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tinuous unrelieved fighting in retreat, and seven
French divisions,' breathless, hard pressed, and
suffering heavily, a thin worn screen that a single
German cavalry division would have burst, and no
immediate help in sight but three French divisions
due the next day. On Simday Petain had just
thought it possible that the connection between the
two armies might be preserved, but on Monday
^ The 125th, 9th, loth, 62nd, 22nd, 133rd, 35th.



both he and Haig had given up hope and were pre-
paring to retreat, the one to the sea and the other to
Paris. This, as Foch has since said, meant the loss
of the war.'

The very words of the agreement signed by
Clemenceau and Lord Milner seem to anticipate
separation as inevitable : he was not made general-
issimo of one combined army, his authority was to
co-ordinate the action of the two armies.

Thus the two Commanders-in-Chief had re-
signed themselves to being parted, and to ceding
Amiens to Ludendorff before it was in his hands.
Not so Foch. As at the Mame, the more desperate
the situation, the fiercer grew his determination
and the more resourceful his ingenuity, as if his
spirit, the higher misf orttines rose, could always rise
to a still greater height. The same old gentleman,
now nearly three-score years and ten, who in 19 14
had snatched the race from the Germans in the last
few strides both in Lorraine and Champagne, was
again to do so in Picardy in 191 8, always with the
same calculating audacity. As at the Mame, he
divined the point where the last thrust of which the
exhausted enemy were capable would come, and

^ "C'etait la defaite," are his own words to describe this
projected retreat. See the issue of Le Matin of Nov. 8, 1920.



again risked all to parry it with the same desperate

He was only appointed towards the middle of
the day on Tuesday. But at a quarter to five, a few
hours after his appointment, he managed to get
through to Debeney, now commanding the ex-
treme French left, on the telephone: Foch now had
authority to command. He at once ordered De-
beney to take all his troops out of the line farther
south on a front of six miles, risk leaving a gap
there, and send them up in front of Amiens.
Against these, on the Wednesday, the last effort
of the spent German wave broke itself.

So Foch, as soon as he was given a chance, foimd
in himself at once, then as before in 19 14, the means
of retrieving the faults and errors of other leaders,
and so saved them, but only just, on the edge of
ruin. Again, as in 1914, nothing less than the fate
of the civilised world had for a few days trembled in
the balance, and again he threw in the weight of his
own indomitable will and turned the scale. Within
six months of the day when he was given the ap-
parently hopeless task of commanding armies de-
feated and pressed back to positions of the most
imminent disaster, those same armies under his
leadership were thtmdering victoriously at the



gates of the Hindenburg line, the safeguard and the
symbol of German domination, and the leaders of
the invincible German hosts who had awed Europe
for half a century and very nearly overwhelmed it,
had decided upon imconditional submission.





The Relations between General Robertson, General Maurice,
and Colonel Repington

General (now Field- Marshal Sir William) Robert-
son was, from the end of 191 5 to the beginning
of 19 1 8, the Chief of the Imperial General

General Matirice was, from the middle of 1916 till
General Robertson ceased to be C.I.G.S.,
Director of Military Operations; thus he was
General Robertson's chief Staff Officer and his
inseparable companion.

Colonel Repington left the army many years before
the war and became a journalist. He was the
military correspondent of the Times till the
end of 19 1 7, when he joined the Morning

The articles written by Colonel Repington in the
Times have never been republished. They are al-
most models of their kind, clear, sprightly, telling,
almost classical journalism: he has also lately pub-



lished a book entitled The First World War (Con-
stable & Co.), in the form of Diaries of the war,
very inferior to his articles, both in candour and
style. He appears in these Diaries as a man of ex-
treme quickness and cleverness, with gifts which,
if he had continued in his military career, ought to
have carried him to the very highest place; but also
as a man of morbid vanity and egoism, that at
times almost take him out of the limits of sanity.
The Diaries shed a great light upon the relations
between this journalist and our General Staff when
Robertson was at the head of it. The evidence
as to the conduct of the war supplied by the
Diaries and the articles of this journalist is worth

I. Relations between our General Staff


Robertson, the Chief of our General Staff, found
sufficient leisure to see Repington twenty times
during the year 191 6 {Diaries — February 2 and 25;
March 23; April 9 and 15; May 9 and 23; June 12;
August 4 and 9; September 7, 11, and 27; October
3,10, and 30 ; November 13 and 22 ; December 6 and
30). Most of these interviews took place at the



War Office or at Robertson's residence; but he had
enough time to go round to Repington's house
(March 29 and April 9) to give him an interview;
he is so indispensable that he sends for him (Sep-
tember 7 and October 10), and two or three letters
written by Robertson are quoted. Evidently this
journalist was indispensable to Robertson in win-
ning the war.

