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had averted the dangers of 191 7. We had passed
from one extreme to another. There was a helms-
man, who, if pluck and energy are the qualities
most needed by the pilot who is to weather the
storm, has no equal in these virtues, still less a
superior, in the whole history of our Parliament,
which, by a singular piece of good fortime, pro-
duced him just when we needed him most ; the very
opposite in this respect of the weak and wavering
Mr. Asquith. And there was a new helm of a new
pattern, to which the whole ship answered at a



touch. The threat of starvation made by the
U-boats, the great danger of 191 7, had now been
averted by the rapid and innumerable edicts of the
War Cabinet, which in one year had almost trans-
formed our social system. If unity of command
had done so much at home, it was natural for Mr.
Lloyd George to think that it might be no less
effective abroad.

For the war did not present itself to the national
leaders of the Alliance in the same shape as to the
public, which entertained, and still entertains, the
flattering idea that we had been struggling against
immense odds. This was one of the many fictions
with which it had always been considered neces-
sary to drug the nation, though their devotion
always had been equal to any sacrifice, and their
fortitude to any deprivation ; but the truth was, and
could not appear as anything else to the leaders,
that we were big and our adversaries small. For
years the Germans had stood at bay, surrounded
by more numerous enemies, who had failed to over-
come them.

It therefore might be considered that the Al-
lied policy had been wrong. Mr. Lloyd George
thought so and said so, though the other lead-
ers sitting round the table might be satisfied to



wait until the knot iintied itself instead of trying
to untie it.

There was a remarkable likeness between the
three Premiers — Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and
Orlando. They all three united in themselves ab-
solutely contrary qualities. Eloquent men have
unguarded, tmsuspicious, impulsive temperaments,
and cimning men are inarticulate and ineloquent.
But they all three were both incunng and eloquent,
and the conjtmction of these opposites is probably
what makes a great parliamentarian, as they all
three were. This is perhaps why he is so rare.
Suspicious and circuitous in their dealings, the most
persuasive and real rhetoric, that struggles to con-
vince and win, quite unlike the vapid speech of
formal public utterance, gushed from them at once.

But the British statesman (and Lord Milner
was the complement of Lloyd George, as if provided
by nature to supply the natural deficiencies of the
Prime Minister) siirpassed all the others both in
will and insight; in will, because they were resolved
to seize and mould coming events, and not wait
timidly on their occurrence; in insight, because
they could see the whole interests of the Alliance
as well as the British national interest. The
French statesmen were, without exception, jour-


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nalists, and far better at discussing than doing.
Clemenceau was the most amiable of old men, and,
if a tiger, as he was called, only a stuffed nursery
tiger, more endearing than formidable. But,
always quivering with patriotic emotion, he was all
haste and impulse, and would apply to a knot
neither the patient understanding nor steady per-
severance without which it cotdd not be unravelled.
In the minds of almost every one sitting round the
red baize table at Versailles, the uppermost thought
was the security of their own place and the advan-
tage of their own country. This was transparent
as soon as they opened their mouths. But the
uppermost thought in Mr. Lloyd George's mind
was to find the way out and take it and win the
war, whatever he risked. In spite of his oblique
and subterranean methods; his inveterate taste
for low and unscrupulous men; of the distrust felt
for him by his favourites, even at the height of
their favour; of his superficial, slipshod, and hasty
mind; this determination of character made him,
without any assumption on his part, the leader of
the Alliance. The half-deified chiefs, whom the
prostrate Germans worshipped as idols, never
ceased to proclaim what magniloquently they called
their will to victory. But none of them ever had it



like this little Welsh lay preacher and attorney,
who remained so deeply stamped with the charac-
teristics of these early occupations, even at this
sublime elevation of power.

Now that the Russians and Roimianians were
out, or going out, the Germans were sure to be equal
again on the West, and during the summer of 191 8
to be rather bigger.

