The Deadlock at Sea—Insincere German Criticisms—How to Force a Naval Battle—Bankruptcy of Naval Opinion—The Entry of the Baltic—Correspondence with the Russian Government—Lord Fisher’s Views—The Island of Borkum—Difficulties and Lethargy—Efforts to devise Practical Plans—The Bombarding Squadron—My Letter of December 29 to the Prime Minister—The Southern Alternative—Turkey and the Balkans—First Thoughts about the Dardanelles—The Imprudence of Passivity—Some Practical Propositions.
German naval chroniclers are accustomed to dwell in biting terms upon the failure of the British Fleet to attack them at the beginning of the war. They describe the martial ardour which inspired the German Navy, and their constant and instant expectation of battle. Admiral Scheer relates how as early as August 2, 1914, his colleague commanding the 1st German Squadron urged him to come through the Kiel Canal that very night to join the rest of the Fleet at Wilhelmshaven lest if he waited till daylight he should be too late. He describes the feverish energy with which every scrap of woodwork and paint was stripped from the interiors of German ships the better to prepare them for action. He professes astonishment, not unmingled with derision, that the British disappointed his hope. Considering that the German Fleet remained for the first four months of the war absolutely motionless in its strongly fortified river mouths and harbours protected by its minefields and its submarines, this attitude of mind on the part of a skilful sailor appears to be somewhat forced.
If the Germans really believed that the Grand Fleet would be sent through their minefields to give them battle in their war harbours, they must have rated our intelligence very low. Such a course could only have cast away the British Fleet and achieved our ruin in a few hours. Nor would empty demonstrations off Heligoland, Sylt or Borkum have achieved any useful object. Both Scheer and Tirpitz write as if we had only to appear off these islands to compel the German High Seas Fleet to put to sea for the decisive battle. Yet at the same time we are told that the orders to the German Navy were not to fight a general battle until the British Fleet had been worn down by minor losses to a condition of equality. Why then should the Germans come out and fight a battle at heavy odds because British warships were exchanging shells with the batteries on the German islands? A much more sensible course for the Germans would be to send submarines by day and destroyers by night to torpedo the demonstrators and to sow the area with mines in case they should return. In this way the German equalization policy would have had a very good chance; and one can believe that such action by the British Fleet would have been very agreeable to German wishes. What more, indeed, could they want than that the British Fleet should be swiftly worn down in patrolling boastfully and idiotically outside the German harbours?
We also were anxious for a battle; but not a fool’s battle, or even an equal battle. It was our duty to take the fullest advantage of our superiority, and to fight only under conditions which gave solid assurances of victory. Moreover, while the Germans lay in harbour we had secured and were enjoying the full command of the sea. On the outbreak of war the British Fleet, from its war station at Scapa Flow, cut Germany off from the rest of the world. This was in itself an offensive act of prime intensity. It was for the Germans to prevent it if they dared and if they could. We had to convoy our Army to France and collect our forces from all parts of the British Empire. These armies were being sent to the decisive battle front on land. To hinder this transportation was surely a highly important strategic object for Germany and her Navy. If the British Army could have been prevented from reaching its station on the French left, who shall say whether the war might not have ended at the Battle of the Marne? Yet the German Navy, with the formal and explicit assent of the German General Staff, remained inert, impassive behind its minefields and fortifications, while the whole business of the world and of the war proceeded under British authority on the high seas.
