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It was not imtil the House of Commons, on Tues-
day afternoon, February 19, omitted to carry out a
revolution in his favour and the Army Council also
omitted to "go over the top" (as Repington, on
February 11, exhorted them to do), that General
Robertson abdicated and took up the new com-
mand to which he had been appointed. Sir William
Robertson sincerely believed his departure was a
national catastrophe.'

These various conditions, of which this great
deceit is the greatest, at last emancipates all Gen-
eral Staffs from all control. They no longer live
for the nation: the nation lives, or rather dies, for
them. Victory or defeat ceases to be the prime
interest. What matters to these semi-sovereign

* See his letter, dated Feb. 25, to Repington, which I have
set out in Appendix A. See also his curious letter, dated
Feb. 19, 1918, written from the War Office, and quoted in
full in the issue of the Morning Post of Feb. 22, 1918, p. 6,
column 7: "I have done what I have done in the interest
of my countrymen," he says.



corporations is whether dear old Willie or poor old
Harry is going to be at their head, or the Chant illy
party prevail over the Boulevard des Invalides
party. So much is this the case that two branches
of a staff can get more hostile to each other than
to the enemy, and, for example, at the Grand
Quartier-General, Intelligence and Operations spent
their time thwarting each other. The Central
Powers (as can be seen very clearly from Count
Czemin's Memoirs) suffered from these conditions
even more than the Allies: the German General
Staff treated Emperors and Chancellors as if they
were valets, claimed to control everything, even the
birth-rate, and ruined their country by overriding
Bethmann-Hollweg in the winter 1916-1917. "The
misfortimes of Germany and Austria," says Czer-
nin,' a temperate judge, well placed to see things
as a whole, "arose from the acts which the military
party imposed upon the Government." Bern-
storff, the able German Ambassador in the U. S. A.,
also attributes the failure of Germany to its
soldiers, who ought to have been kept "more
thoroughly within boimds, just as they were by

^ See In the World War, by Count Ottokar Czernin (Gas-
sell, 1919), and My Three Years in America, by Count
Bernstorff (Skeffington, 1920).



Bismarck." But tough and slippery as they might
be with us, Mr. Lloyd George was more so, and
kept war a function of politics, and victory as the
end of war.

Before the campaign of 191 8 began, of the plan
of campaign which may be attributed to Mr. Lloyd
George, Foch, and Wilson, one part had been pub-
lished to the world certainly with the hearty ap-
proval, and very probably at the instigation, of
the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Robertson ;
the other half had been nullified by an intrigue
of which the French Commander-in-Chief was
the author, and the British Commander-in-Chief the
instrument, and to which the other leaders of the
Alliance assented or were compelled to assent.

Meanwhile in front of our line the mightiest
army ever assembled by the mightiest military
nation of our age, and perhaps the mightiest army
any nation has ever put forth, was preparing to
attack; commanded by idolised, and hitherto in-
vincible, chiefs ; exultant over its fabulous victories
in the East, where its colossal adversary lay
shattered and dismembered; elate with hope,
though with a veteran hope, sobered by years of
struggle against great odds, and no longer fresh
and gay as during the first intoxicating weeks of the



war; confident that with one last and collected
effort they could repay themselves for incalculable
sufferings and losses, and lay the world at their
country's feet. On March i, the day before Haig
wrote his letter destroying the General Reserve, a
German General, Von Morgen, met Hindenburg
and Ludendorff at the Grossen Haupt Quart ier,
then at Kreuznach. Hindenburg said to him
jubilantly —

''The drama is nearing its close; now comes the
last act. "^

^ See Meinen Truppen Heldenkdmpfen, by General-
lieutnant Curt von Morgen (Berlin: Mittler, 1920).






