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Belmont Road

Churchill's removal from the Admiralty 1915

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Belmont Road

Can anyone advise me of the details of Churchill's forced move from his post when the coalition was formed im 1915?

Also are there any books/publications that detail the political situation 1915 - 1916?

Many thanks,

Jack

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Jim_Grundy

The context for Churchill's removal, as part of the formulation of the wartime coalition government, was the pretty disastrous state of the war at the time. On 9th May 1915, the British Expeditionary Force had suffered 11,000 casualties at Aubers Ridge and the Commander-in-Chief, Lord French, did his utmost to make sure the blame was laid at the door of the politicians for not supplying him with adequate ammunition - the resulting shell scandal caused uproar at the time. Also, the Gallipoli campaign, with which Churchill was very closely associated, had stalled - a polite way of saying that it had already failed. And, added to that, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Jackie Fisher, resigned after falling very publicly out with his boss, Churchill.

Asquith had no choice but to form a coalition given the circumstances and there was no way the Tories were about to accept Churchill remaining in post. He was deeply unpopular with the Tories, having switched to the Liberals, and, whilst not solely responsible for the fiasco at Gallipoli, he was the main mover behind it and, as far as I am concerned, deserved to be removed from his post for that reason alone (despite his own - and others' - post-war attempts to re-write history, Gallipoli never had any chance of success). However, the timing has allowed some to see Churchill as a scapegoat for the sins of others but a new government had to be formed with Tory support and that was not about to happen with Churchill still in charge of the Royal Navy.

There are many books that will give a broader perspective on matters. I'd recommend Roy Jenkins' biography, 'Churchill' (McMillan, 2001) and 'Lloyd George & Churchill. Rivals for Greatness' by Richard Toye (MacMillan, 2007). For more on the Gallipoli disaster and Churchill's centre role in it, I'd suggest you read Peter Hart's 'Gallipoli' (Profile, 2011), which certainly spells it out: Gallipoli was a non-starter to begin with and Churchill was its architect.

Regards,

Jim

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michaeldr

Politics is a very dirty business: things are never what they seem and nothing should be taken at face value

The Tories never forgave Churchill for changing sides and moving to the Liberal Party

The Dardanelles was just a convenient excuse for them to crucify him: they had been waiting for such an opportunity for some time.

As usual, the Tories were miffed at being out of power;

'power' was seen by them as their birth-right and they could not understand why the spoils of power were not theirs.

The Dardanelles was seen as good excuse to whip both the government and their turn-coat, Churchill

There is a very good account by Sir Martin Gilbert in the final pages of Steve Newman's 'Gallipoli Then and Now'. Here we see that Churchill was not the sole author of the Dardanelles campaign: Churchill wrote to Fisher regarding the latter's plan,

quote “I wound not grudge 100,000 men because of the great political effects in the Balkan peninsula: but Germany is the foe, and it is bad war to seek cheap victories and easier antagonists.”

Further, as Gilbert points out, “Kitchener was emphatic that troops were not needed: the naval attack would do the trick.

Uneasy at this, and asking for his dissent to be recorded by the Cabinet Secretary, Churchill agreed to go ahead with ships alone”

The Gallipoli campaign was not Churchill's idea: however, the Tory propaganda made sure that it was always seen as his.

He was moved to the Duchy of Lancaster in May 1915, when the campaign was far from decided

His removal from the Admiralty was purely political. It was vengeance by the Tory Party on one whom they saw as a traitor!

Hell hath no fury like a party scorned.

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Belmont Road

This is excellent, thanks to both.

What the exact dates of Churchill's and Fisher's removals please?

I look into these books but has anyone written either in essay form or publication the political details of the events surrounding Churchill's demise and the fall of the Liberal Govt.?

Many thanks,

Jack

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simonharley

Fisher tendered his resignation on 15 May, and was replaced by Admiral Sir Henry Jackson on 27 May. Churchill was replaced on the same day by Arthur Balfour.

