Current History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 online

. (page 19 of 30)
Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 19 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Lloyd George and General Maurice

A Speech in Which the Premier Routed His Enemies and Revealed Some
Inside Facts

A flurry arose in British Parliamentary circles early in May which for a
day or so threatened to wreck the Lloyd George Government, but which
resulted in a new triumph for the Premier and a humiliating defeat for
those who had intrigued against him. It was precipitated by Major Gen.
Sir Frederick Barton Maurice, who had been Director of Military
Operations until April, 1918, when he was succeeded by Brig. Gen.
Radcliffe. His removal had been due to a public utterance in which he
had criticised General Foch for not coming sooner to the assistance of
the British after the beginning of the German offensive.

On May 7 General Maurice published a letter in which he definitely
asserted that the Premier had made a misleading statement to the House
of Commons April 9, when he asserted that the British Army in France on
Jan. 1, 1918, was considerably stronger than on Jan. 1, 1917; that he
misstated the facts regarding the number of white divisions in Egypt and
Palestine; also that Bonar Law, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had
made a misstatement in denying that the extension of the British front
in France had been ordered by the Versailles War Council.

A resolution was introduced by former Premier Asquith for the
appointment of a committee to investigate the charges. The Lloyd George
Government accepted the challenge and announced that they would regard
the passage of the resolution as a vote of censure and would resign if
it was carried. The debate on the resolution occurred May 9 and resulted
in an overwhelming victory for the Government, the vote to uphold the
Lloyd George Ministry being 293 to 106; the Irish members were not

In his address the Premier took up the charges in detail. Regarding the
figures of the British strength he quoted from a report from General
Maurice's own department, initialed by his deputy, dated April 27,
1918, which concluded with these words:

From the statement included, it will be seen that the combatant
strength of the British Army was greater on Jan. 1, 1918, than on
Jan. 1, 1917.

He also showed that his statements regarding the relative strength of
the opposing forces in France and the number of white divisions in Egypt
were based on figures furnished by General Maurice's department.

Regarding the extension of the British front in France the Premier made
some interesting disclosures showing that the extension was made by
agreement of Field Marshal Haig and General Pétain, and not by the
Versailles Council. He said:

Before the council had met it had been agreed between Field Marshal
Haig and General Pétain, and the extension was an accomplished fact.
Field Marshal Haig reported to the council that the extension had
taken place. There was not a single yard taken over as a result of
the Versailles conference - not a single yard of extension.

In discussing this phase Lloyd George proceeded as follows:

Extending the British Line

Of course, the Field Marshal was not anxious to extend his line. No
one would be, having regard to the great accumulation of strength
against him, and the War Cabinet were just as reluctant.

There was not a single meeting between the French Generals and
ourselves when we did not state facts against the extension, but the
pressure from the French Government and French Army was enormous,
and what was done was not done in response to pressure from the War
Cabinet. It was done in response to very great pressure which Sir
Douglas Haig could not resist and which we could not resist. We are
not suggesting that our French allies are asking unfairly. That is
certainly not my intention.

There was a considerable ferment in France on the subject of the
length of the line held by the French Army as compared with our
army. The French losses had been enormous. They had practically
borne the brunt of the fighting for three years. There was a larger
proportion of their young manhood put into the line than in any
belligerent country in the world. They held 336 miles. We held a
front of 100 miles.

That is not the whole statement, because the Germans were much more
densely massed in front of ourselves. Not only that, but the line we
held was much more vulnerable. Practically the defense of Paris was
left to us, and the defense of some of the most important centres,
but there was the fact that you had this enormous front held by the
French Army, as compared with what looked like the comparatively
small front of ours.

Shortage of Farm Labor

In addition to that, the French Army at that time was holding, I
think, a two-division front on our line in order to enable us to
accumulate the necessary reserves for the purposes of the attack in
Flanders. That was part of the line which, I believe, was held
before by the British and French.

The French were pressing in order to withdraw men from the army for
purposes of agriculture. I ought to explain that their agricultural
output had fallen enormously, owing to the fact that they had
withdrawn a very large proportion of their men from the cultivation
of the fields, and they felt it essential that they should withdraw
part of their army for the purpose of cultivating the soil, and they
were pressing us upon these topics.

The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson, and
the Cabinet felt that it was inevitable that during the Winter
months there should be some extension, and we acknowledged that
something had to be done to meet the French demands, and to that
extent we accepted the principle that there must be some extension
of the line.