The Battle of St. Quentin

The Allies had gone back to the position in which
they had been during the preceding autumn, and
the consequences their three leaders — Mr. Lloyd
George, Sir Henry Wilson, and Foch — had rightly
anticipated and feared from that position unrolled
themselves at once, and in an aggravated form;
aggravated because only one part of their military
plans was left intact — the extension of the British
line. This portion of their design was sound, even
advantageous, if connected with the Executive
War Board and the General Reserve. It was cal-
culated to draw the enemy to where we could hit
him best, and it did draw him; but though the
reserve was never formed, and the Board never had
any functions, the British line remained extended ;
and there from its extremity at Barisis northwards
to Gouzeaucourt, lay our Fifth Army under Gough,
composed of only fourteen infantry divisions and



three cavalry divisions, striing out over 42 miles,
on an average front of 6750 yards to each division;
this was (for the British army) very thin. The
Third Army, Byng's, immediately to the north,
had one division on every 4200 yards.

While within the apex of the great angle formed
by the front Ludendorff was concentrating his re-
serves, a mass of manoeuvre of eighty divisions,
the Allied line near this apex, the French running
along the Aisne, and the British facing St. Quentin,
had not the support of even the most moderate
number of divisions within reach. The reserve di-
visions of the Allies, as the map at the end of this
volimie shows, were scattered everywhere on no
evident principle, even to the civilian eye, except
that of trying to be strong everywhere, with the
result of being really strong nowhere. Gough's
army, in front of St. Quentin, was helpless, as can
be seen. But if Ludendorff's mass of manoeuvre
had rolled south instead of west, the French were
hardly less so.

Early in March orders were issued to Allenby
to advance, and he at once proceeded to execute
them. Our Eastern attack began.

The Germans also prepared their onset. The
German divisions from the East were still flowing



into France in March, but had at the beginning of
the month not yet risen to the level of the Allies.
On March 13, Ludendorff had 186 divisions at his
disposal, of which 79 were in reserve; this gave him
1,370,000 rifles and 15,700 guns. But the 167
Allied divisions (58 in reserve) gave them 1,500,000
rifles and 16,400 guns.' They still had the odds.
On March 21, Ludendorff had 192 divisions, of
which 85 were in reserve; this made him equal in
rifle strength, but perhaps still inferior in guns.^

On the night of Wednesday, March 20, the
villages of Picardy within the enemy lines rang all
night with the lovely triumphant German battle-
songs which the Germans sang, in spite of strict
orders, as their hosts marched up in the dark for
the last, the Emperor battle; and early on Thurs-
day, March 21, the innumerable multitude of

* These figures have been questioned. They are, of
course, the figures agreed by the French and British Intelli-
gence. As such they were furnished by the War Office to the
War Cabinet, and the historian will find them recorded in
the Minutes of the Meeting of the War Cabinet held on
March 13.

* The figure 192 is to be found in the Summary of Intelli-
gence of G.H.Q., No. 446, dated March 22. The Report by
the War Office to the War Cabinet that the forces were
equal will be found in the Minutes of the 371st Meeting of
the War Cabinet held on March 23.

« 113


Ludendorff's immense mass of manoeuvre flung
itself against the southern portion of the British
army Hke the sea against the shore. The battle
began "with a crash," as Ludendorff says, against
the Fifth and part of the Third British Armies;
64 German divisions, a total higher than the whole
British army of 57, were set in motion against this
sector. On that first day of battle, against two-
thirds of the line held by Cough's 14 divisions, 40
of these 64 Cerman divisions were set in motion:
and against one-fifth of the line held by him, Von
Hutier brought off his Riga manoeuvre. On the
Wednesday this sector had had 4 German divisions
in line; spread fan-wise behind them, with the
furthest tip of the fan 40 miles away, Von Hutier
had 19 other divisions. These were brought up in
the night between the 20th and the 21st of March,
and the whole 23 were swimg against a front, just
in front of St. Quentin, of 3 or 4 British divisions.

On the first day the casualties of the Fifth and
Third British Armies were estimated at 40,000;
but Gough, though his line was badly dented in
three places, was by no means broken. The Ger-
mans were still "firmly held in the battle zone."
The British troops, as the German commimiqu6s
announced, had resisted with their "usual tenac-



ity." But no soldiers could struggle against this
avalanche of numbers for ever without being re-
lieved or receiving reinforcements. All Cough's
divisions had been engaged on the Thursday.
Now Haig and Petain's armes were equal to Luden-
dorff's, and our Fifth Army the weakest part of the
line. If their dispositions were such as to afford
proper support to Gough, their dispositions, and
they themselves, and their plan, were justified;
if not, condemned. This result, in a defenvSive
action, must be the test. This help could come
either from the British or French.