Quite frankly, Churchill had it coming. He'd p*ssed off so many people in his own party that he was left with very few friends when the Unionists called for his removal. And if one accepts that the resignation of Fisher was the main factor in his downfall, then it was one of his own making. He had refused to have anyone but Fisher as First Sea Lord upon the resignation of Prince Louis of Battenberg in October, 1914. The King had strenuously objected, but Asquith stated that if Fisher was refused then Churchill would have to resign, and he told the King's private secretary, "I said that nothing wd. induce me to part with W."

Gilbert's "Winston S. Churchill. The Challenge of War, 1914-1916." goes into the details of the fall of the Liberal government quite a bit. It's amusing to see his rather pathetic attempts to get the Unionists on side so that he could stay at the Admiralty. Pathetic if one's read all that he wrote and said about them during his time with the Liberals.

Simon

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Crunchy

Hi Michael,

That the Gallipoli Campaign was not Churchill's idea is not entirely correct. He certainly played the major part in arguing for it, and IMO to save his already shaky position following the debacle of sending the largely untrained and ill-equipped Royal Naval Division to the defence of Antwerp in October 1914, several naval disasters at sea and the Navy’s lacklustre performance in meeting public expectations, and of course the Goeben and Breslau affair ..

In August 1914, after the Goeben and Breslau affair, when neutral Greece offered to place her naval and military resources at the disposal of the Entente, Churchill immediately asked the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) to examine the feasibility of seizing the Gallipoli peninsula using a Greek army. This came to nothing largely because Britain was not even at war with the Ottoman Empire at this time. When the Russians and the Ottomans went to war in late October 1914, Churchill personally cabled Admiral Sir Sackville Carden, Commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, ordering him to bombard the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles. Carden’s attack was launched on 3 November, two days before Britain formally declared war.

The idea of a Dardanelles operation was raised again in mid-November when the British War Council considered the defence of the Suez Canal. Churchill argued that the best way to defend this vital seaway was through a combined naval-military operation to take the Gallipoli peninsula, optimistically commenting that the operation, ‘if successful, would give us control of the Dardanelles, and we could dictate terms to Constantinople.’ The Dardanelles campaign was raised yet again in late December 1914 when, in response to the stalemate on the Western Front, the British Government had begun the search for an alternative theatre of war in which to employ the New Armies. Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the War Council, presented a memorandum proposing an attack on Turkey to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war, reopen the all-weather sea route to Russia and perhaps induce some of the wavering neutral Balkan states to join the Entente. The proposal received some support within the Council, principally from Churchill, but no endorsement. On 2 January 1915 when the Russians requested a demonstration against the Ottoman Empire to relieve pressure on the Caucasus Front, Kitchener discussed with Churchill the possibility of a purely naval demonstration, noting that ‘the only place [it] might have some effect in stopping reinforcements going east would be the Dardanelles.’ The next day, Fisher, argued for an immediate combined operation against the Ottomans, stating the Royal Navy should ‘force the Dardanelles’. Churchill seized on the final point of Fisher’s plan and immediately sought Admiral Carden’s advice on whether forcing the Dardanelles by naval gunfire alone was feasible. Carden replied that the Dardanelles forts could not be rushed, but ‘might be forced by extended operations with large numbers of ships.’ Asked for a detailed plan, Carden proposed a four-stage step-by-step operation with a probable time-frame of a month. This was enough for Churchill who, against Fisher’s advice (who said it could only be mounted with the assistance of the army) took the proposal to the War Council on 13 January 1915. Fisher continued to object to a purely naval attack with a verve that equalled Churchill’s passionate advocacy for the attack. Nevertheless, much to Fisher’s dismay, the War Council formally approved the purely naval operation on 28 January 1915. By 9 March 1915 the naval effort had made little headway. Churchill now decided to rush the Dardanelles, ignoring the fact that stage two of the four-stage operation was nowhere near completion. Carden, contrary to his previous advice, agreed and replied that he would now attack the forts at the Narrows (stage three) with his entire force, while silencing the inner batteries and clearing the minefields (stage two) under cover of this attack. Then, suffering a nervous breakdown, he requested leave. Following the disastrous naval attack on 18 March it was decided the army mount an amphibious operation to assist the navy, largely to safe face.

There is little doubt that Churchill's strong advocacy for the Dardanelles campaign was the primary impetus for it being undertaken, and given his previous debacle with the RND and impetuosity there was good reason to dismiss him.

