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ended . In the winter ofi9i7-i9i8,a friend talking
of the difficulties in front of the Allies, said to
Foch's Chief of Staff, Weygand —

"However bad our situation may seem now, it
was worse for you and General Foch at the Mame ;
for you were heavily outnumbered, and we will still
be superior till the month of April."

Weygand answered —

"Our situation is much worse now; for then we
had the magnificent plan of Marshal Joffre, and
now we have no plan at all . "

Many legends exist about almost every event of
war, especially of modern war ; any true account of
any of these events would be voluminous, or rather
interminable, if it were attempted to dispute and
destroy the legendary cloud that surrounds it.
But it was asserted at that time, and some people



continue not only to repeat, but to write, that dur-
ing this winter 191 7-19 18 the army was being
starved of men, and that our statesmen endangered
our soldiers and brought defeat on them, by refus-
ing to reinforce them or to raise the men necessary
to reinforce them. This is not the case ; it is a false
view, invented and circulated for a particular pur-
pose, that of explaining away repeated and almost
constant failure of generalship. It continues to be
repeated by simple people who at all times are dis-
posed to think that wars are not won by brains, and
that those who do the thinking without risking Hfe
or limb must always be wrong, and that those who
risk life and limb must always be right, however
little they may think. The first set of figures dis-
proving this legend are the totals of the expedition-
ary force on the Western front, from the North
Sea to the Adriatic, including all ranks and units.
On July I, 191 5, there were 603,803 (six himdred
and three thousand, eight hundred and three) men;
on January i, 191 7, 1,591,745 (one million, five
hundred and ninety-one thousand, seven hundred
and forty-five men; on January i, 1918, 1,937,719
(one million, nine hundred and thirty-seven thou-
sand, seven hundred and nineteen) men; on April
1, 1918, 2,019,773 (twomilhons, nineteen thousand,



seven hiindred and seventy-three) men ; on Novem-
ber II, 1918, 1,939,529 (one million, nine himdred
and thirty-nine thousand, five htindred and twenty-
nine) men. The legend in this case is not only dis-
torting, but is the opposite of the truth. The spring
of 19 1 8 is the high-water mark reached by otir
armies on the Western front. The second set of
figures are the totals of all our forces at home and
abroad, including British, Colonial, Indian, native,
and local troops (but excluding labour battalions)
in every theatre of war. In November of the year
19 1 6, this total was 149,226 (one hundred and
forty-nine thousand, two himdred and twenty-six)
officers, and 4,061,628 (four million, sixty-one
thousand, six himdred and twenty-eight) other
ranks; in December of the year 1917, 208,583 (two
himdred and eight thousand, five himdred and
eighty- three) officers, and 4,698,585 (four million,
six hundred and ninety-eight thousand, five hun-
dred and eighty-five) other ranks; in March of
the year 191 8, 220,770 (two hundred and twenty
thousand, seven hundred and seventy) officers, and
4,761,484 (four million, seven hundred and sixty-
one thousand, four hundred and eighty-four) other
ranks; at the Armistice, 193,102 (one hundred and
ninety-three thousand, one hundred and two)



officers, and 4,197,099 (four million, one hundred
and ninety-seven thousand, and ninety-nine) other
ranks. The spring of 191 8 is, therefore, also the
high-water mark reached by all the military forces
of the Crown.' If we suffered, it was not because,
according to the cant phrase, the politicans be-
trayed our soldiers.

The Supreme War Council adopted this plan for
19 1 8, at a session in the last days of January and
the first days of February, 1918. The utmost pre-
cautions of secrecy were adopted; for some of the
sittings most of the secretaries were excluded from
the room. The copies of the plan of campaign and
of the minutes of the meeting were limited to a few
copies and put in the hands of only a few people.
For Ludendorff , as he has now told us, was as anx-
ious about being attacked as the Allies were. His
position, a few weeks before the campaign could be
expected to open, was anxious and precarious; on
almost every front he was outnimibered. The col-
lapse of any of the mmierous fronts meant the loss
of an ally whose fall would probably bring down
another, till the four Central Powers knocked each
other down like skittles. Through the two main

