottoman Tripoli; here, with the rest of Europe temporarily distracted, was the perfect opportunity. The build-up was typical, beginning with an Italian protest to the Turks regarding the alleged ill-treatment of Italian subjects in the Tripolitaine province. The Turks countered by strengthening the defences of the ports in the region. By 23 September Italian merchant vessels in Turkish harbours were being warned to leave. Two days later an Italian Note was presented to Turkey ‘complaining of the continuance of this state of unrest, protesting against attempts to rouse the inhabitants of Tripoli to molest Italian citizens, and recommending Turkey to refrain from sending reinforcements to Northern Africa.’[58]

                The Note was followed by an ultimatum on 28 September with a reply being required within twenty-four hours. Predictably, the reply was considered unsatisfactory. At the expiration of the time limit – 2:30 p.m. on Friday, 29 September 1911 – war was declared. Although Churchill himself was then “on leave” the diversions of Balmoral in early autumn could not restrain him; he wrote privately to Sir Arthur Nicolson at the Foreign Office on 26 September to seek confirmation from the Permanent Under-Secretary that he (Churchill) ‘rightly apprehended the bearing of this affair.’ Churchill could visualize three effects of the coming Turco-Italian war. First, Turkey would be thrown into Germany’s arms more than ever, ‘thus making the complete causeway: Germany – Austria – Roumania – Turkey.’ Second, Italy would become detached from the Triple Alliance and, therefore, ‘desirous of the support of France and England.’ Third, German irritation would be increased when France, ‘the vanquished nation’, secured Morocco, and Italy, ‘the poor spinster ally’, secured ‘the noble possession of Tripoli.’ Despite this, it was Churchill’s opinion that, ‘clearly we must prefer Italy to Turkey on all grounds — moral and unmoral’, though he felt bound to add, in a coy admission, that these were ‘crude views of ignorance, and the anxieties of a judgment suspended by wisdom.’[59]

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                Nicolson’s reply, recommending a “wait and see” approach, reached Churchill at Archerfield, where Asquith was holidaying and to which Churchill had been invited. Just a mile from the Firth of Forth, the old house, loaned to Asquith by his brother-in-law, had been enlarged by Robert Adam in 1790 and boasted a private nine-hole golf course. But it was not the lure of the links that attracted Churchill, rather it was the chance formally to stake his claim to the Admiralty. Indeed he had departed from Balmoral so early in the morning as to leave the impression he was going to visit his mother, also holidaying in Scotland.[60] Churchill’s own (uncharacteristically reticent) account states that, walking back from the links the day after he arrived, Asquith asked him ‘quite abruptly’ whether he would like the Admiralty. ‘Indeed I would’, replied the Home Secretary with alacrity. Asquith then confessed that Haldane was coming over the next day and they could discuss the matter, but Churchill knew the prize was his. He saw that Asquith’s mind was made up.

                As if the whole matter had been pre-determined, at that moment, Churchill saw an earthly vision: ‘The fading light of evening disclosed in the far distance the silhouettes of two battleships steaming slowly out of the Firth of Forth. They seemed invested with a new significance to me.’[61] His conversion was now complete. Haldane duly arrived the following day, having motored over from nearby Cloan immediately upon his arrival. What hopes and expectations accompanied the Secretary of State for War as he bounced over the Scottish roads that September day? The dream, however, rapidly transformed into a nightmare as Haldane turned into the drive of Archerfield. There, to greet him, was not Asquith but Churchill. ‘It was as I thought’, Haldane would later record,

Churchill was importunate about going himself to the Admiralty…He had told Asquith that the First Lord must be in the Commons. As I was by now in the Lords this looked like a difficulty. But I saw the situation was too critical to permit of any such difficulty standing in the way. I had no desire to be First Lord, but if a real Naval War Staff were to be created and the Admiralty were to be convinced of its necessity, that must be done by someone equipped with the knowledge and experience that were essential for fashioning a highly complicated organisation. Now where was he to be found?

