Monday, May 30, 2011

The Douglas Haig Fellowship

I found this site during my research for an article I’m producing called ‘The British High Command in WW1’.  The Douglas Haig Fellowship is hosted on the ‘Scots at War Trust’ website, and its stated aim is:

[To] . . . encourage further study of Lord Haig's generalship and that of his subordinate commanders, by promoting the objective investigation of command and control of the British Army during the First World War.

At face value the site appears to be yet another website dedicated to the rehabilitation of Douglas Haig’s reputation; the content of which is likely to be weak and lacking depth.......... However, a closer look at the contributors reveals a significant number of the more recent ‘Revisionist Historians’:  John Terraine, Brian Bond, Peter Simkins, Gary Sheffield, John Bourne and Correlli Barnett.  John Terraine as I mentioned in a previous blog entry ‘stood practically alone’, during the 1960’s in his defence of Haig, whereas the others entered the arena more recently.  What you have on this site is an evolution in the revisionist thought played out in a series of lectures (Haig Fellows' Addresses).

For me the lecture that resonated the most was John Bourne’s ‘Haig’s Army’.  The articulation of his ‘light bulb moment’ (The British were fighting uphill.) matched mine.  In addition the notion of ‘. . . massive de-skilling of the army at all levels.’ provided me with a frame with which to comprehend what could be achieved by 1916 (In a previous post I stated ‘I find it hard to accept that there wasn’t more that could have been done before 1916.).  Whether you agree with the revisionist theories or not the lectures are a ‘must read’ for anyone seriously trying to understand the enigma of the First World War.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why did Great Britain go to war in August 1914? - Pt 5

Back to Part 4

Staff Talks Exposed

In August 1911 at the height of the Agadir crisis Haldane persuaded Asquith that the international situation demanded a review of Britain’s military preparations for war.  On 23 August 1911 a CID meeting attended only by those ministers who had prior knowledge of the staff talks was held.  The ministers present were Asquith, Grey, Haldane, McKenna, Churchill, and Lloyd-George.  Both Churchill and Lloyd-George had been courted by Haldane for over two years and both were briefed on the plans to send the BEF to France sometime before the August meeting.  Lloyd-George was anti Prussian militarism rather than anti-German and had underlined his stance in the Mansion House speech he delivered on 21 July 1911.  Following a lack luster naval presentation the general consensus of the meeting was that the option of sending the BEF to France in the event of war was the only viable strategy.  McKenna, First Lord of the Admiralty, dismayed at the inequitable hearing ensured that the reminder of the Cabinet was made aware of the staff talks.  The CID meeting ultimately resulted in three things; the subject of the staff talks being debated by the full cabinet during November 1911, an acrimonious debate that almost cost Grey his job.  The result was a stalemate with Asquith agreeing that no further talks should take place without Cabinet approval.  It brought forward and legitimised the continental nature of the Anglo-French military planning presenting it as a viable alternative to the traditional purely naval options.  It proved the catalyst that moved Asquith to replace McKenna with Churchill at the Admiralty with the mandate to:

‘… create a War Staff at the Admiralty, such as had already been imposed [by Haldane] on the War Office, and to make the admirals co-operate more with that other service department rather than operating in sublime or complacent isolation.’ Roy Jenkins, Churchill, (London: Macmillan, 2001), p. 205.

In 1912 Churchill found himself fully occupied with Britain’s naval position in the Mediterranean.  The construction of Dreadnought class battleships by both Italy and Austro-Hungary had rendered the British battleships in the Mediterranean obsolete.  Faced with the option of their replacement or withdrawal, cost and the growing German navy forced Churchill’s hand.  Britain unilaterally opted for withdrawal.  Almost simultaneously the French decided to realign their fleet and reinforce the Mediterranean leaving their Atlantic and Channel coasts exposed.  This French decision came following naval discussions during which Churchill had suggested the Mediterranean reinforcement idea as the best way to serve French interests.  To German eyes this was more than a coincidence and Berlin assumed a deal had been signed.  No deal had been signed although the French clearly wished for one.  Despite France’s failure to gain a British commitment Poincaré, the French Prime Minister, confided to the Russian Foreign Minister that,

‘while no written agreement between France and Great Britain was in existence …… a verbal agreement [had been made] between the Governments of France and Great Britain in which Great Britain had declared her readiness to come to the aid of France with her land and naval forces should France be attacked by Germany.’  Memorandum by Sazonov, quoted in Stieve, Isvolsky and the World War.  Quoted in: Geoffrey Miller, The Millstone Chapter 21 Summary and Conclusion The Moral Commitment.