Regards

Chris

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Belmont Road

Thanks again for all this it's very helpful.

Would there be any cabinet papers on this at TNA?

Jack

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George Armstrong Custer

Chris has hit the necessary nails on the head and succinctly summed up why attempts to distance Churchill from the Gallipoli Campaign are utterly unsustainable. As are claims that it was merely spiteful party politics which brought about his consequent downfall, rather than his own actions which gave the ammunition to his political opponents and others.

I’ve gone over most of this on a relatively recent thread, which I’ve linked to at the end of this post, but will reiterate the case against Churchill here. Robin Prior is a good place to begin, as he unpicks how Churchill set about attempting to rewrite history – an attempt which largely succeeded in many quarters for decades. Indeed some still cannot accept that the iconic Churchill of 1940 could have been so strategically inept:

“The Dardanelles chapters of The World Crisis certainly prove, if proof was needed, that it is quite possible to base a narrative on an enormous number of documents and still produce a misleading account. It was noted that at times over 40% of Churchill’s Dardanelles section was taken up with the publication of memoranda and letters. In his introduction Churchill puts forward the view that these documents would prove his case. All they prove, however, is that Churchill has adopted an adept process of selection. Also, many of the documents are his own memoranda and the case presented in them is merely stated rather than argued or critically examined. Finally, it was noted, Churchill is not averse from deleting key sections of documents. […..] His overwhelming desire from 1915 onwards was to vindicate his own part in events and it was this need that makes Volume 2 of The World Crisis the best example of Churchill’s skill as an apologist. In none of his other historical works does Churchill’s prose achieve the same force, and in reading The World Crisis it is quite possible to admire Churchill’s achievement while disagreeing almost entirely with the argument he propounds.

[…..] It is also hard to avoid the conclusion that when Churchill wrote this volume [vol. III] the failure at Gallipoli was still very much on his mind. Thus throughout the first half of the volume Churchill is anxious to demonstrate the immense cost of the war on the Western Front and to point to easier alternatives in the east. For 1916 he actually recommends a second invasion of Gallipoli. In 1917 his major plan consists of a landing in Palestine. The “Blood Test” and Somme chapters are designed to show what the failure at Gallipoli meant in terms of manpower."

[Robin Prior, ‘Churchill’s World Crisis as History’ (1983), pp 279 – 80] (My bold italics)

Churchill was actually enthusiastically mooting the possibility of a joint naval/military action at the Gallipoli Peninsula as early as three weeks after the start of the Great War. He met with Kitchener on 31 August 1914. These excerpts from George Cassar’s ‘Kitchener’s War: British Strategy from 1914 to 1916’ form a useful timeline when put together:

AUGUST 1914

“Churchill, still smarting from the escape of the Goeben and Breslau, was very enthusiastic about an immediate strike against Turkey, setting his sights, in particular, on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Such an operation, in his view, would not only lead to the defeat of Turkey, but induce the Balkan states to join the Allies as a united block. Kitchener agreed with Churchill’s suggestion that two staff officers from the War Office and two from the Admiralty should examine and work out a plan to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula “by means of a Greek Army of adequate strength, with a view to admitting a British fleet to the sea of Marmora." The idea, as far as Kitchener was concerned, was to make a preliminary investigation, not to start a conflict with Turkey. [….] Three days later Maj. Gen. Callwell, the DMO, handed Kitchener a report in which he concluded that capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula would be extremely difficult and should not be undertaken with fewer than sixty thousand men. [….] The project collapsed, and Kitchener turned his attention to other matters.”

[Cassar, op cit, p. 48]

The salient point here is that Churchill was enthusiastically contemplating a joint military/naval assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula in late August 1914. An assault that eventually came to pass in April 1915, after the failed naval only attempt had given signal warning to the Turks, and which consisted of British and French forces in place of the Greek army. Cassar continues:

NOVEMBER 1914

“In London, there was discussion about the possibility of taking action against the Turks as the best way to pre-empt an attack on Egypt. On November 25 [1914], Churchill tried to resurrect the idea of a joint naval and military attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula, which he asserted would ensure British control over the Dardanelles and effectively eliminate Turkey from the war. Kitchener considered the enterprise unfeasible because he lacked the requisite land force to accompany the fleet. Countering with a less ambitious scheme, Churchill proposed a feint at Gallipoli, with the main thrust occurring on another part of the Turkish coast, such as Haifa.”