The Despatches of Sir Douglas Haig are written
in a style very different from his own, as it appears
in his personal commimication to the War Cabinet
and the Supreme War Council, to which the his-
torian of the war is again earnestly referred. They
look like the hand of the professional propagandist,
and are far from candid.^ They omit the most im-
portant facts. One is that Gough learned on
Thursday, after appealing for help to G.H.Q.,
that he was not to expect any British reinforce-
ments for seventy-two hours, that is until Sunday

' Rumour — by no means unreliable in so small and intri-
cate a body as the General Staff — names quite different
authors, and is corroborated by the evidence of style.



morning^ ; that it would not amount to more than
one division ; and that the second instalment would
be another division which would reach him Wed-
nesday morning. This the Despatches omit.
Another fact is that the first British reinforcement
to reach Gough was the 8th Division, which only
came into action Sunday morning. This the De-
spatches omit. Another fact is that Gough from
Thursday, March 21, when the battle began, to
Thursday, March 28, when he ceased to command
an army which had ceased to exist, never received
any other British reinforcements than this single
division. Some units of the 35th Division did
indeed come to his help on Sunday afternoon, but
were transferred to Byng's Army on Monday.
This the Despatches omit. Another fact is that not
only were no general directives issued to Gough
before the battle, but that during the whole week
of the battle he received no orders or directions
from G.H.Q. at all, and had only one or two com-
munications with it: he was left almost entirely to
himself, and to act on his own initiative. This the
Despatches omit. But their language not only
omits: it also suggests. "It became both possible

'See Appendix C, "General Gough's Confidential Re-



and necessary," the Despatches say, "to collect
additional reserves from the remainder of my front
and hurry them to the battlefield " ; also, "my plans
for collecting reserves from other parts of the
British front were put into immediate execution."
This is a stirring picture : the British reserves spring-
ing to arms and hurrying into battle. But so far
as the Fifth Army is concerned, it is mythical. A
single division arrived in a week. And these plans,
whatever they were, and if they existed at all,
must be most curious. For this single division,
coming to assist troops fighting on the Somme, had
to be brought all the way from St. Omer. The
plans that can produce such a result must be worth
publication, and should not be left to moulder in
obscurity. Even the second instalment promised
on Thursday 21st, and due on Wednesday 27th,
never came. Haig refused to send any troops
south of the Somme, where the remainder of the
Fifth Army were then fighting. Gough was just

Then there were the French — Petain with his
ninety-seven divisions. Petain, of course, accord-
ing to the joint plan of operations. Sir Douglas's
own plan, was not bound to give any help at all,
for the attack was on our extreme right; besides,



by his verbal agreement, he was not bound, what-
ever happened, to afford us any assistance for the
first three days of the battle. "On different occa-
sions as the battle developed, " says the Despatches
"I discussed with him the situation and the policy
to be followed by the Allied army." This is a
courteous expression of a disagreeable fact. Petain
did not stand on his rights, and British G.H.Q.
and the Grand Quartier did begin discussing how
many French divisions Petain would give, but
Petain maintained that this was not Ludendorff's
main attack, which was to be towards Rheims,
where a violent preliminary bombardment had
taken place. This feint of Ludendorff was, of
course, meant to divide the two wills which were
opposed to his own, and it did. On Saturday morn-
ing the two Commanders-in-Chief were still argu-
ing, and P6tain had got no further than granting
three divisions. General Clive, head of our Mili-
tary Mission at the Grand Quartier-Gen6ral,
expressed their usual relations very happily. Clive
said, "Haig and Petain were like two horsecopers,
one of whom is prepared to give more than he offers,
and the other to accept less than he asks,'" and

' He said this to Repington. See Repington's Diaries,
Oct. 8, 1917.



this relation they maintained even during the
battle. Meanwhile, on Friday, the front of our
Fifth Army had given way under the pressure of
the enormous masses in front of it, and Gough,
who so far had received no reinforcements of any
kind, British or French, gave the order to retreat,
necessarily bringing back the Third Army with
him. Mr. Lloyd George, at the Saturday meeting
of the War Cabinet, expressed his regret over the
General Reserve so bitterly and emphatically that
the secretary made a record of it.

