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oscarquebec

The Shell Shortage or Scandal

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oscarquebec

I hadn’t been researching my great uncle’s involvement at Aubers Ridge long before I inevitably discovered the great Shell Scandal. I’ve read just about everything I can get my hands on regarding the controversy including some helpful posts at GWF. Opinion seems as polarised as anything can be with sympathy towards Kitchener and von Donop at one end of the scale and hostility on the other. I understand that it was all supposed to be over by Christmas and skilled workers were in short supply etc. However, if it’s correct that production and the supply chain was jealously guarded by Stanley von Donop with the parsimonious collusion of Kitchener resulting in the repeated urgent demands by Sir John French being unfulfilled then I’m left wondering – what was going on. Can anyone help please?

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truthergw

It's quite a tangled tale with accusations and counter accusations flying thick and fast. The Shell scandal was used as a club with which to beat quite a few people. Kitchener, Asquith, von Donop and others. Much of that of course had a party political purpose being simply a Conservative attack on the Liberal government. Both at the time and later, there were several interested parties who claimed to have sorted it all out. It was a mess which owed it's existence to pre-war parsimony on the part of the cabinet and its prolongation at least partly to Asquith's Micawber style of government. Added to the ' business as usual' stance at the start of the war, shortages and breaks in the supply chain were well nigh inevitable. One of the difficulties in trying to get a fair view of what actually happened is the absence, at this time, of Cabinet minutes. Remarks from Cabinet meetings were repeated, attributed, denied, exaggerated and there is no way to verify what was said. The only record was the report from the PM to the King but that was Asquith's own, handwritten precis.

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oscarquebec

Thanks I'm relieved that I am not the only one to find this a tangled tale. 100 years on there would be calls for a public enquiry and allegations of a cover up but I guess with the change in government and a war to get on with the focus of attention turned elsewhere. If there are cabinet minutes maybe they will be released one day whistle.png

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sonofcmx

I have been following the Topic discussing the Battle of Coronel, November 1914 off Chile. Our navy was completely out-gunned and a great many lost their lives. It may just be a coincidence with the Shell scandal, but Admiral Craddock's ships were largely manned by Reservists without gun practice due to Admiralty warnings not to waste ammo. They faced a very experienced IGN fleet with superior fire power. Sounds familiar?

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truthergw

Thanks I'm relieved that I am not the only one to find this a tangled tale. 100 years on there would be calls for a public enquiry and allegations of a cover up but I guess with the change in government and a war to get on with the focus of attention turned elsewhere. If there are cabinet minutes maybe they will be released one day whistle.png

There are no minutes. That was deliberate policy which changed later on and I believe( without checking, I'm nothing if not daring) that Maurice Hankey was the first to introduce minute taking at war cabinets. I'd have to check on who exactly did what and when.

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Terry_Reeves

Just to put things in perspective, France and Germany also experienced similar problems . Demand outstripped supply, not just because of organisational problems, but because of the shortages of raw materials.

TR

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truthergw

I have been following the Topic discussing the Battle of Coronel, November 1914 off Chile. Our navy was completely out-gunned and a great many lost their lives. It may just be a coincidence with the Shell scandal, but Admiral Craddock's ships were largely manned by Reservists without gun practice due to Admiralty warnings not to waste ammo. They faced a very experienced IGN fleet with superior fire power. Sounds familiar?

One of my many areas of ignorance is the Royal Navy but that would certainly fit with the constant political pressure, pre-war, to reduce naval and military estimates. Much of the pressure to reduce expenditure on the Navy and the Army came from that stalwart pair, Churchill and Lloyd-George. The same pair who claimed the kudos for overhauling the supply of munitions when war came. I did say it was a tangled tale, didn't I?

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truthergw

Just to put things in perspective, France and Germany also experienced similar problems . Demand outstripped supply, not just because of organisational problems, but because of the shortages of raw materials.

TR

That is true, Terry but I find it salutory that representatives from 'The workshop of the world' needed to tour France to see how they had overcome the problems so quickly. One of the problems was the unprecedented increase in demand. No one had the faintest idea of how much ammunition an artillery war would require.

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oscarquebec

Interesting, maybe with the RN prospective this was wider than I first thought.

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MichaelBully

From what I remember from reading about the life of Lord Kitchener , wasn't 'The Shell Shortage or Scandal' stimulated a great deal ( correctly or incorrectly) by the popular press? It is an interesting subject as it shows that Britain had to go for mass participation in the war effort as it were. And this meant Lord Kitchener being held to account in such a way that he was not used to by newspapers.