^ The historian can find these figures in the Statistical
Abstract of the War, in the Archives of the War Office.



channels, Danish and Swiss, along which the indis-
cretions of the enemy reached the ears of the Allies,
they could know his apprehensions, which he con-
fesses in his published memoirs. Verdun, close to
the line of railroad which gave them lateral com-
mimication, was a sensitive point in the German
defensive system, and here the German General
Staff anticipated an attack by the Allies that would
forestall theirs. There was no secret more precious
than where the Allied attack was coming. The
various theatres of war, in which the system of the
Central Powers lay, were strimg out along an awk-
ward line, separated by nature, and, in the East,
connected by railroad lines of communication in-
sufficient, defective, and slow. Ignorant where the
aim of the Allies was, no portion could be firmly
defended by Ludendorff imless information was ac-
quired where the blow was intended to faU; then
forces sufficient to meet it might be concentrated
in that quarter. The information was, therefore,

Public opinion in France and Italy had been
canvassing the question of a Supreme Commander
in the field during the whole winter, and was natur-
ally concerned at the disconnection between the
three armies defending its soil. To reassure this



opinion, the news that these armies had been given
a certain unity under Foch was published in the
papers, but in a vague and misleading way. The
other decision, to overwhelm the Turkish armies in
Palestine, was guarded with greater precautions of
secrecy than any other decision ever taken by the
Supreme War Coimcil.

An extraordinarily brilliant writer on military
matters, perhaps the very best. Colonel Repington,
had till the beginning of January been military
correspondent of the Times; at that date he left the
Times, which had grown critical of General Robert-
son, and became miHtary correspondent of the
Morning Post. He has lately published two large
volumes of War Diaries, which shed a flood of un-
expected light upon the relations of this journalist
with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Gen-
eral Robertson, and with his chief Staff Officer and
inseparable attendant. General Maurice, the then
Director of Military Operations, who in May, 1918,
was compulsorily retired from the Army.^ The
conclusions to be drawn from the combined evi-
dence of Repington 's newspaper articles and these

^ See Appendix A : " The relations between General
Robertson, General Maurice, and Colonel Repington" for a
full discussion of their relations.



Diaries are these. During Robertson's tenure of
office, Repington was the instrument, the very
effective instrument, of Robertson and his assist-
ant Maurice in the Press. Robertson criticised to
Repington the Government, of which he was the
technical miHtary adviser, and thus violated his duty
to his superiors; disclosed to him all our essential
military secrets ; and disparaged our Allies to him.
Repington's services to Robertson were public
adulation; press agitation in favour of Robert-
son's ideas; and public denunciation of Robert-
son's superiors for the advantage of Robertson.
Thus the closest connection existed between them.
The evidence to this effect is long and rather te-
dious, and will be found elsewhere.'

On February ii, an article by Repington was
published in the Morning Post. This article was a
detailed and accurate account of the decisions and
discussions of the last Session of the Supreme War
Council. It described with fulness the Executive
War Board as "The Versailles soldiers imder the
presidency of General Foch," controlling and di-
recting the reserves, and reveals the machinery
by criticising it. He describes what he calls "the
side show," in the very words of Mr. Lloyd George,

^ In Appendix A.



as recorded in the minutes of the Session, as "the
delivery of a knock-out blow to Turkey." So as
to leave nothing in doubt, he indicates the theatre
of war where the side show is to take place: "The
Turks will retire in front of us from Damascus to
Aleppo." The article also tells LudendorfE what
AUenby's real difficulty was, the very point of the
discussion that the Supreme War Council had had,
"how long will it take for our broad-gauge railway,
at the rate of half a mile a day, to reach Aleppo?"
It also suggested to Ludendorff the best means of
parrying the blow, "to evade AUenby's offensive
by retiring, and bring the U-boats down the Dan-
ube to Constantinople." The article is a summary,
a very excellent and concise summary, of the prin-
cipal discussions and decisions that had taken place,
at a Session when the Supreme War Council had
refined on their usual precautions for secrecy, ex-
travagant as these usually were. It can only have
been written by some one who had the records of
the Session in front of his eyes. This is also true of
many entries in the Diaries. This charge made by
me,' of disclosing all these military secrets, has not
been disputed by Repington; in an article^ he not

^ In Blackwood's Magazine, Sept. issue, 1920.
* See Nineteenth Century, Oct. issue, 1920.



only admits it, but seems gratified by it as a tribute
to his own importance.

