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8 Before the Storm The War Cabinet's strategical focus prior to Hindenburg's gigantic offensive on March 21,1918, has an unreal quality about it. As Germany prepared for a war-winning offensive on the western front, the British prime minister and the imperial-minded members of his government increasingly looked eastward, alarmed by the potential Turko-German threat to Britain's Asian position following Russia's collapse. Robertson 's repeated warnings that Britain had no choice but to concentrate its military effort in the West to counter the growing German threat were greeted with considerable skepticism by the civilians. Often with a numerical superiority of more than three to two, never less than five to four, the British and French during the last three years had launched massive and prolonged attacks to break through the German defenses. These costly and ultimately unsuccessful attacks had driven the French army to mutiny and almost exhausted the BEF. The Germans, equally, had paid a heavy price in 1916 during their ten-month offensive at Verdun. Despite the alarmist tone that he had taken with the House mission in requesting American manpower, Lloyd George simply could not accept the War Office's dire warnings. On extracts from one of Robertson's memoranda predicting a German offensive, he wrote: "By all means. Nothing would suit us better—but unfortunately he has learnt his lesson."1 At the very time he pressed House to accept the amalgamation of American with British units, he was confident that the Allies had sufficient manpower to withstand a German attack, even one reinforced by "all their serviceable divisions from the Eastern front."2 Haig's testimony to the War Cabinet on January 7,1918, reinforced Lloyd George's conviction that existing Allied forces were sufficient to withstand any German assault in the West. "If you were a German Commander," Haig had been asked, "would you think there was a sufficient chance of a smashing offensive to justify incurring the losses which would be entailed?" Haig had responded that a policy of limited attacks "seemed to him to be the more probable course for the enemy to adopt, because an offensive on a large scale made with the object of Before the Storm 131 piercing the front and reaching Calais or Paris, for instance, would be very costly." If the Germans gambled for victory and failed, Haig accurately predicted, their position "would become critical" by August , when the Americans were expected to have a sizable force in Europe.3 "L.G. is convinced by the figures generally that we are all right on the W. Front," Amery wrote Sir Henry Wilson at Versailles following Haig's appearance before the War Cabinet, "& nothing will budge him."4 Rather than reinforce the BEF, Lloyd George and the Milnerites were determined to limit Britain's casualties in the continued stalemate on the western front. On the eve of the Bolshevik revolution, Milner had written to warn the prime minister about the danger of "tying ourselves up more than ever in France. . . . The great point is that if, next year at any rate, we cannot make that force strong enough to break through, it is waste to keep it stronger than is necessary for a lively defensive. The force we could afford to withdraw from France should be the mobile force of the alliance[,] the strategic reserve, wh. we have never had & without wh. we can never win."5 Russia's subsequent collapse gave added force to Milner's words. If the war now ended in mutual exhaustion, Britain might, through military operations away from the western front, both contain Germany 's global threat and improve its bargaining position in peace negotiations. "We might find it possible if Damascus were in our possession," Lloyd George told the War Cabinet on February 21, "to persuade the French to be content with something less than the whole of Alsace-Lorraine in return for compensation in Syria."6 The War Cabinet's interest in diverting British military resources from the West to advance Britain's global strategical and political objectives made it even more essential that Washington be persuaded to increase its commitment to the western front, especially in or adjacent to the British sector. This consideration, more than the fear that the Germans might achieve a breakthrough, prompted the British political leadership's resumption of its campaign to win the American military and political leadership over to amalgamation. The War Office, although for different reasons...


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