During the night between Friday 22nd and
Saturday 23rd a single French division, the 125th,
arrived on the battlefield without guns and fifty
rounds of ammimition a man only. They had
marched far and fast, and with a few gallant com-
panies from our i8th Division, counter-attacked
(with no success) on the Crozat Canal at 6 a.m. on
Saturday. With it was the ist French Cavalry
Division, which seems subsequently to have been
dismounted and amalgamated with it. They were
the first reinforcement to reach the Fifth Army.
This the Despatches omit, but take refuge in their
unfailing magniloquence. "As the result of a
meeting held in the afternoon of March 23, " they
make Sir Douglas say, "arrangements were made



for the French to take over as rapidily as possible
the front held by the Fifth Army south of Peronne,
and for the concentration of a strong force of
French divisions on the southern portion of the
battle-front." At the hoiu* when these arrange-
ments were made, the "strong force" amount to
this one tired and almost unarmed division. But
Ludendorff did not wait on these arrangements;
Von Hutier's army had been sweeping forward
during Friday and the morning of Saturday, driv-
ing before it Cough's army, which was losing its
cohesion more and more. At midday on Saturday
the Germans had found a gap at Ham and crossed
the Somme; so that the sector the Allied Com-
manders decided on Saturday afternoon that the
French should take over had already been occupied
by the Germans when the decision was taken. Only
the "usual tenacity " of the British troops had kept
Von Hutier till Saturday evening reaching the objec-
tives assigned to his troops for Thursday evening.
The Despatches never analyse the composition
this "strong force of French divisions" was to
have, nor mention the date of its arrival. This is
left conveniently vague, and the battle thus no less
conveniently unintelligible. The Despatches do
not mention the arrival of the 125th French divi-



sion on Saturday morning, and units of the 9th and
loth on Saturday afternoon; that only the 62nd
French division and elements of the 22nd arrived
on Sunday; that only the 133rd French division
arrived on Monday; that only the 35th Division
arrived on Tuesday; and that only the 56th, 162nd,
and 1 66th arrived on Wednesday, March 2'].

Thus, during this week of continuous fighting,
when we were attacked by the whole German army,
only ten French divisions came into action, and
then, in General Gough's own words, "without
their guns, their transport, or any sufficient signal
or staff organisation," and probably incomplete.
This is the "strong force" of the Despatches, and
these the moments of its arrival. The published
French official accoimts conceal these precise num-
bers and dates no less than the British, and for the
same reason. Given the numbers engaged, this
assistance is so small and tardy as to be almost
useless. Therefore the scheme of co-operation
between the two commanders was such that the
German army was able to engage the British army,
about a third of its own size, almost quite alone for
a whole week. This condemns their leadership, and
this is the reason these numbers and dates are



If a look is taken at the map, and the scattered
distribution of Retain' s reserves in the third week
of March,' it is surprising that even this number
were able to reach the battlefield. This assistance
would have been smaller and later still but for the
headlong ardour with which the French army and
divisional commanders hurled their troops into
battle as soon as they could get them to the battle-
field, and the energy with which the French trans-
port organisation poured them on to it. The
French generals rushed on to the battlefield almost
alone. On Sunday morning, Humbert, who was to
command a French army, burst into Fifth Army
Headquarters. Gough said to him —

"I hope you are bringing me an army.'*

Humbert replied —

"I am, but I have only got my standard-bearer
with me." (" Je n'ai que mon f anion.")

This help was much earlier than had been con-
sidered possible on the first day of the battle, when
Gough seems to have thought that, after the Satur-
day instalment, Tuesday would be the day on
which the second instalment of French divisions
would reach him.

