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4 Britain as the Cornerstone While the Balfour mission lobbied for American support in Washington , Entente fortunes took a serious turn for the worse. After bitter controversy with his high command, Lloyd George had succeeded in placing the BEF under the strategic direction of Nivelle, the French commander-in-chief, before the Allied spring offensive got under way on the western front. But Nivelle's offensive, which began on April 16, fell far short of achieving its grandiose objectives. On April 18 Robertson told the War Cabinet that "generally speaking, the French attack ha[s] not achieved apparently the results expected." More ominous than Nivelle's failure to drive through the German defenses in his promised twenty-four or forty-eight hours were reports of a new mood in France. With America as an ally, the French were inclining toward a defensive posture. News from Russia was equally depressing. The overthrow of the tsar had not revitalized the nation. Robertson believed that the Russian army had "fallen to pieces" and would be unable to maintain pressure on the Central Powers in either Europe or Asia.1 With the Russian army on the verge of collapse and the French hoping to defer action while waiting for America, the British were forced to reevaluate their war strategy.2 Military events were increasingly shifting the burden of fighting the German army to Britain, placing even greater strain, both economic and military, on British manpower resources. On the same day, April 18, that the British leadership began its debate over the altered strategic landscape, Hankey finished a twenty-nine-page review of the war for the prime minister's private perusal. As he had done in the past, Lloyd George was substituting the advice of this former member of the Royal Marine Artillery , who has been described as "an intellectual in uniform," for that of the Imperial General Staff.3 Writing while the Balfour mission was on its way to America, Hankey was overly optimistic concerning the manpower help that the United States might provide in the near future, arguing that Russia's decline would be balanced by American participation: "The Allies will have great resources, not only of labour, but of fighting manpower to 70 Trial by Friendship draw in the United States (to say nothing of coloured labour), providing they can restore their failing maritime resources, and the prolongation of the war, if we are to achieve the victory we desire, will be indefinite." Believing that the war might "last through 1918, and perhaps longer," Hankey linked Britain's staying power to the continued health of the British economy. If Britain were forced to wreck its economy by denuding its industry of workers, it might destroy national morale: "ManPower is now the most difficult of the problems which the War Cabinet has to face under the economic head. . . . with the probability of a prolongation of the War, the Government feel it to be more and more dangerous to mortgage the future by reducing our man-power by any drastic steps."4 To Lloyd George's disappointment, Hankey did not rule out a major British offensive on the western front following the collapse of Nivelle's offensive. Unlike President Wilson, Lloyd George had an interest in defense policy and strategic questions that predated 1914.5 Although his military experience was almost as limited as President Wilson's—a short and undistinguished stint in the pre-Haldane militia —he refused to give his generals a free hand in conducting the war against Germany, establishing himself as Britain's most important opponent of prolonged, costly, and, in his view, ultimately fruitless attacks against the ever more sophisticated German defenses of the western front. Lloyd George had been selected prime minister because of his commitment to total victory and the mobilization of British resources to that end, but he remained equivocal about the high cost and efficacy of any British effort to defeat the German army in France and Flanders. A common thread in his war strategy was limiting British casualties. At the conclusion of the war he did not want the BEF reduced to a second- or even third-rate force with a resulting loss of influence over the peace settlement.6 Another source of conflict between Lloyd George and the leadership of the British army was that the prime minister always considered the political ramifications of military action. His support for military operations was largely determined by their relationship to securing Britain's global...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813158457
Related ISBN
9780813118338
MARC Record
OCLC
654772526
Pages
286
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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