Repington not only made disclosures: the dis-
closures themselves are pretexts for an attack on
Mr. Lloyd George. He hopes "that Parliament
will extract a definite promise from Mr. Lloyd
George" that the decisions of the Supreme War
Council will not be carried out. He invites Parlia-
ment and the Army Council as well to act, and act
according to his own opinion, that "Mr. Lloyd
George had clearly and finally proved his incapacity
to govern England in a great war." His object in
revealing our military secrets is to overturn the

The first decision of the War Cabinet was to seize
the printing-presses of the Morning Post, and to
suppress it entirely. But after a talk with his At-
torney-General, Sir Gordon Hewart, Mr. Lloyd
George adopted a course much more astute. Rep-
ington and the editor of the Morning Post (whose
patriotic intentions are above suspicion) were
prosecuted only for an offence imder the Defence
of the Realm Act, and Sir Gordon took care, during
the prosecution, to make only the disclosures about
the General Reserve a subject of complaint; the
passage about the side show, which revealed the



secret of the Allies, he treated as inoffensive. This
artful treatment may have attenuated the effect of
the publication.

A violent dispute had arisen between Robertson
and the War Cabinet on the Versailles decisions
in the second week of February. On Thursday,
February 14, Mr. Lloyd George decided to replace
Robertson by Sir Henry Wilson as Chief of the
Imperial General Staff.

Repington's article revealing the Versailles de-
cisions and the military plans of the Alliance ap-
peared during the second week of February, on
February 1 1 . He invited the House of Commons to
withdraw their confidence in Mr. Lloyd George
because he had participated in these decisions and
formed these plans.

On February 5, the then leader of the Opposition,
Mr. Asquith, had asked the Government what the
Versailles decisions had been, but had been refused
all information. Not knowing what they were, he
could not make them the ground of an attack on the
Government. On February 12 the business of the
House was to be the Debate on the Address, which
always gives the Opposition the opportunity of
attacking the Government on any grounds it likes
to choose. Repington's article on February 1 1 gave



Mr. Asquith the knowledge he required, and, armed
with it, he attacked Mr. Lloyd George on February
12, but without success.

The Repington article therefore was, in fact,
used inside the House of Commons against the
Government at a moment when Robertson was
quarrelling with the Government outside it, and his
dismissal was impending. On February 2 1 Reping-
ton was convicted and fined at Bow Street. In his
Diaries (February 26, 191 8), he publishes a letter
from Robertson, dated February 25 (and too in-
imitably in Robertson's style to be other than gen-
uine) , which is worth reading with the greatest care. ^

In this letter Robertson congratulates Reping-
ton on his conduct, as the noble work of a patriot,
and condoles with him on his conviction; and sub-
sequently, according to the Diaries, he remained on
terms of cordial friendship with him.

Further, this letter very strongly suggests that
during the preceding month Robertson and Reping-
ton had been collaborating in a common enterprise,
called "sordid " by Robertson himself, of which the
object was to upset the Government, and that the
publication of Repington's article had been part of
this enterprise.

* For text of this letter, see Appendix A.



Repington's explanation of where he got his in-
formation cannot be accepted, for reasons set out
elsewhere.' As it is diffictilt to accept Repington's
explanation that he got his information from the
French source he mentions; as the only possible
source of his information was copies of the records
of this Session in the hands of General Robertson ;
as he expressed in his article the views of Robert-
son ; as, in his letter of February 25, Robertson uses
language strongly suggesting that the publication
of the article was intended to assist Robertson in
upsetting Mr. Lloyd George, and it was, in fact,
so used in the House of Commons. These consid-
erations, taken together with the previous and sub-
sequent relations existing between them, form a
mass of circumstantial evidence pointing, with un-
deviating finger, at General Robertson himself as
having supplied Repington with the information he
divulged to the enemy.