In January, 191 7, there had been 127 German
divisions in France; in December, 191 7, there were
151 ; in January, 19 18, 158. It was like watching a
river rise, which rises only inch by inch, but which
may, after a certain level, flood and sweep away
everything. After keeping off so many enemies at
such a great disadvantage, the Germans might
hope to overcome them now the advantage lay on
their side. For while in January, 191 7, the Allies
had had 178 divisions in France, in December, 191 7,
they had only 169.

Ludendorff felt certain that with equal numbers
he could win the war in the West, and that winter
he told the main committee of the Reichstag that
the odds were 3 to i on him. This assertion must
have been genuine, for he never could have im-
posed another effort on the Germans, exhausted as
they were with the desperate struggle of three



years' war on so many fronts, against so many
opponents, had he had any doubt of the result.
About the same time the extent of this exhaustion
was disclosed at those secret meetings of the States
of the Hapsburg monarchy, in which they discussed
their foreign policy, known as the Delegations.
The question being whether and how to continue
the war, the Delegations were told what were the
losses of the Central Powers. But some of the
members of the Delegations were Poles, who, as
a partitioned people, had a foot in each camp.
Through this leak the information reached the

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose popula-
tion at the outbreak of the war may be perhaps
placed at 55 million, had had 10,300,000 (ten
million, three hundred thousand) men of military
age. Of these, 7,600,000 (seven million, six hun-
dred thousand) had become casualties.

The German Empire, whose population at the
outbreak of war may perhaps be placed at about
70 million, had had 14 million men of military age,
of which 12,600,000 (twelve million, six hundred

* The historian can find this information and these figures
in a Foreign Office telegram, from Mr. Lindley, Petrograd,
number 529, and dated Feb. 27, 191 8.



thousand) had been passed fit for military service,
out of whom 7,700,000 (seven million, seven hun-
dred thousand) had become casualties.

So, in rough proportions, the Central Empires
turned a fifth of their population into soldiers, and
had had a tenth of them killed, hurt, or lost in three
years. These figures, if right, give a basis for an
exact calculation how much wider the suffering of a
modern war is than it used to be in the eighteenth
century. Gibbon laid it down^ that the highest
proportion of soldiers that a civilised state could
maintain was one hundredth of its population.
But in the twentieth century that proportion had
risen to a fifth. Thus the circle of those exposed
to the dangers and pains of war had been enlarged
twenty times by our increased means of accumu-
lating and producing wealth.

In the autumn of 19 17, a last and desperate
attempt of the Central Powers to win the war in
the ensuing nine months was to be anticipated.
Mr. Lloyd George had come to doubt more and
more whether the system of the Allies, which since
19 14 had yielded nothing but failure and disas-
ter, could meet this attack ; if it failed when supe-
rior in numbers, it was hardly likely to succeed

* Decline and Fall, Chap, v., opening sentences.



when inferior. During the whole of 19 17 he and
Lord Milner had accepted the miHtary adviser
bequeathed to them by Mr. Asquith — General

He was a great administrator, with the great
qualities this implies. Lord Kitchener had been a
great symbol of our greatness, with a terrible light
of African victories, Khartoum and the Vaal,
playing round his head, a name to awe our enemies
and cheer us in the conflict ; but he was not success-
ful as an organiser, contrary to common opinion.
Being elderly, he naturally kept unchanged the
habits of his whole life, spent with small Eastern
and African armies, where he could and did do
everything by himself. This method of work he
applied to the large national armies he was raising,
and so called into being a vast, and almost im-
fathomable, administrative chaos. This chaos
General Robertson had reduced to shape and
order; but his peculiar ability, which had raised
him to the highest rank, after his start at the lowest,
had been acquired and exercised chiefly in Ad-
ministration and Intelligence. His attainments in
this sphere could be no other than very exceptional
to lift him so high in an army like ours, where social
advantages push on, and social disabilities hold



back, so very much; but the absence of an early
liberal education deprived him of one of the few
qualities (if not the only one) which early edu-
cation can confer, flexibility of mind. General
Robertson's plan, and he had no other, was to raise
and train more men ; in fact, to do the thing he was
so very capable of doing. If the two sides were
allowed to go on killing each other in France in-
definitely, when all the Germans were dead there
would still be a few Allies left, and they would win.
This was his simple strategy, as far as can be
gathered from his memoranda to the War Cabinet,
to which the future historian of the war is earnestly
referred. He reveals himself in them, as every one
must reveal himself who sets his pen to paper, and
shows a mind keen and quick in the highest degree,
but narrow, and obstinately entrenched in its own
narrowness; on questions of military operations,
too, not only unreliable and mistaken, but evi-
dently not at his ease at all with that kind of sub-
ject. These memoranda reply to the inquiries of
Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Milner for advice with
sullen reluctance, as if they were meddHng in what
did not concern them.