This knowledge may have reinforced Russia’s belligerent stance in July 1914.  The years of military conversations, which had lacked British political oversight and direction, had built up French expectations but had not resulted in any defined British obligation to France.  In a twist of irony the talks that came closest to a formal agreement were those conducted by Churchill in 1912 with full cabinet knowledge.

Continental Engagement

By 1914 Britain had shifted from isolation to continental engagement through a process of détente with her 19th century imperial rivals France and Russia.  The naval arms race with Germany had been won by Britain and both countries knew it.  Relations with Germany had improved, both countries had worked together to settle the 1912/13 Balkan crises that resulted in the Treaty of London.  During 1913 and 1914 the pace of arms increases across Europe had picked up with Russia’s latent power beginning to show.  Russia had initiated a programme to add an additional 500,000 men to her standing army.  In Britain the central focus of attention was the crisis in Ireland and a new Home Rule Bill.  To many in Britain the July crisis when it came was just another Balkan crisis that should be handled like the previous ones.

By the 27 July 1914 Grey realized that his earlier strategy of working with Germany would fail.  Germany, aware of Russia’s growing strength and knowing that she would not back down the way she had in 1908, had no intention of restraining Austro-Hungary.  Grey had never properly outlined the reasons behind Britain’s switch to Continental engagement, or the possible cost, to the majority of his cabinet colleagues.  At a cabinet meeting on 29 July 1914 this resulted in an overwhelming majority of members opposing Grey’s proposed promise of support for France, only the Liberal Imperialist trio and Churchill were convinced that Britain would have to intervene on the side of France.  Grey believed that although no treaty had been signed support for France had become a matter of honor.  In cabinet on the 2 August he stated;

‘We have led France to rely upon us and unless we support her in her agony I cannot continue at the Foreign Office.’ George, Lord Riddel, War diary, London, 1933, p. 6, 2 August 1914.  Quoted in: Bentley B. Gilbert, ‘Pacifist to Interventionist: David Lloyd George in 1911 and 1914. Was Belgium an Issue?’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Dec., 1985), p. 880.

Between the 30 July and 4 August 1914 the Liberal Cabinet walked a tightrope of indecision, unwilling to face the final question, the question that would have split the cabinet and handed power to a pro-war Conservative party.  Ultimately it was the violation of Belgium neutrality that provided the umbrella under which the cabinet dissenters could make their moral choice to ‘tow the line’ and retain the integrity of the government.  On 4 August 1914 Britain stumbled into war with Germany.  In August 1914 the Cabinet had been free to make the choice between peace and war.  It was the perceived need to protect Britain’s Imperial position and interests against German European hegemony that had tipped the decision in favor of war.

Download ‘Why did Great Britain go to war in August 1914?’ .pdf version


Primary Sources


Gooch, G.P. & Temperley, Harold (eds)
British Documents on the Origin of the War 1898-1914,
Vol III, The Testing of the Entente, 1904-1906, (London 1928),


‘The World War One Document Archive’, The ABC Proposal for British Foreign Policy:
‘The World War One Document Archive’, The Anglo-Russian Entente - Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, London, 1908, Vol CXXV, Cmd. 3750.
‘The World War One Document Archive’, The Entente Cordiale Between the United Kingdom and France - Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers London, 1911, Vol. CIII, Cmd. 5969.
Rudyard Kipling, The Lesson’.

Secondary Sources


Charmley, John
Ferguson, Niall
Hamilton, Richard F. & Herwig, Holger H.
Decisions for War, 1914-1917(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Jenkins, Roy
Churchill(London, Pan, 2002)
Joll, James & Martel, Gordon
The Origins of the First World War; Third Edition (Harlow, Pearson, 2007)
Lloyd George, David
War Memoirs Of David Lloyd George. Volumes 1. (London, Odhams Press, Undated)
Marshall, P.J. ed
The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Massie, Robert K.
Miller, Geoffrey
Pakenham, Thomas
The Boer War(London, Abacus, 1992)
Pakenham, Thomas
The Scramble for Africa(London, Abacus, 1992)
Ponting, Clive
Robbins, Keith
Sir Edward Grey (London: Cassell, 1971)
Steiner, Zara S.
Stevenson, David
Trevelyan, G.M.
Grey of Fallodon(London, Longmans, 1937)
Wilson, Keith
Decisions for War, 1914(London, UCL Press, 1995)