Asquith certainly agreed that, politically, the First Lord should be in the Commons whereas Haldane had become a Viscount in March; eventually this simple expedient would provide the Prime Minister with a convenient excuse. With an established power base at the War Office the prospect of allowing Haldane, at the Admiralty, ‘to establish what for all practical purposes would have been a de facto ministry of defence, thereby appropriating to himself wholly new powers hitherto unexercised even by a Prime Minister’ was anathema to Asquith.[62] Additionally, while any change would be seen as a reprimand to the Admiralty, it would have been too severe if the “victor” of 23 August had scooped such a reward: ‘the Navy’, Asquith candidly admitted, ‘would not take kindly in the first instance to new organisation imported direct from the War Office.’[63] Finally, Asquith may have reasoned that ‘by appointing Churchill to the Admiralty he could permanently detach him (and perhaps Lloyd George as well) from the “economist” wing of the party’ with the enviable result that ‘the cohesion of the Government would be considerably increased.’[64]

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                The sophistry of this last argument was not immediately apparent to Haldane. He complained to Grey that, as only a year ago Churchill ‘had been doing his best to cut down McKenna’s estimates…the Admiralty would receive the news of his advent with dismay. For they would think, wrongly or rightly, that as soon as the financial pinch begins to come, eighteen months from now, he would want to cut down.’[65] It was also to Grey that Haldane blurted the extent of his determination to get the Admiralty, an admission he was later to deny.[66] Asquith’s mind was set, but Haldane could not be made to see reason. The disappointed minister drove back to Cloan that night to devise a last-ditch strategy to wrest the prize from Churchill. When he returned the following day Asquith cynically shut Haldane and Churchill in a room and then withdrew to let them fight it out, whereupon Haldane played his last card: he offered Churchill the War Office. ‘The Navy and the public had to be convinced’, he argued,

of the necessity of scientific preparation for naval war by someone who already had carried out similar preparations with the only Service in which they had been made or even thought of. I was satisfied that in all probability I could accomplish what was wanted within twelve months, and if he would look after the Army till the end of that time I would return to it and he could then take over the Admiralty…And I said that, to be frank, I did not think that Churchill’s own type of mind was best for planning out the solution that was necessary for the problem which at the moment was confronting us. However, Churchill would not be moved, and Asquith yielded to him.[67]

                As distrust of Churchill extended to the highest in the land the Prime Minister felt the need to drive to Balmoral on 2 October to reassure the Sailor-King that the Navy would be safe in Churchill’s hands.[68] Also staying at Balmoral was Esher, still smarting at his exclusion from the C.I.D. meeting of 23 August.[69] Asquith saw the courtier on the morning of 4 October to discuss the planned changes at the Admiralty and the necessity to find a replacement for Wilson. The King, never averse to voicing an opinion in these matters, was ‘strongly in favour’ of Admiral Sir Hedworth Lambton,[70] who Esher thought would be ‘useless’ at the Admiralty. Asquith’s choice of Battenberg was ruled out after the P.M. sounded Lloyd George, who was ‘horrified at the idea of a German holding the supreme place.’ Almost by default, Jellicoe’s name was mentioned only to be damned by Esher’s faint praise of him as a ‘clever little fellow’. The choice would be difficult; doubly so when such a dynamic First Lord was shortly to be at the helm.

                Although determined to force reform upon the Admiralty, this by no means implied, as already indicated, that Asquith was a total convert to the War Office scheme. Asquith’s opposition to the General Staff scheme of landing the entire army in France was made clear to Esher, who noted in his journal that the P.M. ‘will not hear of the despatch of more than four Divisions.’ This gave Esher the chance to deliver the lecture he had been prevented – by his absence[71] – from giving in August. He reminded Asquith ‘that the mere fact of the War Office plan having been worked out in detail with the French General Staff (which is the case) has certainly committed us to fight, whether the Cabinet likes it or not, and that the combined plan of the General Staff holds the field.’ Esher, who shunned all forms of office, could nevertheless clearly see the damage that was being inflicted upon Cabinet Government by the ‘informal’ conversations. ‘It is certainly an extraordinary thing’, he recorded that evening in his Journal, ‘that our officers should have been permitted to arrange all the details, trains, landing, concentration, etc., when the Cabinet have never been consulted.’[72] This situation was not to persist for much longer.