The error in the G.H.Q. map that came to Ver-

^ See Map at end of book.




sailles, on which the French reserves, actually near
Rheims and the Aisne at the outset of the battle,
were marked as being near Paris, is most curious.
For if Petain had intended to deceive Haig, this is
exactly the trick he would have practised : he would
have got him to believe the French army were
taking risks so as to be in a position to help him,
while in fact the French army was taking no risks
but putting itself in a position where it could give
no immediate help to Haig. If this is the case,
Petain first used Haig to get rid of Foch's superior
command; then induced Haig to enter into the
necessarily disastrous agreement of February; and
lastly duped him in the execution of it.

If either three or four divisions, French or British
(and not much in a battle where more than 350
divisions were on that front on both sides), had
reached Gough on Thursday, March 21, he might
have been safe. This small figure was only reached
on Sunday, March 24, more than three days after
the beginning of the attack. If six divisions had
reached him on Thursday, March 21, he would
certainly have been safe. This figure was only
reached on Monday. This is the opinion of Gen-
eral Gough himself, expressed a considerable time
after the writing of his confidential report.



According to Foch's projected concentration of
the General Reserve, more than twenty divisions
would have massed near Amiens and north of Paris,
within easy proximity of Gough.

Thus during the week-end the Germans drove
on towards Amiens, pushing before them the shreds
of Gough's army; if they reached Amiens the
British and French armies were separated, for no
real commimication could be established between
them on the lower reaches of the Somme below
Amiens. Once separated, Ludendorff could take
breath, and fling his mass of manoeuvre of loo
divisions against each separately and in turn,
either the reduced British pressed against the
Channel ports, or the French with a vast front to

During the week-end, therefore, at London,
Paris, and Versailles, disastrous events were dis-
cussed and desperate resolutions taken; measures
for the evacuation of Paris were considered; late on
Saturday night, Clemenceau telephoned to the
President of the Republic to get ready to leave
Paris, with the rest of the Government, for Bor-
deaux. Clemenceau loudly declared he would
fight to the Pyrenees, and calculations were made
whether it would be possible to re-embark and save



the remainder of the British army. But however
determined their statesmen might be, the two
nations might have refused to make a further effort,
and the fortitude of one might not have endured the
loss of their capital, or the patience of the other
the destruction of their great army. The loss of
Amiens might involve the loss of the war; every-
thing hung upon it. Victory, therefore, was again
within the grasp of the Germans.

Ludendorff proudly says the Germans at St.
Quentin did what no one else had done in the war.
But even the Germans must be given their due, and
he imderstates his own achievement. After re-
sisting for nearly two years the attempts of Allied
armies almost twice their size to break through
their front, the Germans themselves broke through
the Allied front with a bare equality of forces, and
this with a plan of operations that was very faulty,
and ought to have proved fatal. During the week
the German Emperor gave Hindenburg a decora-
tion that has only been given on one other single
occasion in Prussian history, to Blucher after
Waterloo; perhaps St. Quentin was the greatest
German victory of the war, and their greatest
military operation.

It is certainly the greatest defeat we have ever



suffered in our history, measured by any standard.
For in the month of March, 191 8, in ten days'
fighting, we had in casualties 8840 (eight thousand,
eight hundred and forty) officers and 164,881 (one
hundred and sixty-four thousand, eight hundred
and eighty-one) men.' This almost reaches July,
191 6, the first month of the Somme battle, which
has the record in the war for casualties in a single
month with 8709 (eight thousand, seven hundred
and nine) officers and 187,372 (one hundred and
eighty-seven thousand, three hundred and seventy-
two) men. Ludendorff, however, did not stop
bleeding us, and in the next month, April, 19 18, he
infficted losses on us of 6709 (six thousand, seven
hundred and nine) officers and 136,459 (one hun-
dred and thirty-six thousand, fovir hundred and
fifty-nine) men, and in May, 3452 (three thousand,
four hundred and fifty-two) officers and 65,597
(sixty-five thousand, five htmdred and ninety-
seven) men. Never before, not during even the
first three months of the Somme shambles, have
Englishmen been slain at such rate and on such a

' Strictly speaking, these are our casualties for these
periods on all fronts, but all except the smallest portion were
in France. The historian will find them in the Statistical
Abstract of the War previously referred to.

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Online LibraryPeter E WrightAt the Supreme War Council → online text (page 6 of 10)