‘If you are a great general,’ said Pompaedius Silo to Marius, ‘come down and fight.’ ‘If you are a great general,’ was the famous answer, ‘make me fight against my will.’ This was, in fact, the problem with which the Admiralty was nakedly confronted once the first phase of the naval war was over. The obvious forms of naval offensive open to the British Fleet were attempts and measures to draw the enemy’s fleet out of their harbours and force them to accept battle. The distant blockade, apart from its own immense influence upon the war, was a provocation to the enemy of the highest order. Another constant provocation was the ceaseless flow of troops and supplies to France. So important indeed were these functions of the Royal Navy, and so direct and insistent their challenge to the German Fleet, that the prevailing Admiralty view throughout the war rested content with them and did not wish for anything more. Once the first phase of the naval war was over and the outer seas were cleared, this strategy cannot be regarded as wholly sufficing. Without risking the Grand Fleet otherwise than in a battle upon favourable conditions, every device and form of pressure to make the enemy come out and bring on a naval crisis and climax ought to have been perseveringly studied. If the enemy would not come out to break the blockade, some other effective provocation should be sought for, and sought for with ceaseless diligence and audacity of conception. The Admirals in command and the prevailing authorities at the Admiralty, however, rested content with their distant blockade and their protection of the lines of communication. They endeavoured to gather as many ships as possible, adding squadron to squadron and flotilla to flotilla, and then thought they had done all that could be expected of them. When reproached from time to time for their inactivity, they replied by using all the perfectly correct arguments about not jeopardizing the Grand Fleet.
But this was not for them the end of the story. It was their business to invent or discover some offensive plan which without engaging the Grand Fleet at a disadvantage either forced the Germans to give battle or helped the allied armies in some notable way and took some of the pressure off them. A civilian Minister could never compel them to such a course. He could suggest, encourage and sustain. But if they remained immovable, like George II at the Battle of Dettingen, ‘sans peur et sans avis,’ nothing could be done.
What then would draw the German Fleet from its harbours with the intention of battle? The blockade had not provoked them; the passage of the Army did not tempt them; idle demonstrations off the German islands ought not to have enticed them. Something must be discovered and done which when done would immediately be insupportable to Germany, which she could by no means sit still and endure; something so urgent, so clamant, so deadly that whatever the odds her whole fleet must be at once engaged. Military history shows many examples of Commanders marching swiftly into an enemy’s country and seizing some key position of defensive strength against which the enemy is afterwards forced to dash himself. Thus are combined the advantages of a strategic offensive with those of a tactical defensive. This situation reproduced itself to a very large extent in France during the Great War, where the invading German stood on the defensive and the invaded Frenchman had to expend his manhood assaulting wire and machine guns. How could such simple military conceptions be applied to a naval war? What was there that we could do which would force the German Navy to fight us at our own selected moment and on our own terms? Surely such a study should have commanded a first place in British naval thought.
On August 19, 1914, I had, with the consent of the Prime Minister, entered into communication with the Russian Government with the object of directing attention continuously upon the strategic aspects of the Baltic.
Mr. Churchill to the Grand Duke Nicholas (through the Russian Military and Naval Attachés in London).
The Kiel Canal gives the Germans the power of putting their whole naval force either in the North Sea or the Baltic. The British naval strength is not sufficient to provide two Fleets each individually superior to the German Fleet.
The British Admiralty cannot therefore obtain the naval command of the Baltic until either (A) a decisive general battle has been won at sea or (B) the Kiel Canal has been effectively blocked. (A) depends on the enemy’s movements, but might happen any day. (B) is a difficult enterprise which might be attempted either by aerial or destroyer attack, or both, on the Brunsbüttel lock-gates. At the right moment (B) may be tried.
But it is important that plans should be prepared now to make the best use of our getting the command of the Baltic through either (A) or (B): and we desire the Russian General Staff to tell us what military use they would think it worth while to make of that command assuming we were able to get it.
The operation of sending a British Fleet through the Belts to enter the Baltic is feasible, and, if the main strategic situation were satisfactory, could be achieved.
Transports to carry a large invading army could be supplied at any time from England.
It would be possible if we had the command of the Baltic to land a Russian army in order:—
(1) To turn the flank and rear of German armies holding the Dantzig–Thorn line, or which were elsewhere resisting the main Russian attack.
(2) To attack Berlin from the North—only 90 miles in the direct line.
(3) To attack Kiel and the Canal in force and to drive the German Fleet to sea.