If this supposition seems shocking, it is no more
shocking than the fact that Robertson approved of
Repington's action, both by his words and his acts.
The difference in culpability between applauding
and instigating such conduct is faint and shadowy,
if it exists at all. The same censure applies to

' See Appendix A again.



Maurice, who is so hardened in these practices that
even now he writes as if unconscious that the pub-
Hcation of one's country's mihtary plans to the
world in time of war is wrongful, however obtained
and whatever the object.'

The Executive War Board — Foch, Wilson, Bliss,
Cadoma — got to work at once. Foch proposed
that the General Reserve should begin by being a
seventh of the total Allied force from the North
Sea to the Adriatic, and fixed it at thirty divisions;
and on February 6, letters were addressed to each
Commander-in-Chief asking him if he would con-
tribute his quota, proportionate to the nimiber of
divisions he commanded, to the General Reserve.
On February 14, Sir Henry Wilson succeeded Sir
William Robertson as Chief of the Imperial General
Staff in London, and was succeeded at Versailles by
General Rawlinson.

Foch, when he came to Versailles, was an old
man, tmwell and worn with anxiety, and beginning
to lose his trim horseman's figure. He shone in
debate as much as he did in action. In his pro-
foimd grasp of any question; in his capacity for
dealing at once, and, conclusively, with any op-

^ See his article on this subject in Oct. issue, 1920, of
National Review.



posite point which he rejected: in the skill with
which he exposed the fallacy of an unsound argu-
ment; in the flexible readiness with which he
adapted his attitude to any contrary idea he felt
unable to refute; in the facility and rapidity with
which he evolved schemes to reach a common agree-
ment ; in the closely woven and orderly logic of his
thought ; in the rapid, almost exuberant, flow of his
speech; in the flashing power of illustrating his
meaning; in his ruthless contempt for weaker dia
lecticians; in all these he resembled a great Chan-
cery special. In the simplicity of his ways — he had
not even an A.D.C., and he used to arrive alone,
his papers under his arm, with an absence of
ceremony astonishing to any one accustomed to
the pomp that surrounds even a brigadier — in
the roughness of his ways, a strong contrast to the
gentlemanly English, and grand manner of the
Italians; in his extreme piety; in all these he was
like a rustic French cure, redolent of the soil, the
true soil of France, the soil of peasants and soldiers,
descendants of those who accomplished the Gesta
Dei per Francos, very different from the glittering
foam of Paris. In sheer intellect, he towered above
everyone at the Supreme War Coimcil as much as
Mr. Lloyd George did in cotirage.



Bliss and Cadoma were not quite on the same
level as the other members; for Bliss had not yet
got his army, and Cadorna had lost his. Cadoma
had this advantage, that he was the only member
who had ever been a Commander-in-Chief: this
gave him an ease and sureness of judgment, a sort
of light touch, which in these, as in other great
affairs, only experience can give. But he was a
beaten general, and the French never let him forget
it, and trampled on him ruthlessly. "Defend the
Piave," thundered Foch in a voice roughened by
half a century of command, as Cadoma began his
eternal plaints and his eternal petitions for more
guns, more men, more coal, more of everything.
" I tell you how I would defend the Piave; I would
put a few sentries along the bank." Then after a
pause and a reflective pull at his moustache, "And
even then I would only put wooden sentries."
Bliss had the goodwill, the industry, the sagacity,
the massive bulk and slow movement of an ele-
phant. He would have been the pillar of this or
any other council, for he brought to the Alli-
ance, where the members of every Inter-Allied
team all pulled different ways, what it needed most,
rigid impartiality, even towards its own govern-
ment. "Very well, let Bliss arbitrate" ("Eh bien,



prenons Bliss comme juge de paix"), Foch used to
exclaim, when a discussion got too heated; and Bliss
listened like a sage and benevolent pachyderm.
But once his mind was made up, he stuck his hoofs
in the groimd and was immovable. Even Foch
dashed at him in vain. There was something very-
fine about his character, as there was about all
American leaders, like Pershing and Sims (and
about their subordinates), who came to Versailles;
they seemed determined to make their disinter-
estedness cancel their inexperience. They were all
quite imtouched by the taint of bad faith and per-
sonal calculation that seems to load the air where
the great are. In the Great War the New World
not only came to redress the balance of the Old,
but to set it an example.