Journals and Periodicals

Andrew, Christopher
‘France and the Making of the Entente Cordial’, The Historical Journal, 10 (1), (1967), pp. 89-105
Brock, Michael
‘July-August 1914: Achieving the Seemingly Impossible’, Liberal Democrat History Group Newsletter, 10, (March 1996), pp. 2-3
Buckley, Ian
Coogan, John W. & Coogan, Peter F.
Ekstein, Michael
‘Sir Edward Grey and Imperial Germany in 1914’, Journal of Contemporary History, 6 (3), (1971), pp. 121-131
Ekstein, Michael
‘Some Notes on Sir Edward Grey’s Policy in July 1914’, The Historical Journal, 15 (2), (June 1972), pp 321-324
French, David
‘Britain and the Origins of the First World War’, History Today, (February 1983), pp. 49-50
Friedberg, Aaron L.
‘Britain and the experience of relative decline, 1895-1905’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 10 (3), (September 1987), pp. 331-362
Gilbert, Bentley B.
‘Pacifist to Interventionist: David Lloyd George in 1911 and 1914. Was Belgium an Issue?’, The Historical Journal, 28 (4), (December 1985), pp. 863-885
Helmreich, Jonathan E.
‘Belgian Concern over Neutrality and British intentions, 1906-14’, Journal of Modern History, 36 (4), (December 1964), pp. 416-427
Herwig, Holger H.
‘From Tirpitz plan to Schlieffen plan: Some observations on German military planning’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 9 (1), (March 1986), pp. 53-63
Kennedy, P.M.
‘Idealists and Realists: British Views of Germany, 1864-1939’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5 (25), (1975), pp. 137-156
Maurer, John H.
‘Churchill’s naval holiday: Arms Control and the Anglo-German naval race, 1912-1914’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 15 (1), (March 1992), pp. 102-127
Remak, Joachim
‘1914 – The Third Balkan War: Origins Reconsidered’, The Journal of Modern History, 43 (3), (September 1971), pp. 354-366
Rock, Stephen R.
‘Risk theory reconsidered: American success and German failure in the coercion of Britain, 1890-1914’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 11 (3), (September 1988), pp. 342-364
Schroeder, Paul W.
‘World War 1 as Galloping Gertie: A Reply to Joachim Remak’, The Journal of Modern History, 44 (3), (September 1972), pp. 320-345
Seligmann, Matthew S.
‘A view from Berlin: Colonel Frederick Trench and the development of British perceptions of German aggressive intent, 1906-1910’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 23 (2), (June 2000), pp. 114-147
Valone, Stephen J.
‘ “There Must Be Some Misunderstanding”: Sir Edward Grey’s Diplomacy of August 1, 1914’, The Journal of British Studies, 27 (4), (October 1988), pp. 405-424
Williams, Beryl J.
‘The Strategic Background to the Anglo-Russian Entente of August 1907’, The Historical Journal, 9 (3), (1966), pp.360-373
Wilson, K.M.
‘The Anglo-French Entente Revisited’, Canadian Journal of History, August 1996, pp. 227-255.


Altman, William
Boardman, Terry
‘The New World Order’, A lecture presented at an anthroposophical conference on modern history in Keene, New York State, (August 2001).
Cain, Peter
Hopkins, A.G.


‘Timeline of Events, 1870-1914’, The World War One Document Archive.
‘World-wide Imperialism’, Source: David Thomson, Europe Since Napoleon (Knopf, 1966).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Joint Services Command and Staff College Library - Online Archive

I was carrying out a routine Webb search recently trying to see if either SS 135 (Instructions for the Training of Divisions for Offensive Action) or SS143 (Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action) were available in full online, if you know where I can access these online please let me know.  In the process I stumbled on an online research resource, the UK Defence Academy’s ‘Joint Services Command and Staff College Library - Archive’, that was new to me and may be of interest to you.

Currently the archive contains primary material covering:

This looks like a resource that you may wish to bookmark and followed especially if it lives up to its promise:

‘The JSCSC Library has a large collection of archives, the majority of which were inherited from the Army Staff College, Camberley.  A smaller collection was inherited from the Royal Air Force Staff College, Bracknell. The archive collection of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, was dispersed to other Naval establishments prior to the creation of the JSCSC.’