Robertson's military ideas are to be foimd, far
more tellingly expressed than in his own memo-



randa, in the contributions to the Press, of the writer
whom we know now to have been his mouthpiece.'
He rejected unity of command as a "radical, un-
timely , dangerous ' ' change . The right strategy was
raising sixty more divisions, in addition to the
seventy odd we already possessed, and "wearing
the Germans down. ' ' ^ This was the point of differ-
ence between him and the War Cabinet, who hesi-
tated at loading us (who already bore almost the
whole naval and financial burden of the war) with
an army almost as great as the Germans, and who
presimied to think there might exist a less primitive
strategy, especially as the Allies had long had an
overwhelming preponderance in numbers over the
Central Powers, without attaining to any result.

On such an adviser the War Cabinet had had to
rely for advice, not only as to the conduct of opera-
tions on vast and various fields, but on subjects
which were as much political as military, and re-
quired the judgment of a statesman as much as that
of a soldier. They had endured his covert opposi-
tion, which we now know was backed with incessant

' See Appendix A. The relations between General
Robertson, General Maurice, and Colonel Repington.

^ The Times, Dec. i8, 1917; Nov. 24, 1917; May 8, 1917;
Aug. II, 1917.

^ 33


intrigue in the Press,' for a whole year, and the
yields of his policy, compared with its expenditure
during that year, did not seem to recommend itself.
The following figures, strictly speaking, are casual-
ties on all fronts; but all except a small fraction
were incurred in France.

The Somme (July to November, inclusive, 1916)
had cost us 22,923 (twenty-two thousand, nine
himdred and twenty-three) officers, and 476,553
(four himdred and seventy-six thousand, five
hundred and fifty- three) men.'' In 191 7, the Arras
offensive (April and May) gave us casualties of
9657 (nine thousand, six himdred and fifty-seven)
officers, and 186,453 (one hundred and eighty-six
thousand, four hundred and fifty- three) men; but
some ground was gained. In Flanders, at Pas-
schendaele and other places, and at Cambrai (June
to December, inclusive, 191 7) we had got little or
nothing for casualties of 26,459 (twenty-six thou-
sand, four hundred and fifty-nine) officers, and
428,004 (four himdred and twenty-eight thousand
and four) men in seven months. The two big
battles of the year 19 17 had cost us altogether the

^ See Appendix A, for the evidence.
* The historian will find these figures in the great Statisti-
cal Abstract of the War, in the Archives of the War Office.



huge amount of 36,116 (thirty-six thousand, one
hundred and sixteen) officers, and 614,457 (six hun-
dred and fourteen thousand, four hundred and
fifty-seven) men.

Even at first sight the yield, next to the expense,
seems slender. On closer view it seems worse stiU.
This more exact view can perhaps be got by making
two comparisons, one with the cost of our last vic-
torious advance in 191 8, and the other with the cost
of a corresponding French attack.

Our victorious advance in 191 8 carried our armies
from a desperate situation, where they were pinned
against the Channel ports and the Somme estuary,
within reach of Germany, almost at one bound.
From August to November, 19 18, inclusive, our
outgoings were 17,426 (seventeen thousand, four
hundred and twenty-six) officers and 340,745 (three
hundred and forty thousand, seven hundred and
forty-five) men in casualties.

Foch's hundred days* battle and real victory cost
us three-quarters of what the paper successes of
Flanders battle in 19 17, or of the Somme in 191 6
had cost us.