[Cassar, op cit, p. 59]

JANUARY 1915

“[…] Churchill came forward with a plan that seemed to offer [Kitchener] a way out of his difficulties. The First Lord was looking for a way to recoup the prestige he had lost owing to personal missteps and the relatively feeble showing of the Navy. In search of a plan that did not require any troops, as none could be spared, he fastened on the idea of converting a mere demonstration into an all-out attempt to force the Dardanelles by ships alone. [….] On January 11, Carden, in response to Churchill’s request, submitted a plan which proposed to reduce the forts one by one, beginning at the entrance of the Dardanelles and then proceeding towards the Narrows, where the minefields would be swept, thus opening the way for the fleet to advance into the sea of Marmara. [….] The First Lord had one more hurdle to overcome if he hoped to sell his plan to the War Council: to win over Kitchener who, only several days earlier, had estimated that one hundred fifty thousand men would be needed to capture Constantinople. Churchill later told the Dardanelles Commission that he had circulated copies of Carden’s telegram and plan to Kitchener before the War Council met on January 13. His statement, however, omitted a vital piece of information. Churchill had too much at stake to rely on a few telegrams and technical documents to bring Kitchener around to his way of thinking. He knew that he could not succeed without a face-to-face encounter where he and his advisers could expound on the naval plan and answer any questions. Accordingly, Churchill contacted Kitchener and arranged a hurried meeting, which was presumably held on January 12. Kitchener identified Fisher and Sir Arthur Wilson (Adm. Of the Fleet) as also present. As far as I know, no other scholar of the period has alluded to this critical meeting. It was here that the decision was taken to launch a purely naval attack on the Dardanelles. What occurred at the War Council the next day, that is, on January 13, was a mere formality. […..]”

[Cassar, op cit, pp. 124 - 126]

FEBRUARY 1915

“Since the meeting of January 13, Fisher had developed serious misgivings about the idea of a purely naval attack on the Dardanelles and had made his views known to practically everyone on the War Council. Kitchener was told that Fisher’s objections were based not on technical grounds, but rather on fears that the naval attack would interfere with his own scheme for a major landing in the Baltic. What Kitchener did not know was that Admiralty opinion was inclined more and more to the belief that no real success could be achieved at the Dardanelles without the aid of troops. Still, he and the War Council missed an opportunity to subject Churchill’s plan to rigorous scrutiny or to probe into Fisher’s known objections. […….] Several days before the Navy began the bombardment of the Dardanelles forts, Churchill succumbed to Admiralty pressure and began to lobby Kitchener for a military force.”

[Cassar, op cit, pp. 130 - 134] (My bold italics)

Maurice Hankey, the Secretary to the Committee for Imperial Defence, pinpoints Churchill’s self-aggrandising press announcement of 19 February 1915 as being the point of no return for the tragedy which ensued at Gallipoli. In this, Churchill trumpeted the supposed success of the opening day’s naval bombardment of the Turkish forts at the entrance to the Straits – despite the fact that Carden’s attack had caused little or no damage. Hankey records the result of this:

“The announcement had a remarkable effect on the attitude of the War Council. When the decision had been reached to undertake the naval bombardment it had generally been assumed that the attack could be broken off in the event of failure. But when the War Cabinet met on February 24th, notwithstanding that the Outer Forts had not yet been finally reduced, it was felt that we were now committed to seeing the business through. Speaker after speaker reflected this view, ‘Moreover, we are absolutely committed to seeing through the attack on the Dardanelles’ (Churchill). ‘He felt that, if the fleet could not get through the Straits unaided, the Army ought to see the business through. The effect of a defeat in the Orient would be very serious. There could be no going back. The publicity of the announcement has committed us.’ (Kitchener). “

[Hankey, ‘The Supreme Command 1914 – 1918’, Vol. I, p. 283]

George Cassar sums up the consequences of Churchill’s disastrous announcement of February 19 thus:

“Some historians believe that the publicity was intended to influence the wavering neutral states. If so, it went against the wishes of the War Council, which would not have leaked information about the naval operation unless reasonably assured of victory. But I am inclined to believe that Churchill acted out of his own selfish interest. He expected an eventual victory and was positioning himself to reap the lion’s share of the credit. Whatever the reason, it was a terrible blunder. Churchill’s indiscretion triggered a tragic sequence of events that would, apart from the damage to his own career, “destroy Kitchener’s effectiveness in the cabinet and War Council, bring down the Liberal government, set back British diplomacy in the Balkans, and lead to the vain expenditure of tens of thousands of lives.”