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                Having seen off Haldane on the delicate subject of the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Asquith must have thought his problems were over. They were not. He wrote to McKenna on 10 October to ask him to transfer to the Home Office; McKenna did not want to go. Even so, his position was hopeless and he knew it. McKenna requested a stay of execution – at least until the end of the year – which Asquith first granted but then, amidst allegations by McKenna that he had been got at (by Churchill amongst others), Asquith insisted on an immediate changeover citing the dangers of ‘rumour and agitation’ which would follow the inevitable leak. There was also the practical necessity of ensuring that the 1912 estimates were prepared under the guidance of the new First Lord, and the fact that the King would shortly leave for India and would insist on presenting the seals of office personally to the new Home Secretary before leaving.[73] McKenna also travelled to Archerfield, on 20 October, for a fruitless debating session with Asquith, during which he repeated Esher’s argument that the very fact of the conversations encouraged the French, and to which he added the imputation that, thus encouraged, the French might provoke Germany. ‘If we failed to join them’, McKenna contended, ‘we should be charged with bad faith. If we joined in fact we should be plunged into war on their quarrel.’ McKenna argued,

that there certainly might be cases in which we ought to join in the war but that in no case should our troops be employed in the first instance and the French should never be encouraged by such a promise … The only chance for the French was to resist inch by inch, retreating all the while and defending themselves in trenches. If after twelve or six or three months the task was too heavy for them and English Army coming to their assistance might be an incalculable benefit.

Asquith replied that the French would receive no encouragement ‘while he was there’. McKenna then made the mistake of saying that the War Office or the Admiralty might ‘jump the claim’, at which Asquith protested that he was not ‘a figurehead pushed along against his will and without his knowledge by some energetic colleagues.’ Altogether, it was a rehearsal for the arguments which would be employed in 1914. Asquith would not budge from his, by now familiar but nonetheless disingenuous, response that there was ‘no danger so long as he was P.M. as he was opposed to the scheme.’[74]

                Such statements could not abate the swell of Radical anger. It had been known by the ‘inner circle’ for some time that Loreburn was ‘engaged in an active campaign’ in pursuance of his objective of Cabinet consultation following the exclusion of the Radicals from the C.I.D. cabal in the summer.[75] And, unlike the ‘abstract proposition’ referred to previously, this time there was something upon which the Cabinet could decide. On 1 November Morley, who had been chosen by the Radicals to lead off, was tiresome enough to raise, yet again, ‘the question of the inexpediency of communications being held or allowed between the General Staff of the War Office and the General Staff of foreign States, such as France, in regard to possible military co-operation, without the previous knowledge and directions of the Cabinet.’[76] Asquith, Grey and Haldane attempted, not entirely successfully, to defend themselves and the Cabinet adjourned without a conclusion being reached. As the members rose, Loreburn ‘remarked that he took it for granted that it was agreed nothing of the kind should ever occur again.’ Churchill would not leave well enough alone and remonstrated with Loreburn, who promptly declared that the Cabinet must meet again and ‘have the matter out’ once and for all. In the fortnight before the next meeting of the Cabinet two resolutions were drawn up, ‘together with a statement of facts which had given rise to them.’[77]

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                Churchill outlined his own position quite categorically to Grey after the Cabinet. As one could almost hear Grey sighing while Morley and the others registered their disapproval, Churchill’s explicit support for the Foreign Secretary was all the more welcome; he urged Grey to take a strong line regarding the military conversations as the Cabinet should have ‘an absolute right to have a free choice between peace and war’ which they could not retain ‘without constant and detailed communications between the British and French military authorities.’ This was based firmly on Churchill’s belief that war could only erupt through a German violation of Belgium and the invasion of France in ‘undisguised aggression.’[78]

                It was, however, specious of Churchill to deny that war could have occurred under any other circumstances: if German intransigence, coupled with French press and public hysteria, had resulted in a French declaration of war on Germany, what then would have been the British position? It would have been easy for Grey to deny that, in that event, the French should count on British support but how would his denials sound in the event of a German breakthrough and advance upon Paris? With the prospect of German troops occupying the Channel ports, could he maintain that the commitment was a moral one and British freedom of action remained unfettered?