And the co-operation of the press was vital in keeping Britain in the Great War.

Regards, Michael Bully

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oscarquebec

The outcome certainly shows the power of the press, was this the first time press reporting was to bring about such prompt change in war time?

As I understand it Sir John French was about ready to pull teeth when he 'so called mentioned' to The Times war correspondent Repington that the failure of May 9 was due to a shortage of shells. The Times quoted "We had not sufficient high explosives to lower the enemy's parapets to the ground...The want of an unlimited supply of high explosives was a fatal bar to our success". That must have sent ripples around the corridors of power, after all this was 'The Times' speaking. However reports were also coming back by returning soldiers and the story was also reported in the more widely read Daily Mail whose sensationalised headline "Lord K's Tragic Blunder" was perhaps the last straw.

Mal

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JimSmithson

There are no minutes. That was deliberate policy which changed later on and I believe( without checking, I'm nothing if not daring) that Maurice Hankey was the first to introduce minute taking at war cabinets. I'd have to check on who exactly did what and when.

Not so Tom. Cab 42 at the National Archives is a superb source of many documents which preceded the formation of the War Cabinet by Lloyd George in late 1916. In it there are many examples of minutes from War Councils, the first being that of the 5th August 1914. Secretary, as for so many years to come, the then Captain M.P.A. Hankey. True there are gaps when the War Council did not meet and I am only a small way along in sorting them and all the other papers out; but they provide many details of meetings. In fact the minutes are often better than many of those of the 1917 onwards period as they are verbatim and not merely conclusions as many of the later ones tend to be.

Among the documents (on this topic) is a paper (Cab 42/1/8) from February 1915 by the much maligned Lloyd George where he is already calling for all the various industries to be put on a better war footing with greater central control if the necessary arms and munitions are going to be forthcoming. An answer by Kitchener (Cab 42/1/45) is interesting as it agrees to some extent with L-G but only in terms of his bringing the unions to heel. By the way, L-G's paper is the first mention of the rather controversial move, carried out later that year, to not allow pubs to open until 11am to stop workers arriving drunk at work.

Jim

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JimSmithson

Just to add further research possibilities to anyone following this argument I suggest CAB 63/5 at the N.A. Hidden amongst all the papers (Hankey's) is Kitchener's "The War - August 1914 to May31st 1915 - Note by the Secretary of State for War" The latter part to this is a must read to see his arguments with regards to munitions and what had been done so far. They do; however, have to be read carefully and with cross reference to other sources.

Jim

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Terry_Reeves

If you want a first-class account of this subject, read Arms and the Wizard - Lloyd George and the Ministry of Munitions, 1915-1916. RJQ Adams, Cassel and Co, 1978.

TR

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oscarquebec

Thank you, that’s a lot of great information. I think a visit to NA is required and I see Arms and the Wizard is still available.

Mal

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JimSmithson

Thank you, that's a lot of great information. I think a visit to NA is required and I see Arms and the Wizard is still available.

Mal

No need to go to the NA. CAB 42 and 63 are in the online section. They take some finding as they are the old microfilm stock that has been digitised and do not always pop up as they should. Maybe that has changed with the new search engine. They are big pdfs mind so need a lot of searching, typically 200 to 300 pages per document. I have split a lot of them so if you need any particular part send a PM with your email address and I'll see what I can do.

Jim

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oscarquebec

Many thanks, I found the pdf, as you say there's a lot of material. Also just come across 'Fire Power' by Bidwell & Graham that has a chapter on the subject.

Mal

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MichaelBully

As far as I recall from my reading, there was a popular reaction against 'The Daily Mail' 's denounciation of Lord Kitchener, and his reputation amongst the public did not seem to have suffered greatly. But the press were needed to maintain support for Britain remaining in the War in 1915 ; their influence was particularly significant at a time before Conscription was introduced.

Regards

Michael Bully

The outcome certainly shows the power of the press, was this the first time press reporting was to bring about such prompt change in war time?

As I understand it Sir John French was about ready to pull teeth when he 'so called mentioned' to The Times war correspondent Repington that the failure of May 9 was due to a shortage of shells. The Times quoted "We had not sufficient high explosives to lower the enemy's parapets to the ground...The want of an unlimited supply of high explosives was a fatal bar to our success". That must have sent ripples around the corridors of power, after all this was 'The Times' speaking. However reports were also coming back by returning soldiers and the story was also reported in the more widely read Daily Mail whose sensationalised headline "Lord K's Tragic Blunder" was perhaps the last straw.

Mal

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