All or any of these operations would have to be carried out by the Russian Army; but if either (A) or (B) condition were fulfilled, the British Admiralty could carry, convoy, and land the necessary force.
We desire a full statement of Russian views on these alternative operations, which would be of course contingent on (A) or (B) being satisfied.
The following reply was returned on August 24:—
In reply to the absolutely secret suggestions of the First Lord of the Admiralty, reported by you on the 6/19 August, the Chief of the Staff of His Imperial Highness the Commander-in-Chief commands you to transmit to Mr. Winston Churchill the following answer:—
We appreciate in the highest degree the First Lord’s offer to co-operate with us in the execution by our land forces of a landing operation on the North German Coast, should the British Fleet gain command of the Baltic Sea. The attainment of the aforesaid command would, in our opinion, in itself prove a most valuable and desirable factor towards the development of our offensive operations against Germany. We consider that the suggested landing operation, under favourable circumstances, would be quite feasible and fully expedient. We therefore gratefully accept in principle the First Lord’s offer, but we add that we could avail ourselves thereof only should the general military situation lend itself to its application.
These ideas received a powerful impetus from the arrival at the Admiralty, three months later, of Lord Fisher. The First Sea Lord was deeply convinced that the command of the Baltic, and the consequent letting loose of the Russian armies upon the whole of the unprotected Northern seaboard of Germany, would be a mortal blow. In a weighty memorandum, which has since been published he stated his case with sure insight. It was undoubtedly the prime goal of a naval offensive. When I showed him my correspondence with the Russian Government on this subject, he rallied enthusiastically to the idea. I told the War Council in his presence during our December discussions, in words which he often afterwards referred to, that there were three phases in the naval war. ‘First, the clearance of the outer seas; second, the blocking in of the German Fleet; and third, the entry of the Baltic.’ But all this was a good deal easier said than done. The second stage stood in the way of the third, and until that was achieved the third could not begin. The second stage was in itself an operation of even greater consequence and hazard than the one that lay beyond. In order to close up the Heligoland Bight it was necessary to storm and hold one or more of the German islands, and this would in all probability have brought about the decisive sea battle between the British and German Fleets. It was really very difficult to see beyond such an event. Indeed, it was the biggest naval event that could possibly happen. The difficulties of this preliminary decisive stage were such that the Admiralty throughout the whole war, even when possessed of the most enormous superiority of strength, recoiled from facing it.
Let us see what exactly was this prime operation which stood in the path of all the rest.
In my earliest meetings with Lord Fisher in 1907 he had explained to me that the Admiralty plans at that date in the event of hostilities with Germany were for the seizure as early as possible in the war of the island of Borkum as an advanced base for all our flotillas and inshore squadrons blockading the German river mouths. I was always deeply interested in this view. I found it strongly held by Admiral Lewis Bayly. In 1913, this officer, who stood in the very first rank of the younger Admirals of the Navy, had been employed on examining the methods by which the capture and maintenance of this island could be effected in the event of a war, and how the problem had been influenced in the meanwhile by new conditions. The new elements were formidable: to wit, aviation, the submarine and the long range gun. But they favoured or hindered both sides in various degrees at the different stages of the operation. As an alternative, or possibly as an accompaniment, the island of Sylt was also studied. Very careful models in relief were made of the German river mouths and of all the islands. Admiral Bayly’s reports and plans were available in the staff archives. There was no possibility of using them at the beginning of the war. At least three or four brigades of the finest regular infantry we possessed were required for the storm of an island, though a smaller force would have sufficed to garrison it after it was taken. There was no possibility of sparing these troops from the decisive battle front in France. Moreover, as has been seen, the Navy had plenty to do on the outbreak of the war in securing the command of the sea and in ferrying the Army across.