[Cassar, op cit, p. 138]

So the evidence points to Churchill’s obsession with striking at Turkey as a way of redeeming his own blunders in the handling of that country at the outbreak of the war. And from the first month of the war he advocates a joint naval/military action. He only modifies this to a naval-only operation when he accepts the unavailability of troops – but is still determined to get in and take the credit for a blow being struck against Turkey. However, when wiser heads at the Admiralty convince him of the unfeasibility of a naval only action succeeding, Churchill is soon back lobbying for his original idea of including ground forces before the naval bombardment has even commenced.

And it is Churchill, positioning himself for glory, whose inaccurate announcement of the start of naval success on February 19 made it, as Lloyd George’s put it, impossible for the War Council to contemplate quietly withdrawing the Navy from the scene if things went awry. A demonstrably baleful record, then, and one which puts Churchill right at the heart of projected naval/military operations in the Dardanelles almost from the outbreak of the war.

Suggestions that “The Gallipoli campaign was not Churchill's idea: however, the Tory propaganda made sure that it was always seen as his,” or that “His removal from the Admiralty was purely political. It was vengeance by the Tory Party on one whom they saw as a traitor” are ludicrous given the overwhelming evidence of the extent of his direct involvement and influence on the course of events which culminated in the disastrous land campaign between April 1915 – January 1916. No wonder he resorted to writing a history of the war under the maxim that “history shall be kind to me – for I shall write it!” It was a history where he could, as Robin Prior noted with astonishment, claim that a second invasion of Gallipoli should have been undertaken in 1916. There is consensus on Churchill’s ‘The World Crisis’ between the already quoted Robin Prior and George Cassar, the latter of whom also touches upon the speciously presented consequences of an Allied victory on the Gallipoli Peninsula which Churchill dangled before his War Cabinet colleagues:

“For many years, military historians, sickened by the carnage on the western front and impressed by Churchill’s apologia in ‘The World Crisis’, were practically unanimous in viewing the attack on the Dardanelles as a bold and imaginative concept. However, historical interpretations change, and nowadays, scholarly opinion is divided, but weighs more towards the conclusion that the enterprise was ill conceived. The critics of the campaign have a good case. Germany triumphed in the east, but the war, which it lost, was decided in the west. It is questionable whether massive resources should have been diverted to a secondary theatre. Moreover, there can be little doubt that Kitchener and other members of the War Cabinet entertained unrealistic expectations about the benefits that would accrue from successful action. There is no proof that Constantinople, or for that matter Turkey, would have surrendered. It is unlikely that it would have united the Balkan states in a great coalition against the Central Powers. A southern sea route to Russia would have been opened, but to what purpose? The western Allies could hardly be expected to supply war materiel to Russia when they could not meet their own needs.”

[Cassar, op cit, p. 131]

This has all been gone over in considerable detail in another thread not so long ago – and nobody came up with a sustainable defence of Churchill and his Easterner strategy in the Dardanelles there either: http://1914-1918.inv...1

George

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Magnumbellum

Fisher tendered his resignation on 15 May, and was replaced by Admiral Sir Henry Jackson on 27 May. Churchill was replaced on the same day by Arthur Balfour.

Churchill was replaced by Balfour on 25 May, the same day that the Coalition was formed. The post in question, however, was First Lord of the Admiralty, the minister responsible for the Navy - not First Sea Lord, as indicated in the title of this thread. First Sea Lord was, and is, the official name for the chief of naval staff, and was the post from which Admiral Lord Fisher resigned, to be replaced by Admiral Sr Henry Jackson.