But a better comparison still is with correspond-
ing French expenses. Our Arras battle of the
spring, 191 7, which was successftil, corresponded



with a French attack at the Chemin des Dames, on
a far grander scale, with a mass of manoeuvre,
Nivelle's Armee de Rupture, equal to our whole
army, which failed in a determined attempt to
break the German line. After this failure a great
body of French troops revolted at Soissons — the
greatest rebellion in the war on our side — and pro-
claimed they would no longer obey orders to go into
such "butchery,"' and after this Foch and Petain
gave them a rest from big battles during that year.
But Nivelle's casualties had only been 107,000
(one hundred and seven thousand).

No belligerent, in my opinion, not even the al-
most unarmed Russian masses, to whom the Ger-
man commimiqu6s (the real communiques, not
those given to us) , always refer in the same way as
they do to us, "the English masses," were ever
slaughtered at the same profuse rate as we were,
though our dogged, dauntless, and devoted armies
were the only belligerent armies who at no time in
the war ever showed any signs of rebellion or dis-
solution, and I base my opinion on the following
two sets of figtires.

Every front, compared to the French front, was

^ The cry of the French mutineers was, "A bas la guerre!
plus de boucherie."



relatively safe ; out of every nine men who went
to France five became casualties. Therefore the
chance of escape was less than an even chance ; but
at Salonika, the safest front, only i in 21 became
casualties. Thus it was 20 to i against being killed
or hurt in the Balkans, apart from disease; it was
15 to I in Egypt, and 25 to 4 in Mesopotamia.^
In France, too, were concentrated the great bulk of
our forces, three-quarters or two-thirds of the whole
of our forces overseas. Therefore our losses were
almost all losses in France.

The great national armies which we raised only
reall}^ began to fight on the Somme; the first
month's casualties at the Somme (July, 191 6) gave
about the same total as the casualties of all the
previous big battles put together. So, roughly
speaking, our national armies fought for little more
than half the time that the far greater French na-
tional armies, half as big again, fought on their own
soil, yet the final total of killed and missing (not
casualties) suffered by our forces in the war is little
less than the French total. In hundreds of thou-
sands it is II (eleven) to their 13 (thirteen).

The published German official figures for killed

' The historian can find these figures in the Statistical
Abstract of the War, in the Archives of the War Ofifice.




and missing is 1 7 in the same units. This is too low
to be credible; other figures similarly published,
like the number of German prisoners, can be
checked and are a good deal below the real figure,
it may therefore be taken that this figure 17 is be-
low the real figure. But even if a large addition is
made to it, as the discoimt of official misrepresenta-
tion, the German rate of loss must have been far
smaller than the Allied rate, if their double front,
far more restricted resources, far smaller nimibers,
and far more numerous battles and campaigns are
taken into account. Such is the advantage in hu-
man lives gained by previous preparation, however
wicked, and the price paid for improvisation, how-
ever wonderful, in war.

Before the war the Director of Military Opera-
tions at Army Headquarters had been Sir Henry
Wilson, and in the natural course of events the
position of Chief of the Imperial General Staff,
held by General Robertson, would have come to
him ; but he had been passed over, in spite of his high
reputation, by Mr. Asquith, who condemned the
part he had played at the War Office dining the
Irish crisis of 19 14. For under a ponderous man-
ner and a portentous phraseology Mr. Asquith
concealed a capricious petulance; but so much do



appearances govern the world that a pompous ex-
terior is sufficient to keep a reputation for deliber-
ate judgment and weighty prudence. Sir Henry-
had predicted and prepared for this war all his life.
He had been over this ground on which it was to be
fought time after time on his bicycle, and, for ex-
ample, had chosen the billets our Headquarters
were to occupy in one place during the Mons retreat
long before the war. Whatever his value as an
officer commanding in the field, of which only a
professional can judge, he was far superior to any
British general officer who ever attended the Su-
preme War Council in intelligence and imagination,
of which any man can judge. Perhaps, indeed;>
his native brilHance and effervescent Irish gaiety
were too great not to damage him in the eyes of
the soimd but rather stolid sportsman, the British
Regular. He was not only diplomatic but diplo-
matic to excess. But this very fault was his great-
est advantage. For we have always been compelled
to fight our continental wars in co-operation with
or by means of the troops of other nations, and our
great leaders, like Marlborough or Wellington, had
to be diplomats as well as strategists. Their part
has always been to imit and guide the troops of
various nations through or with whom we have