A programme of scanning the more important archive documents has been started and will continue as resources permit.  These scans will be made available on these webpages.’

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why did Great Britain go to war in August 1914? - Pt 4

Back to Part 3

The French Staff Talks

Grey’s first action on entering the Foreign Office was to reiterate a commitment he had made in the run up to the election to ensure a continuity in British foreign policy, his second was to become his most controversial.  On 29 December 1905 Grey was made aware by fellow ‘Coefficients’ member Col. Repington, the military correspondent to The Times, that secret informal talks had started in April 1905 between British and French staff officers with the aim of coordinating operations against Germany in the event of war (There is no evidence to indicate that Lansdowne or any members of the Balfour government were aware of any talks taking place during 1905.).  Sir George Clarke secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) confirmed the talks to Grey in a briefing on 9 January 1906.

Following a consultation with Haldane, Grey, without consulting his Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman, or gaining cabinet approval authorized a continuation of the talks.  Campbell-Bannerman was presented with a ‘fait accompli’ when he returned to London on 27 January 1906.  Grey determined to ensure his promise of continuity in British foreign policy probably believed that to gain cabinet approval for the talks could well result in a dilution of British support for France at the Algerciras conference discussing Morocco.  Campbell-Bannerman, whilst fearing that the talks ‘constituted something “very close to an honourable undertaking” which he opposed’ chose to conceal the talks from the remainder of his cabinet. (John W. Coogan & Peter F. Coogan, ‘The British Cabinet and the Anglo-French Staff Talks, 1905-1914: Who Knew What and When Did He Know It?’, The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Jan., 1985), p. 113.).  Only five members of the new 1906 Liberal Cabinet were aware of the talks; Campbell-Bannerman, Grey, Haldane, Tweedmouth (First Lord of the Admiralty), and Ripon (Liberal Leader in the House of Lords).  Campbell-Bannerman’s reasoning for not telling the remainder of the cabinet centered on two elements.  The staff talks covered to his mind a hypothetical issue.  To win the election he had had to pull a fractured Liberal party back together and he was not prepared to risk splitting his fragile Liberal coalition over such a contentious ‘hypothetical’ issue.

From their inception the talks lacked co-ordination and became compartmentalised.  Haldane and Tweedmouth saw them primarily in their respective single service military terms.  Grey viewed them solely in diplomatic terms, a mechanism to keep France close to Britain.  The affect of this compartmentalism on British policy would not become clear until the next Moroccan crisis.  The authorization of military talks went well beyond the original terms of the Entente and looked, particularly to the French, like a prelude to an Alliance.  Campbell-Brown never had to address the confusion caused by this compartmentalism.  His death in April 1908 followed by the resignations of Tweedmouth and Ripon that October left only two members of the cabinet aware of the talks.  The new Prime Minister Asquith was told about the talks in July 1908 and, like his predecessor, was not prepared to pay the political price by raising the issue of the talks in cabinet.  The Army and Navy continued to make plans that would ultimately prove to be mutually exclusive.

The Anglo-Russian Entente

In August 1907, following 14 months of negotiations, Grey achieved what his predecessors Salisbury and Lansdowne had only managed to aspire to, a settlement of colonial differences with Russia covering Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.  Russia, despite its defeat by Japan in 1905, was perceived in Britain as a latent power whose revival was inevitable.  The Liberal government chose negotiation rather than countering the perceived Russian threat to India militarily.  This choice was driven by cost and a change in British strategic thinking following CID foreign invasion discussions in 1905 and 1907 which identified Germany, due largely to its naval expansion, not Russia as Britain's main potential enemy.  The wording of Anglo-Russian entente contained no overt European element but it represented to German eyes a shift in the Balance of Power in favor of the ‘Triple Entente’.  Grey had had this in mind when on 20 February 1906 he had written:

‘An entente between Russia, France and ourselves would be absolutely secure.  If it is necessary to check Germany it could then be done.’ G.P. Gooch and Harold Temperley (eds), British Documents on the Origin of the War 1898-1914, Vol III, (London 1928) No 299, p. 267.

Central to Grey’s thinking was that the Russian army, as France’s ally, would provide:

‘the great counterpoise to Germany on land.’  K.M. Wilson, THE ANGLO-FRENCH ENTENTE REVISITED, Canadian Journal of History, August 1996, pp. 227-255.