                The ensuing meeting of the Cabinet on 15 November, during which Grey animatedly sought to defend the conversations, was decidedly acrimonious. At one point, when Loreburn, who threatened to resign, ‘pressed for an answer to the question “Why were we not told?” Asquith went as white as a sheet…’[79] As the Prime Minister informed the King, Grey again ‘made it clear that at no stage of our intercourse with France since January 1906 had we either by diplomatic or military engagements compromised our freedom of decision and action in the event of war between France and Germany.’

On the other hand there was a prevailing feeling in the Cabinet that there was a danger that communications of the kind referred to might give rise to expectations, and that they should not, if they related to the possibility of concerted action, be entered into or carried on without the sanction of the Cabinet. In the result, at the suggestion of the Prime Minister,[80] unanimous approval was given to the two following propositions:

(1)  That no communications should take place between the General Staff here and the Staffs of other countries which can, directly or indirectly, commit this country to military or naval intervention.

(2)  That such communications, if they relate to concerted action by land or sea, should not be entered into without the previous approval of the Cabinet.[81]

                In the second resolution, the word ‘previous’ was specifically insisted upon. ‘You are very suspicious’, commented Asquith; ‘We have reason to be’, replied Loreburn.[82] Grey, meanwhile, complained to Asquith that he thought the paragraph ‘a little tight’.[83] As the ‘delinquents’ were being made to sign the ‘statement of facts’ Grey, who had remained quiet during the latter part of the discussion, was heard to mutter, ‘I always said we ought to be fair to the Cabinet.’[84] As was to be a common feature of Asquith’s premiership, the Cabinet resolutions altered very little; not for so long as Henry Wilson remained on the scene.  Please click to go to the top of this page







[1]     Haldane, An Autobiography, pp. 227-8.

[2]     Quoted in Maurice, Haldane, pp. 283-4.

[3]     See, for example, Esher to Sandars, 25 October 1911, quoted in d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 256, n. 49.

[4]     Quoted in Roy Jenkins, Asquith, p. 241.

[5]     Esher to Spender, 8 August 1911, Spender mss., B.M. Add Mss 46392.

[6]     Riddell, diary entries for November 1911 and 7 March 1915, in McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries, pp. 25, 101-2

[7]     According to George Riddell, ‘During the period of strikes, Winston had a very difficult job. He started out be being perhaps too lenient, and was gradually forced into a very awkward and difficult position in relation to the working classes. I could see that the situation was weighing upon him very seriously and that his position at the Home Office was gradually becoming intolerable to him.’ Riddell, diary entry (undated) for November 1911, in McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries, pp. 25.

[8]     Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 9.

[9]     ‘In two years time is Armageddon!’ Fisher warned Churchill on 22 November: ‘The Kiel Canal finished. The German Navy at its best. The Austrian Dreadnoughts complete and France unready with her new ships…’ Fisher could only see salvation coming in the shape of Jellicoe and the ‘new batch of Winston’s Submarines and Destroyers…’ Fisher to Churchill, 22 November 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, p. 1341.

[10]    The Naval Annual, 1912, pp. 37-8.

[11]    Ibid., p. 36; Halpern, pp. 63-71.

[12]    Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 246.

[13]    PRO Adm 116/3109; Lumby, p. xv; Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 10; H I Lee, Medt Strategy and Anglo-French Relations, p. 270.

[14]    Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 246.

[15]    Ibid., p. 237.

[16]    Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 71.

[17]    Report of an Interview with Adl Boué de Lapeyrère, 21 January 1912, PRO Adm 116/3109.

[18]    Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 72.

[19]    Howard Kelly, Journal as Naval Attaché, Paris, 16.ii.1911 to 16.iii.1914, Kelly mss., NMM Kel 3, pp. 23-4. As Halpern has pointed out: ‘The result, not without its irony, is that the most detailed Admiralty record of the 1908 and 1911 conversations is apparently based on Kelly’s translation of the French reports.’ Medt Naval Situation, p. 11.

[20]    See Wilson’s diary entry, in Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 106. Haldane twice told Wilson how ‘amazingly’ well he had done.

[21]    Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 192.

[22]    Wilson’s diary entry in, Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 106.

[23]    Asquith to Haldane, 31 August 1911, quoted in, Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 193.