In principle the plans were favoured by Prince Louis. Sir Arthur Wilson thought the operation feasible, and in his first views of the naval war was even disposed to the much more hazardous and much less fruitful enterprise of bombarding and storming Heligoland. Lord Fisher, when he arrived at the Admiralty, was still favourable in principle to the attack on Borkum, but like everyone else he realized the momentous character and consequences of such an operation. They could hardly have been less than the immediate bringing on of the supreme battle. Within a week at the latest of the island being in our possession, much more probably while the operation of landing was still in progress, the whole German Navy must have come out to defend the Fatherland from this deadly strategic thrust. It was essentially one of those great projects to be prepared in absolute secrecy and in perfect detail, and to be used only when the circumstances warranted the taking of the great resolve. Lord Fisher and I in full agreement directed the War Staff in November to review Admiral Bayly’s plans for the oversea offensive with a view to action at some period in 1915, and on January 7 I obtained, with his support, the provisional approval of the War Council to this operation in principle if and when circumstances should render it desirable.
But although the First Sea Lord’s strategic conceptions were centred in the entry of the Baltic, and although he was in principle favourable to the seizure of Borkum as a preliminary, I did not find in him that practical, constructive and devising energy which in other periods of his career and at this period on other subjects he had so abundantly shown. I do not think he ever saw his way clearly through the great decisive and hazardous steps which were necessary for the success of the operation. He spoke a great deal about Borkum, its importance and its difficulties; but he did not give that strong professional impulsion to the staffs necessary to secure the thorough exploration of the plan. Instead, he talked in general terms about making the North Sea impassable by sowing mines broadcast and thus preventing the Germans from entering it while the main strength of the British Fleet was concentrated in the Baltic. I could not feel any conviction that this would give us the necessary security. First of all we had not got more than 5,000 mines,—whereas many scores of thousands were needed, and could not be supplied for many months; and even had we got them, what was to prevent the Germans, unless we guarded the minefields with our Fleet, from sweeping their way through them at leisure?
Therefore, while the First Sea Lord continued to advocate in general terms the entry of the Baltic, I persistently endeavoured to concentrate attention upon the practical steps necessary to storm and seize the island of Borkum, and thus either block in the German Fleet or bring it out to battle. In this task I addressed myself not only to the First Sea Lord and to the Staff, but also to the Commander-in-Chief. Had I found, as the result, any solid response in naval opinion, I should have been enabled to advance the subject to the point where a decision could be taken. But so far from securing such a response, I found a steady and palpable reluctance, which grew as the details of the problem came into view, and which manifested itself by lethargy and a complete absence of positive effort. There is no doubt the naval instinct was against running such risks. But if that were so, it was idle to talk airily of entering the Baltic.
On December 21, 1914, as the result of long discussions and resistances on my part to various petty mining projects, I wrote to the First Sea Lord:—
‘I see no objection to laying one or two secret minefields out from Heligoland to-night; or to laying some shield or barrier lines off weak points on our own coast. I expect we shall suffer inconvenience from it afterwards, but there is always a chance of a bag. It is like having a few lottery tickets. But it is no substitute for going to work. A policy of scattering a few bouquets of mines from destroyers, and building fast ships that will not be ready until all is over, is only a partial solution of our problem. I am entirely opposed to the laying down of new “Dreadnought” ships at this stage. It will hamper more urgent work in every direction….
‘The key to the naval situation is an oversea base, taken by force and held by force, from which our C class submarines and heavily gunned destroyers can blockade the Bight night and day; and around which and for which a series of desperate fights would take place by sea and land, to the utter ruin of the enemy.
‘But I cannot find anyone to make such a plan alive and dominant, and till then our situation is as I have told you, and as you justly say, that of waiting to be kicked, and wondering when and where….’
And again, on December 22:—
‘I am wholly with you about the Baltic. But you must close up this side first. You must take an island and block them in, à la Wilson; or you must break the canal or the locks, or you must cripple their Fleet in a general action.
‘No scattering of mines will be any substitute for these alternatives.’
The first practical step was to find a Commander who was favourable to the enterprise and who possessed the professional skill and personal resolution to carry it through. All these conditions were fulfilled by Admiral Lewis Bayly.