The Russo-Japanese war had curtailed Russian aspirations in the Far East; the Anglo-Russian Entente limited them in the Near and Middle East.  In response Russia turned to the Balkans to ensure a share in the spoils as the Ottoman Empire continued its collapse.  The annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austro-Hungary in October 1908 proved the first test of Russia’s Balkan policy.  Blocked in her attempts to gain access through the Dardanelles by a reneging Austro-Hungary and a refusal by Grey to support her claim Russia, unwilling to risk war, was forced to back down by a combination of Austro-Hungary and Germany.  Humiliated Russia was left to console Serbia.

Testing the Entente Cordial

Coincident with the Balkans crisis relations between Germany and France were worsened by the Casablanca affair.  In September 1908, six deserters, three of German nationality, from the French Foreign Legion, under a safe conduct issued by the German consul, aided by a Moroccan soldier attached to the consulate, attempted to board a German ship berthed at Casablanca. The deserters were seized by the French officials after considerable violence.  In November 1908 at the height of the Bosnia annexation crisis and Casablanca affair Grey was urged by Cambon, the French Ambassador, to resume the naval conversations.  In response Fisher the First Sea Lord, without official backing, proposed that the French fleet should concentrate in and defend the Mediterranean, whilst Britain would withdraw her ships for operations in the North Sea and the Baltic.  This proposal was turned down by the French but the rational behind it would appear again in 1912.

On 1 July 1911 Germany announced that she had sent a gunboat to the Moroccan port of Agadir.  The gunboat was sent supposedly to protect German interests there, but was in reality sent to challenge France whose soldiers had occupied Fez the Moroccan capital earlier in the year.  British interests were twofold; to prevent Germany threatening her trade routes by gaining control of a port along the Moroccan coast and to fulfill British obligations under the terms of the 1904 Entente to support France in any attempt by her to establish a protectorate in Morocco.  This obligation was a secret clause in the Entente that only became public knowledge when it was leaked and published in Le Temps.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why did Great Britain go to war in August 1914? - Pt 3

Back to Part 2

The Balance of Power Theory

At the turn of the century, faced with imperial overstretch, the Conservative government with Lord Lansdowne as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was forced to compromise the ‘free hand’ policy of his predecessor Lord Salisbury and bring Britain out of ‘Splendid Isolation’.  Salisbury’s ‘free hand’ policy is encapsulated in the ‘Balance of Power’ theory which to British politicians meant ‘that of denying preponderance to any one Power by throwing Britain’s weight into the scale’ (John Charmley, Splendid Isolation?: Britain and the Balance of Power 1874 - 1914, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999),p. 3.).  The United States naval expansion was effectively ignored and Britain accepted that it did not have an army capable of defending the Canadian border.  In November 1901 Britain signed the Hay – Pauncefote Treaty that granted the United States exclusive regulation and management powers over the proposed Panama Canal and signalled British withdrawal from American waters and concerns.  This one-sided concession to the United States had much to do with the aspirations for a ‘Greater Britain’ and a Pan Anglo-Saxon Confederation.  Following the failure to gain an agreement with Germany to check Russian expansion into China Britain, still believing that she needed an ally in the Far East, turned to Japan.  In January 1902 the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was signed.  Lord Selborne (First Lord of the Admiralty) wanted an alliance with Japan which would enable Britain to redistribute her navy to European waters to maintain ‘The Two Power Standard’ against Russia and France.  Coincident with this desire was the realisation by the Admiralty that German naval expansion posed a significant threat to Britain.  Lansdowne, struggling to negotiate British foreign policy through the simultaneous demise of China and Turkey needed to relieve the pressure on Britain somewhere.  The terms of the Anglo-Japanese treaty obliged Britain and Japan to offer mutual support if either faced more than one other Power when following their objective of maintaining the independence of China.  Despite John Charmley’s protestation; John Charmley describes Lansdowne’s policy as ‘a continuation of Salisbury’s in different circumstances’ and goes to a great deal of trouble to stress that the change in British foreign policy came with the change in government in December 1905 (Charmley, Splendid Isolation?. p. 280 & 324), this treaty represented a significant change in British foreign policy and as Zara Steiner states:

‘Britain had incurred an obligation to go to war which was conspicuously absent from agreements made in the post-1830 period.’ Steiner, Britain and the Origins of the First World War, p. 28.