[24]    Lloyd George to Churchill, 25 August 1911, quoted in Gilbert, David Lloyd George, vol. I, p. 456. Lloyd George asked for his letter to be forwarded to Grey. Churchill was subsequently to admit that Lloyd George’s phrase ‘pivoting on Antwerp’ was much more correct than Churchill’s own ‘based on Antwerp’ which he had ‘rather loosely employed.’ Churchill to Lloyd George, 31 August 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1117

[25]    Churchill to Wilson, 30 August 1911, PRO Adm 116/3474.

[26]    Grey noted: ‘The summer of 1911 was one of splendid heat; such summer as comes seldom in England; it surpassed anything known in this generation. If my memory is correct, there were not less than thirteen days distributed through the summer when the temperature was 90 degrees or more in the shade — Greenwich reported 100 degrees on one day, but I have always doubted this figure: no other place got within 3 or 4 degrees of the 100. Still, it was very hot…’ Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. I, p. 229.

[27]    Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. I, p. 229.

[28]    Henry Wilson’s unpublished diary entry for 28 August 1911, quoted in, Wilson, The Policy of the Entente, p. 130.

[29]    See, Wilson, The Policy of the Entente, pp. 130-2.

[30]    See, Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy, p. 199.

[31]    Henry Wilson, diary entries for 28 and 29 August and 4 September 1911, in Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 102.

[32]    Churchill to Grey, 30 August 1911, PRO Adm 116/3474.

[33]    Grey to Churchill, 30 August 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1117-8.

[34]    Wilson’s continued advocacy of the ‘Belgian scheme’, despite opposition from Nicholson, is described in detail in Wilson, The Policy of the Entente, pp. 127-33.

[35]    Churchill to Lloyd George, 31 August 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1118-9; see also, Randolph Churchill, Winston S Churchill, vol. II, p. 530.

[36]    Ottley to Churchill, 2 September 1911; Churchill to Lloyd George, 4 September 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1119-21; Callwell, Wilson, p. 102.

[37]    Callwell, Wilson, p. 102. Grey also wrote to Lloyd George the following day: M. Dockrill, “David Lloyd George and Foreign Policy Before 1914”, in David Lloyd George; Twelve Essays, pp. 19-20.

[38]    Wilson’s diary entry for 4 September 1911, in Callwell, Wilson, p. 102.

[39]    Churchill to Lloyd George, 5 September 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, p. 1121

[40]    Gilbert, David Lloyd George, vol. I, p. 457 citing Sir Henry Wilson’s unpublished diary entry for 13 September 1911. See also, Wilson’s published diary entry for 14 September, in Callwell, Wilson, p. 103.

[41]    Churchill to Asquith, 13 September 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1123-4.

[42]    Churchill to Lloyd George, 14 September 1911, ibid., pp. 1124-5.

[43]    Kitchener was just about to go to Egypt as High Commissioner.

[44]    Churchill to Lloyd George, 14 September 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1124-5

[45]    Henry Wilson, diary entry for 14 September 1911, in Callwell, Wilson, p. 103.

[46]    Wilson maintained that ‘This is the first time I have been told.’ Henry Wilson, diary entry for 9 September 1911, in Callwell, Wilson, p. 103.

[47]    Henry Wilson, diary entry for 29 September 1911, in Callwell, Wilson, p. 104.

[48]    Wilson, The Policy of the Entente, p. 131.

[49]    C. P. Scott, diary entry for 23 October 1914, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 62.

[50]    Loreburn to Grey, 26 August 1911, in, Lowe and Dockrill, The Mirage of Power, vol. III, pp. 436-8.

[51]    Grey to Loreburn, 30 August 1911, ibid., p. 438.

[52]    This was not to expected automatically: there had been a ‘coolness’ between Asquith and Loreburn ‘owing to Asquith’s not having backed him as Loreburn thinks he ought on the Magistrates question’. C. P. Scott, diary entry for 1 December 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 57.

[53]    C. P. Scott, diary entry for 1 December 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 57. ‘The fatal thing’, according to Loreburn, ‘was that the Prime Minister who alone was in constant communication with Grey and alone could really influence him never attempted to influence him at all.’

[54]    Asquith to Grey, 5 September 1911 and Grey to Asquith, 8 September 1911, both in, Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. I, pp. 92-3.