The monitors would not be ready for many months. In the meanwhile we had a number of older battleships that could be conveniently formed into a bombarding squadron. Sir Arthur Wilson had argued that effective bombardment from the sea required intensive gunnery training and exercises in order to direct and co-ordinate the fire of the ships in the highest state of perfection. We proposed, therefore, to form during the early months of 1915 a special squadron which ultimately, when the monitors arrived, would be available for the great operation, and which in the meantime could be used as required on Zeebrugge and Ostend in support of the Army. In December the First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Wilson and I being in full agreement, Sir Lewis Bayly was transferred from his command of the 1st Battle Squadron in the Grand Fleet to command the 5th Battle Squadron (‘Formidables’) at the Nore, with the intention of making this squadron the nucleus of the future bombarding fleet and its new Commander the leader of the naval offensive of 1915. The reader will see how incontinently these hopes were frustrated.
On December 29, I wrote to the Prime Minister on the general situation.
Mr. Churchill to the Prime Minister.
…I think it quite possible that neither side will have the strength to penetrate the other’s lines in the Western theatre. Belgium particularly, which it is vital to Germany to hold as a peace-counter, has no doubt been made into a mere succession of fortified lines. I think it probable that the Germans hold back several large mobile reserves of their best troops. Without attempting to take a final view, my impression is that the position of both armies is not likely to undergo any decisive change—although no doubt several hundred thousand men will be spent to satisfy the military mind on the point.
For somewhat different reasons, a similar stalemate seems likely to be reached in the Eastern theatre. When the Russians come in contact with the German railway system, they are heavily thrown back. On the other hand, withdrawn into their own country they can hold their own.
On the assumption that these views are correct, the question arises, how ought we to apply our growing military power? Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to chew barbed wire in Flanders? Further, cannot the power of the Navy be brought more directly to bear upon the enemy? If it is impossible or unduly costly to pierce the German lines on existing fronts, ought we not, as new forces come to hand, to engage him on new frontiers, and enable the Russians to do so too? The invasion of Schleswig-Holstein from the sea would at once threaten the Kiel Canal and enable Denmark to join us. The accession of Denmark would throw open the Baltic. British naval command of the Baltic would enable the Russian armies to be landed within 90 miles of Berlin; and the enemy, while being closely held on all existing lines, would be forced to face new attacks directed at vital points and exhaust himself along a still larger perimeter.
The essential preliminary is the blocking of the Heligoland debouch. The capture of a German island for an oversea base is the first indispensable step to all these possibilities. It alone can guarantee Great Britain from raid or invasion. It enables the power of our flotillas to be applied. Its retention by us would be intolerable to the enemy, and would in all probability bring about the sea battle. There is only one island (apart from Heligoland) which fulfils Mr. Balfour’s four conditions—Borkum. If Borkum were seized, it could be held without compromising the action of the Grand Fleet. If Borkum were held, it seems to me probable that a series of events would follow leading in a few weeks to German ships being driven altogether from the North Sea and into their harbours and mined and blocked therein.
There are three phases of the naval war: first, the clearance of the seas and the recall of the foreign squadrons—that is nearly completed; second, the closing of the Elbe—that we have now to do; and third, the domination of the Baltic—that would be decisive.
…The action of the Allies proceeds almost independently. Plans could be made now for April and May which would offer good prospects of bringing the war to its decisive stage by land and sea. We ought not to drift. We ought now to consider while time remains the scope and character we wish to impart to the war in the early summer. We ought to concert our action with our allies, and particularly with Russia. We ought to form a scheme for a continuous and progressive offensive, and be ready with this new alternative when and if the direct frontal attacks in France on the German lines and Belgium have failed, as fail I fear they will. Without your direct guidance and initiative, none of these things will be done; and a succession of bloody checks in the West and in the East will leave the Allies dashed in spirit and bankrupt in policy.