From January to November, 1 9 1 7 , eleven months,
the same close relations persist between the two;
they had seventeen interviews (Diaries — January
10 and 12 ; February 3, 8, and 12 ; March 17 and 31 ;
April 10 and 13; May 21 ; June 25; July 5 and 21;
September 21 and 29; November 13 and 21).

Most of these interviews are not short or casual
meetings. Repington's accotmt of most of them
covers page after page of his long book. It is diffi-
cult to summarise them, but this might be done by
saying that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff
regularly, about every three weeks, reports on the
war to the journalist: he furnishes him with a
methodical, detailed, and comprehensive survey of
it from every point of view.

During the war a great machine of censor-
ship, counter-espionage, and legal prosecution was
clamped on to the population outside the Govem-



ment service to prevent military information reach-
ing the enemy. For example, in May, 1916, a man
called Bright was found guilty of obtaining the
secret by which a material of military importance
was being manufactured in Sheffield, though with
no proved intention of communicating it to the
enemy; the judge sentenced him to penal servitude
for life. Inside the Government service, whether
military or civil, even more rigorous rules existed:
the most trifling indiscretions, the chance mention
of the most unimportant detail, involved the most
serious punishments. Repington is, as his Diaries
show, indiscreet by nature; as a journalist, he is
besides indiscreet by profession. The following are
a few examples of what the Chief of the Imperial
General Staff, who was in possession of all our
essential military secrets, was telling him.

In February, 19 17, he describes to him the situa-
tion in Russia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and the
working of the Derby system; in March, our posi-
tion in France, "We should soon have forty di-
visions in France"; in April, the Mesopotamian
situation again; in May, the results of his visit to
France; in June, the decision to abandon the offen-
sive at Salonika: " . . .all our troops in France
will attack" ; in August, all our casualties in France;



in September, Hindenburg's plans and our own;
the maps of the German defence; the state of our
recruiting; the date at which Mesopotamian rail-
ways will be finished ; and the whole Balkan situa-
tion; in October, the position of Roumania, and our
Home Defences; in November, of oiu^ man power;
and in December, the same again, and our whole
Eastern situation.

In 19 1 7 Robertson is no less loquacious. His
disclosures about our man-power situation are con-
stant : " There are sixty German divisions opposing
us." At times he carefully goes over every theatre
of war for Repington (May); in June, he tells
Repington about the great French mutiny, one of
the most closely kept secrets of the war. In July,
Repington says, " I did not think that the choice of
Gough for this operation was good. . . . Robert-
son was inclined to agree." He explains to Reping-
ton how we stand in aviation and the East and in
Russia (September); and in November, "we stud-
ied Cambrai on large maps." Thus Robertson
systematically disclosed to Repington all our es-
sential military secrets.

Every technical adviser of a Government is
bound to be silent about his relations to that
Government; otherwise he could not be trusted as



an adviser at all, for he could subject the Govern-
ment to his will, or to the will of some one else.
This rule of discretion is observed by civilians in
the Civil Services to a degree very nearly ridicu-
lous. But there is a still stronger obligation on a
soldier; for outward, as well as real, subordination
to a superior is the rule of his life. Without this
framework an army would collapse. The following
are some of the remarks the Chief of the Imperial
General Staff was making about his superiors to
this journalist, even when his superior happened
to be a soldier like Lord Kitchener. In February,
1916, Robertson remarks he "hopes politicians will
let him alone" (February 2); Robertson said, "He
is not so pleased with Lord Kitchener as he was,
and begins to think we shall not get on until
Kitchener goes" (February 25), Lord Kitchener
being not only his superior, as Secretary of State
for War, but a famous soldier. About a Conference
in France Robertson "complained bitterly that our
ministers did not take the lead in the debates"
(March 29). On April 9 Robertson confided to
Repington, "It was three months since he had laid
the whole situation before the Cabinet . . . noth-
ing had been done ... no good could be done
with the present ministers. ... It was useless


u. & u.



