The New Government—A Defective War Instrument—My Account of the Naval Situation at Home—The General Situation—The Eastern Theatre—The Western Theatre—The North Sea and Home Defence—The Question of Invasion—The Dardanelles—The First Meeting of the New War Committee—Lord Kitchener’s Pronouncement—A Belated Decision—Duality of Opinion—Consequences of Delay—The Bulair Isthmus Question—Telegrams—A Starving or a Storming Operation—Efforts to Procure further Reinforcements—Mr. Balfour’s Exertions—A further Note upon the General Military Situation—The Main Facts—Russia—Disappointments of the French Offensive—Grave Losses of the French Army—No Progress in Mechanical Warfare—Lack of Concert between the Allies—Man-Power—The Dominant Needs—The only Prize within Reach.
The new Administration met for the first time on May 26. From the very outset its defects as a war-making instrument were evident. The old Ministers had made an accommodation with their political opponents not on the merits but under duress. The new Ministers were deeply prejudiced against the work which their predecessors had done. Had they been responsible they would no doubt have made a somewhat different series of mistakes. The Unionists had little confidence in the Prime Minister. Indeed, one of the questions they had most anxiously debated was whether they could assent to his remaining at the head of the Government. Mr. Lloyd George, the powerful politician whose action had compelled the formation of the Coalition, found himself on the morrow of his success in a position of singular weakness. He had ceded the Exchequer to Mr. McKenna, and found in the new Cabinet so largely his creation, an array of Conservative notables who regarded his political record with the utmost aversion. Mr. Bonar Law, the Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, might well have expected this dominant post, and although he was not himself affected by personal considerations, much soreness remained among his friends. Whereas practically all the important matters connected with the war had been dealt with in the late Government by four or five Ministers, at least a dozen powerful, capable, distinguished personalities who were in a position to assert themselves had now to be consulted.
The progress of business therefore became cumbrous and laborious in the last degree, and though all these evils were corrected by earnest patriotism and loyalty, the general result was bound to be disappointing. Those who had knowledge had pasts to defend; those free from war commitments were also free from war experience. At least five or six different opinions prevailed on every great topic, and every operative decision was obtained only by prolonged, discursive and exhausting discussions. Far more often we laboured through long delays to unsatisfactory compromises. Meanwhile the destroying war strode remorselessly on its course.
Although without executive power, I was treated with much consideration by the new Cabinet. I continued to sit in my old place on Lord Kitchener’s left hand. I was nominated to serve on the committee of nine Ministers which, under the title of the Dardanelles Committee, was virtually the old War Council. I was invited to prepare statements on the situation, both naval and general, and every facility was placed at my disposal by the Admiralty for marshalling and checking the facts. Lord Kitchener was also desired to present to the new Cabinet similar statements from the War Office standpoint. These papers were prepared with the utmost despatch. Meanwhile the education of the new Ministers in the inside and central point of view and their initiation in the secret and special information at the disposal of the Government continued. On June 1, I circulated my two documents. The first, dealing with the condition of the Navy, is printed as an Appendix. The second deserves attention here.
A NOTE ON THE GENERAL SITUATION.
June 1, 1915.
On leaving the Admiralty after 10 months’ war, during which I have followed attentively the whole course of the operations by land and sea, I think it right to put on record my view of the general situation.