At that time the Field Marshal was under the impression that the
Cabinet had taken a decision without his consent. The Chief of the
Imperial Staff upon that sent the following memorandum to the War
Cabinet. I will read it, but first, with reference to the Boulogne
Conference, I may, perhaps, say that that was the first time we had
a discussion with the French Ministers. The subject of discussion
was a rather important foreign office. It was not summoned in the
least to discuss an extension of the lines. We never knew that was
to be raised. Sir William Robertson and I represented the British
Government, and M. Painlevé, the Prime Minister, and General Foch
represented the French Government.

When Sir William Robertson discovered that the Field Marshal was
under the impression that we had come to a decision without his
consent he sent the War Cabinet a memorandum, in which he says:

"At the recent Boulogne Conference the question of extending our
front was raised by the French representatives. The reply given was
that, while in principle we were, of course, ready to do whatever
could be done, the matter was one which could not be discussed in
the absence of Sir Douglas Haig, or during the continuance of the
present operations, and that due regard must also be had to the plan
of operations for next year.

"It was suggested that it would be best for the Field Marshal to
come to an arrangement with General Pétain, when this could be done.
So far as I am aware no formal discussion has taken place, and the
matter cannot be regarded as decided. Further, I feel sure that the
War Cabinet would not think of deciding such a question without
first obtaining Sir Douglas Haig's views. I am replying to him in
the above sense."

That, I think, was on the 19th of October. The War Cabinet fully
approved of the communication. Sir Douglas Haig communicated, and
said that it threw a new light on the Boulogne position. I think
that we have a right to complain of the way in which it has been
rumored about that Sir Douglas Haig protested.

The War Cabinet's Decision

The fact that Sir William Robertson had explained and Sir Douglas
Haig had stated that the explanation threw new light has never been
repeated. That is how mischief is done.

On Oct. 24 this question was first formally discussed by the War
Cabinet. There was further pressure from the French Government, and
Sir William Robertson gave his views as to the time which the
British Government ought to take, and this conclusion is recorded in
the minutes of the War Cabinet as follows:

"The War Cabinet approve of the suggestion of the Chief of the
Imperial Staff that he should reply to Field Marshal Sir Douglas
Haig in the following sense: The War Cabinet are of the opinion that
in deciding to what extent the British troops can take over the line
from the French regard must be had to the necessity of giving them a
reasonable opportunity for leave, rest, and training during the
Winter months and to the plan of operations for the next year, and,
further, while the present offensive continues it will not be
possible to commence taking over more line.

"Under these circumstances the War Cabinet fear that until this
policy is settled it will be premature to decide finally whether the
British front is to be extended by four divisions or to greater or
lesser extent."

The resolution was communicated to Sir Douglas Haig by Sir William
Robertson, and we never departed from it. After that came the
Cambrai incident and the Italian disaster, which necessitated our
sending troops to Italy. That made it difficult for the Field
Marshal to carry out the promise he made to General Pétain for a
certain extension of the front. Then the present French Prime
Minister came in, and he is not a very easy gentleman to refuse. He
was very insistent that the British Army should take over the line.

Clemenceau Suggested Versailles

We stood by the position that that was a matter to be discussed by
the two Commanders in Chief. We never swerved from that position. At
last M. Clemenceau suggested that the question should be discussed
by the military representatives at Versailles, and that the
Versailles Council should decide if there was any difference of
opinion. The military representatives discussed the question, and
the only interference of the War Cabinet was to this extent. We
communicated with the Chief of Staff, who was then in France, and
with Sir Douglas Haig to urge on them the importance of preparing
their case for the other side so as to make the strongest possible
case for the British view.

The military representatives at Versailles suggested a compromise,
but coupled with it recommendations as to steps which ought to be
taken by the French Army to assist the British if they were
attacked, and by the British to assist the French if they were
attacked, which was even a more important question than the
extension of the front.

That recommendation came up for discussion at the Versailles Council
of Feb. 1. Before that meeting Sir Douglas Haig and General Pétain
met and entered into an agreement as to the extension of the front
to Brissy, and Sir Douglas Haig reported that to the Versailles
Council. When the discussion took place there no further extension
of the line was taken at all as a result of the discussion.

That is the whole story. I was to make it perfectly clear that in
the action Sir Douglas Haig took for the extension of the line he
had the full approval of the British Cabinet, having regard to the
pressure of the French Government and military authorities. Sir
Douglas Haig had no option except to make the extension. He was in
our judgment absolutely right in the course he took. Naturally, he
would have preferred not to have done it, but the British Government
fully approved of the action he took.