to have a Secretary of State for War who . . .
Lansdowne who was too old and indefinite. Bal-
four and Chamberlain no good" (April 9). A few
days later Robertson tells Repington "recruiting
is a farce," and both again, "What a Government
and what a War Office' ' (April 1 5) . Again, in May,
Robertson declares to him "it is impossible to
carry on with Asquith at the War Office"; and in
September, ' ' Lloyd George declares that we have
been all wrong in our offensive." A little later and
this was their dialogue : " I said I found it hopeless
to teach the politicians strategy, as they could not
understand. He was of the same opinion, and had
told Lloyd George that the latter must take his,
Robertson's, opinions without long explanations,
because Lloyd George to understand would have
had to have had Robertson's experience, and no
amount of explanation could make up for the want
of it." On October 3 Robertson was complaining
to him that ' ' such a lot of his time had to be given
to the Secretary of State"; a little later that "his
time was much taken up by having to explain every
detail to the War Committee. Lloyd George was
always holding him personally responsible." In
November Robertson "grumbled at the Cabinet,"
and exclaimed, "What on earth is the War Com-



mittee up to?" In December Robertson wrote to
Repington that "he had had a hell of a week," and
told him "the Cabinet have no clear ideas about
anything . . . Milner is little help . . . they
take up his time but do not take his advice . . .
a little body of politicians was trying to rim the
war themselves."

In 191 7 the tone of Robertson in the Diaries is
the same. "He, Robertson, had been very firm.
Lloyd George had resented his attitude." "The
discussion had been twice put off by the Cabinet"
(January). "One had to temporise with these
politicians" (Robertson speaking) , " in this manner
time was gained." "He did not intend to lose the
war by giving in to the politicians" (February).
In April he tells Repington ' ' he had had to fight for
Murray before the War Cabinet." "The War
Cabinet were really not helping him . . . they
were not really placing the war first, and when they
did discuss it they understood little about it."
"The War Cabinet idea about Italy was preposter-
ous . . . the manners of the War Cabinet had not
altered" (June). At the news of a success this is
Robertson's sarcasm: "The War Cabinet will
think to-morrow they have won the war" (Septem-
ber) ; and when the Supreme War Coimcil is estab-



lished, "We talked over the Paris plan and are both
contemptuous." Thus the sole and exclusive
military adviser of the Government criticised it to
an irresponsible person like Repington, and thus
violated his duty to his superiors.

There is another sect of remarks to be culled from
the Diaries. They are directed at our Allies. In
19 1 6 Robertson was saying this sort of thing: "The
French are no good for more than one more serious
effort"; that he has dissensions with Joffre; that
he hoped "to squeeze Joffre"; "The Roumanian
strategy was rotten"; "There is no love lost be-
tween Russia and Roumania" ; "Joffre is in trouble
again"; "The French have not kept their prom-
ises." In January, 19 17, Repington learns from him,
"Briand has tried very hard to stampede our
people" (January); and in March that Robertson
"preferred Joffre to Nivelle"; in April that "the
Russian position is rotten," and that he is "un-
easy about French politics," which have no "stabil-
ity." He expresses his scorn of Russia (May), and
tells him in November that "the debacle in Italy
is indescribable." Every Ally is dissatisfied with
every other Ally, but every one feels it is indelicate
to say so. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff,
who should have set an example of loyalty to them,



did not do so ; he disparaged them to a man who was
extremely likely to disseminate his words.