During December and January I continued to explore and endeavour to animate the Baltic project. In this task I expected to encounter difficulties which might well prove insurmountable. The detailed scheme of an attack on Borkum, and for holding it after it was captured, might reveal risks and complications which no one would face. Projects of landing large armies in Schleswig-Holstein were obviously at this stage of a most speculative character. The whole business of entering and dominating the Baltic was so vast, so critical, and depended on so long a succession of events, that the plan would probably fall to the ground by its own weight while under staff study and discussion. But having regard to the First Sea Lord’s favourable views, and the obvious greatness of the prize, I continued to press the subject forward and to explore it by every means open to me. Had the three great Allies said unitedly, ‘This must be done. Let combined plans be prepared. Let the first place be assigned to them in 1915,’ it is possible that a scheme fit to go into action upon could have been hammered out; and that the enormous technical and mechanical preparations necessary could have been made not indeed by May, but by August or September. But it would have taken the full impulse of the Allies to make the matter move.
The alternative to Borkum and the Baltic was, of course, an amphibious enterprise to strike down Turkey and to influence and rally the Balkans. There was no inconsistency in the thought which led to its simultaneous exploration. Both plans were expressive of the same idea and rested upon the same foundation. Both were based on the conviction that the fronts in France would undergo no decisive change for an indefinite period. Both aimed at turning a hostile flank. Both held out a hand to Russia. Compared to an attack upon the Northern flank of the enemy, the Southern operation was a far smaller and less hazardous business. It did not require the risk of any intrinsically vital element in our resources. Neither by sea nor by land was the same formidable German resistance to be expected. No supreme battle need be fought afloat or ashore. It was essentially a subsidiary operation. But it was an operation from which consequences of first magnitude might flow. The elimination of Turkey as a factor and the uniting of the Balkan States against Germany and Austria was as important, though not so immediately intense and momentous, as the domination of the Baltic and a Russian invasion of Germany from the North. The prize was at least equal though more remote, the difficulties less baffling, the stakes smaller, and the risk less.
It had long been obvious that the ideal action against Turkey, if she came into the war, was at the earliest possible moment to seize the Gallipoli Peninsula with an adequate army by an amphibious surprise attack and to pass a fleet into the Marmora. This operation could be covered by serious feints on the Syrian coast or at Alexandretta, or even at Smyrna. The Turkish seaboard was peculiarly liable to naval and amphibious attack. All points were, in fact, equally and simultaneously threatened from the sea. But the Gallipoli Peninsula, giving access by water to Constantinople, if taken, exposed Turkey to a fatal stroke.
Therefore, when at the end of August I formed the opinion that our diplomacy would fail to keep Turkey from joining our enemies, I had immediately begun, as has been shown in Part I, to make inquiries from the War Office about the possibilities of such an operation. In the hope that Greece would come in on our side, I wrote to General Douglas, the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, on September 1, 1914, my letter asking for joint plans for the landing of a Greek army. In consequence, I received the memorandum from General Callwell, already quoted. The Foreign Office, however, had thought it necessary to decline the Greek offer at that time; and we searched in vain for an army.
Turkey made war upon us at the end of October, 1914, and the question of the defence of Egypt arose. On November 25, with the hearty concurrence of Lord Fisher, I had pointed out to the War Council that the true method of defending Egypt was by an attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but that this was ‘a very difficult operation, requiring a large force.’ Sixty thousand men had been the figure specified by General Callwell when the question of using a Greek army had been discussed, and this was to be moved in two echelons of thirty thousand each. By the end of November two Australian divisions had arrived in Egypt, a Territorial division was already in that country, and it seemed that here perhaps was the nucleus of an army which, skilfully and suddenly launched, might have struck either at Gallipoli, or, as a less serious alternative, at Alexandretta. On November 30, Admiral Oliver, the Chief of the Staff, with whom I had had prolonged discussions, sent me the following minute:—
I propose to let the Transport Department know that transports should be kept in Egypt in case they are required for an expedition.