The Entente Cordial

On the 7 July 1903 the French initiated the negotiations which were to lead to the Entente Cordial in April 1904.  French aspirations over Morocco led them to talks with Britain.  Britain unable to reach any agreement with Russia and fearful of a war in the Far East involving her alliance partner welcomed the talks as an opportunity to resolve the Moroccan issue and confirm her position in Egypt.  After the negotiations had been dragging on for several months both parties were provided with a new incentive to improve their relations.  The start of the Russo-Japanese war in February 1904 raised fears in Britain and France that if France aided her Dual Alliance partner Russia, Britain would be drawn into the war on the side of Japan.  On 8 April 1904 the Anglo-French Entente was signed.  From a British perspective the Entente was from the outset a settlement of outstanding colonial differences not an alliance and was perceived by Lansdowne as a welcome limitation of Britain’s liabilities, but by no means vital or indispensable:

‘Six days before the Entente with France was signed Lansdowne told Balfour that the French were “getting increasingly querulous over Newfoundland, and the permanency of Britain’s occupation of Egypt.”  Lansdowne had told Cambon that if terms could not be agreed over Newfoundland there could be no agreement.’  Charmley, Splendid Isolation?: Britain and the Balance of Power 1874 - 1914, p. 311.

The French perspective differed.  Delcassé the French Foreign Minister stated during the spring 1904.  ‘A Franco-British alliance has always been my dream ……’. (Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought: Britain,Germany and the Coming of the Great War, (Chatham: Mackeys, 1992),p. 350.).  The French were prepared to start with something small and insignificant and proceed from there.

The first test of the Entente came from Germany on 31 March 1905 when the Kaiser landed at Tangier.  With France’s ally Russia engaged in war with Japan, Germany driven by domestic problems and a loss of international status hoped to humiliate France.  Despite significant French pressure Lansdowne refused to enter into an alliance with France.  His only concession was that the British government would offer ‘strong opposition’ to any German demand for a port. (Charmley, Splendid Isolation?, p. 321.).  Delcassé was forced to resign and France finally agreed to attend, with Germany, a conference on Morocco’s future.  The date for the conference was set for 16 January 1906.  By this date a new party was in power in Britain.

Sir Edward Grey

In December 1905 the Liberal Party was swept into power in a landslide election victory following the failure of a Conservatives election campaign that focused on tariff reform.  The Cabinet of the Liberal Party that assumed power contained the ‘defacto’ leaders of the Liberal League, the Liberal Imperialist faction of the Liberal party, H.H. Asquith (Chancellor), R.B. Haldane (Minister for War), and Sir E. Grey (Foreign Secretary).  This trio, with Grey in particular, was the driving force behind Britain’s final decision for war in 1914.  Much controversy has surrounded Grey’s performance as Foreign Secretary with perceptions of him ranging from:

‘a stick to be used by someone else’ (Keith Robbins, Sir Edward Grey – A Biography of Lord Grey of Falloden, (London: Cassell, 1971), p. 106.), to ‘His significance lies in his passivity, a passivity which is not one of weakness but is borne by an iron kernel of convictions.’ (Terry Boardman, ‘The New World Order’, A lecture presented at an anthroposophical conference on modern history in Keene, New York State, August 2001.)

Contrary to his claims in his memoirs Grey entered the Foreign Office with well developed anti-German sentiments, as is evidenced by the 1901 A.B.C. article to which he contributed, personal correspondence in 1903 and contributions he made to an informal dinning group called ‘The Coefficients’.

‘By January 1903, Grey was writing to his friend Henry Newbolt: “I have come to think that Germany is our worst enemy and our greatest danger…….” ’.  Boardman, ‘The New World Order’.

These expressions of Grey’s anti-German sentiments, when viewed alongside a letter on Foreign policy written by Grey to Roosevelt in 1906 (Grey’s policies were; ‘Entente but not Alliance with France and Russia, accompanied by constant efforts to achieve more friendly relations with Germany’. G.M. Trevelyan, Grey of Fallodon, (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1937), pp. 115-116.), a year into Grey’s tenure at the Foreign office, point to a continuity between Grey’s ‘pre-office’ thoughts and his ‘in-office’ policies.  This would suggest that the anti-German mandarins at the Foreign office, Hardinge and Crowe, did not influence him disproportionately, particularly during his first vulnerable year in office.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Operation Crossbow – Photographic Interpretation in WW2

I take my hat off to the BBC for producing an interesting and informative documentary on one of those little know but crucial operations of WW2.  Being a photographic interpreter with 30 plus years experience in the business I did wonder how the BBC would maintain audience interest in what would have been a long and tedious analytical process.  The juxtaposition of the stereo photographs, 3D models and ground truth combined with the operational realities depicted through focused firsthand accounts from Spitfire reconnaissance pilots (one British and one American) and the photograph driven bombing of the missile launch sites placed the photographic interpreters analytical effort in context.