Maurice, his chief Staff Officer, was compul-
sorily retired from the Army in May, 191 8, and
having, like Repington, been compelled to leave
the Army, he also, like Repington, became a

The offence for which the Army Coimcil took dis-
ciplinary measures against him in May, 1918, was
for carrying on an agitation in the Press ; but from
the very first this Director of Military Operations
seems to have been Director of Press Operations
as well for General Robertson. "Major-General
Fred Maurice, the new Director of Operations,"
says Repington (August 16, 19 16), "dined with me
at the Savoy at 8. . . . He suggests that I
should use this event as a peg on which to hang a
comparison between the situation of Ma}^ and
August, 19 1 6. We went all through the different
points, but as these will be in the article when it
comes out, it is tmnecessary to refer to them
here" ; again (March 10, 1917), "saw Fred Maurice,
who wants me to write about the question of em-
ployment of officers of the Old and New armies."

Maurice allowed Repington to use his office of
D.M.O. as if it was Repington 's own office, and



was not behind Robertson in zeal. He and Reping-
ton "laughed a good deal about Lloyd George's
description . . . of his visit to the front " (August
1 6, 19 1 6). "Maurice and I are convinced that
nothing will convince our politicians what war
means" (February 20, 19 17). "Maurice thought
that we ought to have a chair at some University to
teach budding statesmen the rudiments of war"
(September 26, 19 17).

Maiirice has praised these Diaries of Repington
as "among the greatest diaries of our literature."^
Therefore Repington 's account of his relations with
Maurice should be true. Robertson has never dis-
avowed Repington' s account of their relations;
besides, Maurice as a journalist is Robertson's
champion, and bellows with rage at any criticism
of him.^ If Repington had misrepresented his own
relations with Robertson, Maurice would not have
lavished praise on the Diaries. Thus Repington's
account of his relations with Robertson should also
be true.

Repington cannot be blamed for these trans-
actions. As a journalist it was his business to get
information. His articles in the Times show what

' Daily News, Sept. 10, 1920.
^ National Review, Oct., 1920.
" 161


Robertson got in return. The articles are far
superior to the Diaries: more genuine, because they
have not been retouched to suit the subsequent
course of events; more talented, because their
bright clarion notes are not mixed with the jarring
snobbery of the Diaries; more interesting and val-
uable, because the historian can find in them the
ideas with which Robertson guided the war.

Repington proclaims the greatness of Robertson.
Victory is anticipated because "Sir William Robert-
son has a free hand" (the Times, May 8, 19 16).
Everything was wrong till "Sir William Robertson
came," and then, but then only, "we returned
finally to the right paths" (August 24, 1916). Vic-
tory has been delayed but it is now in sight because
we "are in a fair way at last, following the advice
of competent soldiers, amongst whom General
Cadoma and Sir William Robertson are in the
front rank" (January 15, 19 17). The first service
which Repington rendered to Robertson was public

Repington preaches the ideas of Robertson.
They are very interesting. Unity of Command
is rejected. It would "risk upsetting everything
and everybody by radical, untimely, dangerous
changes' ' (December 18,1917). The right strategy



is "wearing Germany down" (November 24, 1917) ;
and the right method is to raise more men, sixty
divisions more, in addition to the seventy odd we
already had. He comes back to this man-power
question again and again: "Victory or defeat," he
declares (May 8, 191 7), "depends upon man-power,
and nothing else stands between us and success."
"Will the British democracies allow history to say
that they have failed in courage and resolution"
(August II, 19 1 7), by not loading themselves with
an army almost as great as the German, as well as
almost the whole naval and financial burden of the
war. This was the very point of difference between
Robertson and the War Cabinet, who presimied to
think there might exist a less primitive strategy.
Repington is used by Robertson to direct the pres-
sure of public opinion against the Cabinet. For
this end Repington spreads the fiction (though per-
haps he is rather dupe than deceiver) that we are
weaker than the enemy. If Robertson can get more
men, we will fight, he says (August 1 1, 1917), "with
something near an equality of forces." This, of
course, was untrue: the Allies had long been over-
whelmingly superior to the Central Powers. The
Allied soldiers had never been able to use the
very great preponderance the Allied politicians had



given them. Thus the second service which Rep-
ington renders to Robertson is a press agitation in
favour of Robertson's ideas.