[55]    ‘Thus’, added Loreburn, ‘at a critical moment in the Moroccan dispute, Grey had informed the German Ambassador that we should decline to recognise any agreement to which our assent had not been obtained and this had to be done on the authority of the Cabinet but he omitted to make it plain that this claim was asserted by us only in respect to our rights as signatories of the Treaty of Algeciras — and this made all the difference.’ Notes by C.P. Scott of a conversation with Lord Loreburn, 1 December 1911, in Lowe and Dockrill, The Mirage of Power, vol. III, p. 439; see also, Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, p. 56.

[56]    Ibid.

[57]    Sir James Rennell Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories, 1902-1919, p. 141.

[58]    The Naval Annual, 1912, pp. 146-7.

[59]    Churchill to Nicolson, private, 26 September 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/350. This view was not shared by Henry Wilson, who denounced Italy’s action as an ‘extraordinary piratical business.’ Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 105.

[60]    See, Winston S Churchill, Companion volume II, part ii, p. 1294.

[61]    Churchill, World Crisis, p. 62.

[62]    d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 256.

[63]    Asquith to Crewe, 7 October 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, p. 1295.

[64]    Jenkins, Asquith, p. 242.

[65]    Maurice, Haldane, p. 285.

[66]    d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 257.

[67]    Haldane, Autobiography, p. 231.

[68]    Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 249.

[69]    See, for example, Journal entry, 24 November 1911, in Oliver, Viscount Esher, (ed.), Journals and Letters of Reginald, Viscount Esher, (London, 1938), vol. III, p. 74.

[70]    The Admiral had just changed his name to Hedworth Meux.

[71]    Esher had, at the time, been recovering from an operation brought about by his exertions in organizing the recent Coronation.

[72]    Journal entry, 4 October 1911, Esher, Journals, vol. III, p. 61.

[73]    Knollys to Vaughan Nash, 18 October 1911, WSC, Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, p. 1296; Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 249; d’Ombrain, War Machinery, p. 258.

[74]    McKenna’s notes of the conversation are quoted in part in Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, pp. 250-1.

[75]    See, Lloyd George to Churchill, 15 September 1911, WSC Comp., vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1112-3.

[76]    Asquith to the King, 2 November 1911, PRO Cab 41/33/28. Asquith ended his report, ‘Considerable discussions ensued, and no conclusion was come to, the matter being adjourned for further deliberation later on.’

[77]    C.P. Scott, diary entry for 23 October 1914, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, pp. 62-3.

[78]    Churchill to Grey, 4 November 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt ii, pp. 1369-70.

[79]    C.P. Scott, diary entry for 23 October 1914, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, pp. 62-3.

[80]    Asquith’s letters to the King represent the only official account of Cabinet business at the time, and he was more or less free to write what he wanted. There are a number of occasions where a ‘suggestion’ was adopted, apparently at Asquith’s instigation, but which was originally put forward by another member of the Cabinet. This would appear to be such a case: Loreburn was later adamant that the two resolutions had been drawn up previously. Another explanation, of course, is that, using a lawyer’s way with words, it was the ‘universal approval’ of the two resolutions which was suggested by Asquith.

[81]    Asquith to the King, 16 November 1911, PRO Cab 41/33/29.

[82]    C.P. Scott, diary entry for 23 October 1914, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, pp. 62-3.

[83]    Grey’s comment was written on the original draft but was subsequently struck out. Jenkins, Asquith, p. 245.

[84]    C.P. Scott, diary entry for 23 October 1914, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, pp. 62-3.



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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HMS Berwick : Original artwork © 2004 Geoffrey Miller
HMS Berwick
[Original artwork © 2004 Geoffrey Miller]

  Geoffrey Miller can be contacted by:
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01262 850943  [International: +44 1262 850943]
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The Manor House,
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Secondary Navigation Copyright © 1995-2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be further reproduced by any means without the prior permission of the author, Geoffrey Miller, who has asserted his right in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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Home ContentsSearch Feedback Preface Introduction Superior Force Straits Chapter 1
Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10
Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19
Chapter 20 Summary Resurgam Bibliography Index Ordering Order Form Biographies Links

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