Will it be sufficient to tell them to keep enough transports in Egypt for one division of troops, as that is the smallest unit complete with all arms?
H. F. O.
Which I passed on.
November 30, 1914.
Had we not better keep enough transports congregated for 40,000 men, or shall we disperse them ready to assemble at short (? what) notice?
W. S. C.
Receiving the following answer:—
I will give Admiralty full notice. I do not think transports need be detained in Egypt yet.
I do not censure the War Office decision not to act at this time. Action would have been a master stroke, but no one could be blamed for not attempting it. The need elsewhere was too great. It was a thing to ponder over and to make plans for. But up to the end of 1914 there cannot be any reproach that troops were not provided for such an enterprise. Moreover, we did not fight the action of the Falklands until December 2, and until we had destroyed Admiral von Spee our naval resources were also strained to their utmost. The relief afforded by that action was instantaneous. But the ships were spread all over the world in their search for the enemy, and on convoy duty and trade protection; and no new naval concentration in the Mediterranean was possible before the end of January.
Having made the offer to collect transports and horse-boats and other craft necessary for landing an army of 40,000 men in a single echelon, for which the tonnage could then have been found, and this offer being declined, I put the project on one side and thought no more of it for the time. In case, however, the War Office should, at a later stage, wish to undertake an amphibious operation in the Eastern Mediterranean, Lord Fisher began to despatch horse-boats to Alexandria as occasion served and whenever he had ships going out.
The position then at the end of 1914 was that both the great amphibious alternatives were being studied at the Admiralty, that the Southern had been put aside since November on account of the failure to find an army; that the Northern plan presented more formidable difficulties the more it was examined, and could not in any case materialize for many months.
No doubt all these schemes of action were attended by risk, not only to those who executed but to those who devised them. They required intense exertions on a great scale, and involved the certainty of cost. Against such risks, exertions, and costs of action, must be balanced the dangers and consequences of inaction. Before projects of penetrating the Baltic or forcing the Dardanelles by the British Fleet are dismissed as ‘unsafe’ or impracticable, before an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein or the despatch of an army to the Balkan Peninsula or to Gallipoli are condemned as ‘unsound,’ the mind of the reader must also dwell upon the bloody slaughters of Loos-Champagne, of the Somme, of Passchendaele; upon the disasters, almost fatal, of Caporetto, 1917, and of March 21, 1918; upon the Russian collapse, revolution and desertion; upon the awful peril of the submarine warfare in 1917. It is on such a background that all plans for finding, by sudden and complex manœuvres or devices, short cuts to victory can alone be effectually depicted.
But as a key to the complicated and debatable alternatives which these pages expose, certain practical propositions may be presented. If these are comprehended and assented to, the rest will follow naturally and each thought will fall into its proper place and just relation. I therefore set them down categorically forthwith.
1. The Decisive theatre is the theatre where a vital decision may be obtained at any given time. The Main theatre is that in which the main armies or fleets are stationed. This is not at all times the Decisive theatre.
2. If the fronts or centres of armies cannot be broken, their flanks should be turned. If these flanks rest on the seas, the manœuvres to turn them must be amphibious and dependent on sea power.
3. The least-guarded strategic points should be selected for attack, not those most strongly guarded.
4. In any hostile combination, once it is certain that the strongest Power cannot be directly defeated itself, but cannot stand without the weakest, it is the weakest that should be attacked.
5. No offensive on land should be launched until an effective means—numbers, surprise, munitions, or mechanical devices—of carrying it through has been discovered.
1. The Grand Fleet should not be hazarded for any purpose less than that of a general sea battle.
2. A naval decision should be provoked at the earliest opportunity.
3. The Navy should actively aid the Army with its surplus forces.
These general principles remained my guides throughout the whole war. They run counter, of course, to the dominant military view, and diverge to some extent from the naval practice. How far they were justified by events, others must judge; but the history of the struggle will afford many illustrations of their adoption or repudiation by both the combatants and of the consequences which followed therefrom.