The real lesson of the discussion is the importance of unity of
command. It would never have arisen if you had had that. Instead of
one army and one commander responsible for one part of the line, and
another army and another commander responsible for another part of
the line, we have one united command responsible for the whole and
every part. It was the only method of safety, and I am glad we have
it at last.

It was not so much a question of the length of the line held by one
force or the length held by another. It was a question of reserves
massed behind.

The Premier ended with a plea for a truce to political "sniping." On May
13 it was announced that as a disciplinary measure General Maurice had
been placed on "the retired list."


The New British Service Act

Provisions of Law Which Raises Military Age

The new British Military Service act became effective in April, 1918,
having passed both houses of Parliament by large majorities; it
immediately received the royal assent. The provision applying
conscription to Ireland was suspended temporarily, on the assumption
that it would not be enforced until a measure of home rule for Ireland
was agreed upon. The main provisions of the new service measure are as
follows, as analyzed by The London Times:


Men Up to 50. - Obligation to military service imposed upon every
male British subject:

1. Who has at any time since Aug. 14, 1915, or who for the time
being is in Great Britain, and

2. Who on April 18, 1918, had attained the age of 18 years and had
not attained the age of 51 years or who at any subsequent date
attains the age of 18 years.

Men Up to 55. - If it appears necessary at any time for the defense
of the realm, his Majesty may, by Order in Council, declare the
extension of the obligation to military service to men generally or
to any class of men up to any age not exceeding 56 years. The draft
of any such order is to be presented to each house of Parliament,
and will not be submitted to his Majesty in Council unless each
house presents an address, praying that the order may be made.

Doctors. - Duly qualified medical practitioners, who have not
attained the age of 56 years, are made immediately liable to
military service.


The clause in the act of May, 1916, excepting from military service
any person who has been "a prisoner of war, captured or interned by
the enemy, and has been released or exchanged," is to cease to have
effect. It is, however, provided that the change shall be without
prejudice to any undertaking, recognized by the Government, and for
the time being in force, that any released or exchanged prisoner of
war shall not serve in his Majesty's forces during the present war.


The act of May, 1916, provided that the service should not be
prolonged of men who, when their times for discharge occurred, had
served a period of twelve years or more and had attained the age of
41 years. This section is to cease to have effect.


Method of Procedure. - His Majesty may, by Order in Council, extend
the act to Ireland, with the necessary modifications and

Legal Proceedings. - An Order in Council may be issued to make
special provision for the constitution of the civil court before
which proceedings for any offenses punishable on summary conviction
under the Reserve Forces act, the Army act, and the Military Service
acts are to be brought in Ireland. The order may also assign any
such proceedings to a specified civil court or courts.


His Majesty may, by proclamation declaring that a national emergency
has arisen, direct that any certificates of exemption other than
those granted on the grounds of ill-health or of conscientious
objection shall cease to have effect.


The Local Government Board or the Secretary for Scotland may make
regulations for the following purposes:

1. For providing for applications for certificates of exemption,
including appeals, being made to such tribunals, constituted in such
manner and for such areas as may be authorized.

2. For establishing special tribunals, committees, or panels for
dealing with particular classes of cases.

3. For regulating and limiting the making of applications.

4. For making other provision to secure the expeditious making and
disposal of applications.

It is provided that such regulations shall not alter the four
grounds for applications for certificates of exemption - the
expediency, in the national interests, that a man should be engaged
in other work, business or domestic reasons, ill-health, and
conscientious objection.


Any person making a false statement with a view to preventing or
postponing the calling up of himself or any other person, or for any
medical examination, is to be liable to six months' imprisonment.

It is to be the duty of any man whose certificate has been
withdrawn, or who no longer satisfies the conditions on which it was
granted, to transmit it forthwith to the local office of the
Ministry of National Service. If he fails without reasonable cause
to do so, he will be liable to a fine of £50.


Any man holding a certificate of exemption (other than one from
combatant service only) or applying for its renewal may at any time
be required to present himself for medical examination or


Every man granted a certificate of exemption is to join the
Volunteer Force for the perid of the war, unless the tribunal
dealing with the case orders to the contrary.


The act is to be read with previous acts in relation to the act of
1917, which confirmed conventions with allied States making subjects
of those States in this country liable for military service. That
act is also to apply to Ireland, if the act is extended to Ireland.


The exceptions from the act are the following:

1. Men ordinarily resident in the Dominions.

2. Members of the regular or reserve forces or of the Dominion
forces, and territorials liable to foreign service.

3. Men serving in the navy, the Royal Marines, or the air force.

4. Certain categories of officers and men who have left or been
discharged from the forces in consequence of disablement or
ill-health; and men medically rejected, if, on further medical
examination after April 5, 1917, they have been certified to be
totally and permanently unfit for any form of military service.