Operation Crossbow on BBC iPlayer

Operation Crossbow: How 3D glasses helped defeat Hitler.

The National Collection of Aerial Imagery: Operation Crossbow

If you watched this documentary and are new to the art of photographic interpretation you could be forgiven for assuming that photographic interpretation came of age during WW2.  This could not be further from the truth; aerial photography and photographic interpretation proved vital during WW1:

‘At the higher command levels the utility of aerial photography for operational planning was highlighted through the use of a mosaic in early 1915, and confirmed through Haig’s use of aerial photography in the planning for Neuve Chapelle.

Although invaluable for the higher command and infantry it was the artillery that had the greater dependence on aerial photography.  The First World War was fundamentally an artillery war.  Battery survey and knowledge of the enemy’s precise location became the cornerstone of good artillery operations.  Pivotal to identifying and then targeting an enemy’s precise location was the map.  The only viable source of data for map production was derived from aerial photography through photographic interpretation.  Put simply; no aerial photography, no map, reduced artillery effectiveness.

From the artillery STA perspective, the aerial photograph proved a useful corroborative tool that helped develop confidence in the use and success of the emerging artillery intelligence sources; flash spotting and sound ranging.  Additionally, when compared to the other STA intelligence sources, the aerial photograph had a unique advantage.  German battery detection, location and identification could be achieved without the German guns firing.

For much of the BEF aerial photography proved an invaluable tool, for the artillery it was indispensable.’

The quote above comes from a paper I wrote last year exploring the importance of aerial photography and photographic interpretation to the British Expeditionary Force in France during the First World War.  Over the next few weeks I intend to update and make the paper available to you on this blog.

Go to:  British Aerial Photography and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front during WW1

Friday, May 13, 2011

Why did Great Britain go to war in August 1914? - Pt 2

Back to Part 1

The Boer War

Britain’s period of arrogant Imperialism stopped abruptly with the Boer war.  The war provided the catalyst for the nation’s Imperial ‘shock’ and in Kipling’s words ‘no end of a lesson’ (Rudyard Kipling, extracted from The Lesson’.).  The performance of the British army during the war clearly demonstrated that British military development had not kept pace with the expansion of the Empire.  Abroad condemnation over the conduct of the war exposed Britain to humiliation in the eyes of her European rivals.  Both Russia and France looked to take advantage of Britain’s preoccupation in South AfricaRussia speeded up her penetration of northern Persia, increased pressure on Afghanistan and by implication India and continued her expansion into ChinaFrance sought support from Russia and Germany in her attempts to establish French rule in Morocco whilst at the same time ending British rule in Egypt.

Britain’s Declining Status

In reality Britain’s world status had been slipping away under pressures from foreign competition since the 1880’s.  The proliferation of industrialisation, coupled with the ‘Great Depression’ of 1873 – 1896 which saw many countries re-impose or raise trade tariffs, saw Britain’s industrial lead overtaken and her commercial preponderance undermined.  Even Britain’s naval supremacy was challenged.  Until the 1890’s only European powers had navies that could threaten British naval supremacy.  Britain by controlling access to the North Sea, the Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal had since the end of the Napoleonic wars effectively achieved ‘Command of the Seas’.  British ‘Command of the Seas’ depended on maintaining numerical superiority and was codified in the ‘The Two Power Standard’.  According to the ‘Standard’ Britain would maintain a fleet of battleships equal to those of the 2nd and 3rd ranked naval powers combined.  The growth of the Japanese fleet in the 1880’s and the US fleet in the 1890’s began to severely strain the ‘Standard’ at the extremes of the Empire.  By the end of the Boer war Britain’s tax system had been stretched as far as the political will of the day would allow and according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Austen Chamberlain, in 1904 there were insufficient finances to support Imperial defence.  In a memorandum to his Cabinet colleagues Austen Chamberlain wrote:

‘the time has come when we must frankly admit that the financial resources of the United Kingdom are inadequate to do all that we should desire in the matter of Imperial defence’.  University Library, Birmingham, Austen Chamberlain Papers, AC 17/2/24, Cabinet memorandum, 28 April 1904.