Repington denounces Robertson's civilian supe-
riors. He unintermittently criticises * ' amateurish-
ness in the Cabinet and Defence Committee, the
harassing and hampering interference of poH-
ticians" (February 8, 1916). "The Government
allows . . . incompetent administrators to mis-
handle" the army (May 8, 1916). "The Cabinet of
the war period can claim no merit . . . except
that of letting things slide" (August 24, 1916).
They suffer from the ' * hopeless incapacity of ama-
teurs to conduct a business of which they know
nothing" (same date). "It is known, of course,
that every politician thinks he knows all about
war" (August 25, 1916). "The politician is for
ever fuming and fretting and trying to interfere"
(same date). "Allied politicians would neither
acknowledge the sphere nor appreciate the func-
tion of strategy" (July 15, 19 17). "A party in the
late Cabinet ... no hesitation in assigning the
main responsibility for the prolongation of the war
to them" (same date). He refers to "inefficiency
of our War Cabinets" (August 4, 191 7). "It would
have been better if Mr. Lloyd George had adhered



to the facts" (November 17, 1917); and so on.
Repington echoes the abuse Robertson poured in
his ear, as far as the Censor would allow. His elo-
quent advocacy was intended to make our states-
men, in the mind of the public, responsible for
Robertson's inability to conduct the war, an in-
ability proved by the incontrovertible and quite
plain fact that, as soon as he left, it ended in our
favour almost at once. Thus the third service
which Repington renders to Robertson was public
denimciation of Robertson's superiors, the Cabinet,
for the advantage of Robertson.

Perhaps all this evidence from the Diaries and
the articles can be summarised in this way. Rep-
ington was the instrument, the very effective in-
strimient, of Robertson and his assistant Maurice
in the Press. Robertson criticised to Repington
the Government of which he was the technical
military adviser, and thus violated his duty to his
superiors ; disclosed to him all our essential military
secrets ; and disparaged our Allies to him. Reping-
ton's services to Robertson were public adulation:
press agitation in favour of Robertson's ideas; and
public denunciation of Robertson's superiors, to
the advantage of Robertson. Thus the closest con-
nection existed between them.



II. Robertson and the Morning Post

Repington's article, publishing to the world our
military secrets for the purpose of overturning the
Government, appeared in the Morning Post of
February ii, 191 8. He and the editor of the
Morning Post, Mr. Gwynne, were convicted and
fined at Bow Street on February 2 1 . Now, Robert-
son had been present at every meeting of the
Supreme War Coimcil, and knew quite well that
Repington had disclosed our military plans to
the enemy. In his Diaries (February 26, 1918),
Repington prints the following letter he received
from Robertson : .

February 25, 191 8.

My Dear Repington,
I shall return to London in about a week's
time, after which I shall have a good deal of in-
spection work to do, but I will not fail to arrange a
talk with you. My present feelings are that I am
more or less retired from the Public Service, except
so far as my own particular command is con-
cerned. I am heartily sick of the whole sordid busi-
ness of the past month. Like yourself, I did what I
thought was best in the general interest of the coun-
try, and the result has been exactly as I expected



would be the case. I am in no way surprised at the
turn events have taken ; in fact I felt sure from the
first that they would be as they have proved to be.
The country has just as good a Government as it
deserves to have. I feel that your sacrifice has been
great, and that you have a difficult time in front of
you. But the great thing is to keep on a straight
course, and then one may be sure that good will
eventually come out of what may now seem to be

Yours very truly,

W. Robertson.

The meaning of this letter is not quite clear, and
this is perhaps less due to a deliberate purpose than
Robertson's inability to express general ideas,
which is usual. But Repington treats it as a letter
of consolation at his conviction, and reports that
at his first interview with Robertson (March 15),
after this conviction, Robertson said, "few, except
Gwynne and I, had stood by him." In any event,
this letter is too inimitably in the style of Robertson
to be anything but genuine. From its text two sets
of observations arise.

The first set of observations are these:
First. — That Robertson considered Repington
to have been doing the work of a patriot in


publishing the article for which he was prose-
cuted. For Repington is treated as having
' ' done what he thought best in the interest
of the country."
Secondly. — That he had acted nobly ("your
sacrifice has been great") and rightly ("the

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Online LibraryPeter E WrightAt the Supreme War Council → online text (page 8 of 10)