5. Men in holy orders or regular ministers of any religious

British Aid to Italy

General Plumer's Dispatch

The report was published May 10, 1918, that 250,000 Italian troops had
been concentrated in France to swell the reserves of the allied armies
against the German offensive, and that this had been accomplished
without weakening the Italian front, which was preparing for a
threatened Austrian attack. No statement was made regarding the British
troops that had gone to Italy's aid during the disaster to the Italian
armies in 1917.

General Sir Herbert Plumer, who took over the command of the British
troops in Italy after their arrival there, Nov. 10, 1917, submitted his
official report March 9, 1918. He stated that he found on his arrival
that the situation in Italy was disquieting, the Italian Army having
received a severe blow, and the aid that the British and French might
give could not be immediate owing to difficulties of transport. As it
was then uncertain whether the Italians could hold the Piave line, it
was arranged that two British divisions in conjunction with the French
should move to the hills north and south of Vicenza. By the time the
troops had reached this position the situation had improved and an offer
was made by the British in conjunction with the French to take over a
sector of the foothills of the Asiago Plateau. But as snow was imminent
and special mountain equipment was difficult to provide, the suggestion
was made by the Italians that the British should take over the Montsello
sector, with the French on their left. This was agreed to.

Sir Herbert considers that the entrance of the French and British had an
excellent moral effect and enabled the Italians to withdraw and
reorganize. The Montsello sector, which was taken over on Dec. 4 and
work immediately begun on its defense, is described by Sir Herbert as a
hinge to the whole Italian line, joining the mountain portion facing
north, from Mount Tomba to Lake Garda, to the Piave line held by the 3d
Italian Army.

December was an anxious month. Several German divisions were east of the
Piave, and an attempt to force the river and capture Venice was
considered likely. Local attacks grew more and more severe, and, though
the progress of the enemy was not great and Italian counterattacks were
constantly made, the danger of a break-through increased. The Austrians
were being encouraged to persevere in the hope of getting down to
the plains for the Winter.

Rear lines of defense were constructed, and as time passed and the
preparations were well forward the feeling of security grew, and was
further increased by the recapture by the Italians of the slopes of
Monte Asolone on Dec. 22. The following day Mount Melago and Col del
Rosso, on the Asiago Plateau, were lost, but the Italians regained the
former by a counterattack. Though Christmas Day found the situation
still serious, especially on the Asiago, where the Italians, while
fighting stubbornly, suffered from strain and cold, the situation showed
signs of improvement. This outlook was brightened still further by the
capture of Mount Tomba, with 1,500 prisoners, by the French. In this
action British artillery assisted.

"During all this period," the dispatch continues, "we had carried out
continuous patrol work across the River Piave and much successful
counterbattery work. The Piave is a very serious obstacle, especially at
this season of the year, the breadth opposite the British front being
considerably over 1,000 yards, and the current 14 knots. Every form of
raft and boat has been used, but wading has proved the most successful,
though the icy cold water made the difficulties even greater. In spite
of this there has never been any lack of volunteers for these

"On Jan. 1 our biggest raid was carried out by the Middlesex Regiment.
This was a most difficult and well-planned operation, which had for its
objective the capture and surrounding of several buildings held by the
enemy to a depth of 2,000 yards inland, provided a surprise could be
effected. Two hundred and fifty men were passed across by wading and
some prisoners were captured, but, unfortunately, the alarm was given by
a party of fifty of the enemy that was encountered in an advanced post,
and the progress inland had therefore, in accordance with orders, to be
curtailed. The recrossing of the river was successfully effected, and
our casualties were very few. An operation of this nature requires much
forethought and arrangement, even to wrapping every man in hot blankets
immediately on emerging from the icy water.

"The 3d Italian Army also opened the year well by clearing the Austrians
from the west bank of the Piave about Zenson. This was followed on Jan.
14 by the attack of the 4th Italian Army on Mount Asolone, which,
although not entirely successful, resulted in capturing over 400
Austrian prisoners. The situation had by this time so far improved that
I offered to take over another sector of defense on my right in order to
assist the Italians. This was agreed to, and was completed by Jan. 28.
On this day and the following the 1st Italian Army carried out
successful operations on the Col del Rosso - Mont Val Bella front, on the
Asiago Plateau. The infantry attacked with great spirit, and captured
2,500 Austrians. British artillery took part in the above operation."

General Plumer states that in February the weather was bad, much snow

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 19 of 30)