always acted. Any one present at the debates of
the Supreme War Council, whether civil or mili-
tary, became at once aware why only an English-
man could give the Alliance as a whole a true direc-
tion; it was because England was uninvaded.
None of our Allies could take a general view. The
occupations of their soil by the Germans really
frenzied them, and prevented them seeing an3rthing
else. It was pitiful to see their rage at the thought.
No doubt we should not have been otherwise had
we known that in Kent and Norfolk young women,
or even little girls in their teens, were being out-
raged by gross German brutes. One village in
their country was more to them than empires in
the East. "If only," Sir Henry Wilson used to
exclaim in mock despair, "if only we could make
the French understand where Mesopotamia is."
The sea, also, was as unintelligible to them as the
rest of the world was imimportant. The French
generals, superb as was their conception of /a grande
guerre in European fields, and dazzling beyond be-
lief their exposition of it, seemed to have gained this
intensely professional (and therefore perhaps neces-
sarily narrow) capacity by excluding everything
else from their minds. They spoke of the sea as if
it was a smooth, flat, and safe surface along which



divisions and their supplies could be moved about
as draughts are across a draught-board. Yet half
the questions arising had a naval complication.
Half the debates ended on a phrase, which, like a
stupid joke in a pantomime, became amusing by-
its mere recurrence. This phrase was "C'est tou-
jours ime question de tonnage," which Sir Henry-
used to guffaw in his John Bull French. But an
English soldier-statesman like Sir Henry could not
but understand both the East and the sea, because
they had always been the main factors in all his
problems. Sir Henry had all the merits if he had
some of the defects of his idiosyncrasy ; he was ur-
bane, adroit, unalterably patient, and endlessly
painstaking in the pursuit of his ends, which he
followed with coiling, serpentine vigilance. So
well did he understand and manage the French,
that in 191 7 the French Government had formally
stipulated in their written agreements that he
should be the liaison officer between the two
armies.' They never forgot the dexterity with
which he composed the dispute between Lord
French and Gallieni in the hours before the Mame,
when a quarrel might have been disastrous. For

^ See M. Briand's despatch quoted in Appendix B, "Unity
of Command in 1917."



though not good at French, he understood some-
thing far more difficult than their language, the
free, violent, rhetorical modes of speech used by
Latins, always baffling, usually shocking, and some-
times exasperating to grave, contained, romantic
northerners. His Irish ebullience was as much to
their taste as it had always been disconcerting to
his fellow officers. He came into Clemenceau's
room one morning the press had been criticising
Clemenceau's age, snatched him up, and whirled
him dancing round the room till the old man's
black indoor skull-cap fell off, "just," he said, "to
show them how young we really are." In a debate
he knew very well how to use their predilection for a
jest, and promptness to laugh. He had a singular
gift of seeing things, persons, or situations in a
simple and direct way, and expressing his views
with brevity and clearness; the short and lucid
logic of his memoranda for the War Cabinet, to
which the historian is again referred, constitute
models, either as advice or orders. It is sad to
think that both he and Foch, who had devoted —
perhaps in the case of Foch one may say conse-
crated — their lives to a preparation for this great
struggle, were — Wilson in spite of his accomplish-
ments, and Foch in spite of his achievements —



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kept in subordinate positions and minor tasks till
its fourth year, when, by the will of Mr. Lloyd
George, taking charge of our affairs at their very
worst, all our advantages having been wasted or
thrown away, they yet ended in a few months an
apparently interminable contest.

General Wilson, in effect, maintained —
"The fault of the Allies' system has always been
that there was no system at all ; their political has
never been adjusted to their military action; if it
had been, Bulgaria might in 19 15 have been made
to come in on our side. Their military action has
not been connected ; if it had been, the intervention

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Online LibraryPeter E WrightAt the Supreme War Council → online text (page 2 of 10)