Britain increasingly perceived herself as isolated and overstretched.  Politically the Boer war clarified two opposing schools of thought.  Conservatives and Liberal Imperialists believed Imperialism should be refocused on consolidation and efficiency rather than expansion.  Liberal Imperialists were a faction of the Liberal party that was active from about 1890 until the outbreak of the First World War.  The faction, inspired by the Liberal politician Lord Rosebery (Archibald Primrose), actively supported the Boer war at a time when much of the Liberal party were opposed to the conflict.  This radical wing of the Liberal party denounced the individualistic wealth grabbing Imperialism epitomised in Africa and began to question the values associated with the new Imperialism.

The Growth of Anti-German Sentiments

The Boer war also had a significant psychological effect on the wider British public.  In 1895 there was an illegal armed raid, initiated by Cecil Rhodes, on the Boer Transvaal State.  The ‘Jameson Raid’ as it became known was repulsed by the Boers.  A telegram, ‘the Kruger telegram’ sent to the Boer president in 1896 by the German Kaiser, congratulating the Boers on repulsing the raid ‘unleashed emotions [in Britain] far in excess of the actual event’ (Zara S. Steiner, Britain and the Origins of the First World War, (London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1977),p. 20.).  From 1896 until the outbreak of the Boer war the newspapers in both countries ‘reverberated with mutual recriminations’ (Steiner, Britain and the Origins of the First World War, p. 20.).  During the war recriminations continued with pro-Boer feelings in Germany being widely reported in the British press.  By the end of the Boer war the wider British public perceived Germany as the new enemy.

Where had these anti-German sentiments originated?  In the first half of the nineteenth century British views of the German people were generally favorable.  Germany was respected in both cultural and intellectual terms.  It was the method of German unification that presented to many in Britain a distinction between the reactionary, unscrupulous and militaristic Prussia and a Germany that was basically liberal and cultured.  After 1871 English liberal idealism became alarmed at the dangers represented by the ‘new’ Germany’s doctrine and politics.  Conservatives more concerned with Britain’s vital interests were split over the impact of German unification.  Some saw the unification as the means to contain the European aspirations of Britain’s main rivals Russia and France.  Others were not so sure.  Earl Cowley (Henry R. C. Wellesley) the British Ambassador in Paris 1852-1867 stated presciently ‘I have no faith in the friendship of Prussia and if she ever becomes a Naval Power she will give us trouble’.  (P. M. Kennedy, ‘Idealists and Realists: British Views of Germany, 1864-1939’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol. 25 (1975), p. 141.).  Central to most British fears was the German natural tendency to use force.

The next 20 years saw both Britain and Germany in general agreement over most European issues.  It was the German bid for African colonies in 1884-85 that caused the first real Imperial clash between the two countries.  Britain was forced to back down following threats by Bismarck to cause difficulties in Egypt.  Despite growing imperial animosity behind the scenes attempts were made by British leaders aimed towards some form of Anglo-German alliance between 1898 and 1901.  Germany refused the limited British advances in the hope that Britain would in the end be forced into full membership of the Triple Alliance.  Britain’s main reason for trying to gain an alliance with Germany was to check Russian expansion into China.  In reality there was never going to be an alliance as no true ‘quid pro quo’ existed.  Germany was never going to fight Russia in the Far East and Britain was not going to defend German interests in EuropeUltimately it was the British experience of ‘overstretch’ coupled with the erratic implementation of an ill conceived post Bismarck German foreign policy, stemming from the flawed character of the Kaiser, which included Tirpitz’s German naval expansion that marked Germany in many British eyes as aggressive and dangerous.  This perception of Germany was captured in an article published anonymously that appeared in The National Review in November 1901.  The well written article, entitled ‘British Foreign Policy’ by ‘A.B.C. etc.’ proposed a policy of hostility towards Germany and friendship with Britain’s main rival Russia, created a sensation at the time.  One of the contributors to the article was Sir Edward Grey, who became Foreign Secretary in the Liberal Government of December 1905.  Grey’s involvement in the writing of the article was not generally known until after the First World War. (‘British Foreign Policy’ by A.B.C., etc. National Review, November, 1901.).  It was a combination of these factors that would underpin the British anti-German sentiments in political and public circles up to the declaration of war in 1914.