During the first half of the month of February,
the German scheme of attack became clearer. The
Allied and the German lines formed an angle, and
the German divisions in large masses began to ac-
cumulate towards the point of the angle: here also
appeared Von Hutier, at the head of an army. He
was a specialist in surprise attacks ; and at the cap-
ture of Riga, in the preceding autimm, the Ger-
mans had used a new manoeuvre invented by him.
As soon as he appeared the Grand Etat-Major
9 81


cir ciliated a minute analysis of the Riga attack.'
Instead of collecting their attacking divisions in
front of the point at which it was aimed to break
through, these were kept very far back from the
line, and brought up to the point stealthily the
night before; so that the enemy, though he might
guess the region, could not guess exactly where.
While these divisions were at this distance from
the line, they practised over ground artificially
made to resemble the real point of attack. This
sudden concentration was an invention appropri-
ate to the German genius for secret and tireless

Foch in effect said to the Executive War Board —
"Ludendorff must launch his mass of attack
either westward or southward, either towards the
British side of the angle in the Cambrai region, or
towards the French side of the angle and the
Rheims region. But if he is successful and drives
one or other of these lines back, he himself presents
an unguarded and open flank; and the more suc-
cessful he is, and the more he enlarges the angle, the
longer and therefore the more open and unguarded
his flank will be.

"I will, therefore, divide my General Reserve
^ The historian can find it in the Registry at Versailles.



into three portions, of different sizes. The smallest
portion I will place in Dauphinee, close to the best
crossing into Italy: the largest I will concentrate
round Paris; the third portion I will place round
Amiens. From the concentration of German troops
the attack must come in the Rheims or Cambrai
region; therefore the bulk of the General Reserve
round Paris is best situated to come to the help of
either region. The Amiens portion stands behind
the British Fifth Army, the weakest point of the
line, and ready to support it. The Dauphinee por-
tion is situated so as to be able to go to the assist-
ance of the Swiss or the Italians, in the unlikely
event of their being attacked, or to rejoin the rest
of the General Reserve."'

Foch did no more than outline the part to be
played by the General Reserve, for it never was
to come into existence. Major Grasset quotes
Napoleon as saying that the art of war is simple
enough to understand ; it is doing it that is difficult.
The outline of Foch's plan was perfectly simple:
Ludendorff had formed his mass of manoeuvre near

* My authority for this account has been questioned. I
may therefore say that I acted as sole interpreter and as
joint secretary to the Executive War Board in all its meet-
ings; heard him say it, and saw him mark the places with
his blue pencil on the map.



the apex of the angle formed by the front in France ;
it could only be used to drive in the French side of
the angle or the British. He could only do one of
two things, push back the British to and over the
Somme, or the French over the Aisne towards the
Mame; in either case he exposed himself to a
counter-attack on his open flank, from Foch's mass
of manoeuvre concentrated round Paris. Which-
ever he did, he had delivered himself into Foch's

In March he chose the British side and fiimg
himself at Cough's Fifth Army. LudendorfE has
also told us why he chose this line of attack; the
Alhed line was weakest there, and he chose the line
of least resistance.

His strategy was the "buffalo strategy" Foch
has always mocked. For Foch first attracted
attention twenty years ago when he taught his
pupils of the French Staff College that Moltke,
acting on a fixed plan, adopted blindfold, ought to
have been beaten in 1870 and only won by luck.^
In his various public utterances made since the
Armistice, he has invariably lavished praise on the
German soldier ("ce sont d'admirables soldats")

^ See Les principes de la Guerre, by Colonel Foch (Berger-
Levrault, Paris), Ch. VIII., "La s(irete strategique."



and organisation, but always derided "la strategie

Ludendorff's plan, thus fixed, the prescience of
Foch had divined when he intended to put the bulk
of the General Reserve round Paris and Amiens.
The buffalo was rushing into the trap. But the
General Reserve was never constituted, so Foch
never carried out his plan.

The letters sent to the Commanders-in-Chief

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Online LibraryPeter E WrightAt the Supreme War Council → online text (page 4 of 10)