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simonharley

Magnumbellum, I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. GC Jack asked, "What the exact dates of Churchill's and Fisher's removals please?" I gave him the answer. What source have you got for for Balfour replacing Churchill on 25 May? Churchill's last day at the Admiralty was 26 May, and Balfour was definitely sworn as First Lord of the Admiralty on 27 May.

Fisher resigned as First Sea Lord. The title of Chief of Naval Staff wasn't introduced until 1917.

Simon

EDIT: Magnumbellum, only just properly read the title of this thread properly now, so I see where you were coming from. Apologies.

Edited by simonharley

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Belmont Road

Magnumbellum, I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. GC Jack asked, "What the exact dates of Churchill's and Fisher's removals please?" I gave him the answer. What source have you got for for Balfour replacing Churchill on 25 May? Churchill's last day at the Admiralty was 26 May, and Balfour was definitely sworn as First Lord of the Admiralty on 27 May.

Fisher resigned as First Sea Lord. The title of Chief of Naval Staff wasn't introduced until 1917.

Simon

Thank you I have a specific reason for asking this question. In research I am undertaking and the exact date is important. One very reliable source suggests that the decision to remove Churchill was taken on 22nd May 1915. Could someone provide the sources here for the dates please?

Also the cabinet papers. I understand from previous postings that cabinet papers for this period are lost - is that the case?

Sorry for the mistake on the OP I realise that Churchill was not the First Lord, I thought of correcting it but as the response came in I left it.

Many thanks to all of you.

Jack

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simonharley

By Churchill's own account Asquith had told him on 17 May that he was going to form a National Government, and said to Churchill, "What are we to do for you?" i.e. his tenure at the Admiralty would be at an end.

Simon

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Belmont Road

Thanks Simon

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Magnumbellum

What source have you got for Balfour replacing Churchill on 25 May? Churchill's last day at the Admiralty was 26 May, and Balfour was definitely sworn as First Lord of the Admiralty on 27 May.

My source is David Butler & Anne Sloman, British Political Facts, 1900-1979, 5th ed, 1980, which sets out all the Cabinet posts in the 1915-1916 Coalition Government as filled on 25 May 1915, while later dates, ranging from 26 May up to 9 June, are cited for ministers not in the Cabinet and junior ministers. I have normally found this work to be reliable, and rather than suggesting a downright mistake, I would posit a scenario whereby Asquith announced his re-formed Cabinet on 25 May, but, as a matter of courtesy, Churchill was allowed to "clear his desk" on 26 May. As to Balfour being sworn in on 27 May, this is a legal formality which has to be undertaken, but is arranged at the comvenience of the Palace and others concerned and often takes place a day or so after the minister has effectively taken up the office. If absolute precision on these details is of the essence, then reports in the press of the period could be consulted, as well documents in the National Archives.

Fisher resigned as First Sea Lord. The title of Chief of Naval Staff wasn't introduced until 1917.

I wrote "chief of naval staff" (in lower case) as an effective description of the post, to emphasise the distinction from that of the the First Lord of the Admiralty, not as a purported alternative title.

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Magnumbellum

Sorry for the mistake on the OP; I realise that Churchill was not the First Sea Lord. I thought of correcting it, but as the response came in I left it.

Since future researchers on GWF could be misled, may I urge that the title be corrected.

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JimSmithson

Also the cabinet papers. I understand from previous postings that cabinet papers for this period are lost - is that the case?

Jack

Cabinet minutes were not formally introduced until the Lloyd George administration in December 1916. CAB 42 at the N.A. does hold copies of the Secretaries Notes of the War Council meetings in 1914 and 1915. Actual cabinet meetings were only recorded in letters to the Monarch of the day, copies of these can, I think be seen at Windsor and I think some are held in Kew but someone else will have to confirm that. The War Council notes do actually put some of what is said in posts above in a slightly different light, showing Cassar to exercise some editorial freedom of his interpretation of the meetings, usually to Kitchener's advantage. I'll give some examples when I have a little more time but essentially he plays down, almost all the time, Kitchener's enthusiasm for the Gallipoli disaster. They do not; however, help in the core question for this thread regarding dates.

Jim

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George Armstrong Custer

Yes, yes, Jim, but Cassar's endorsement of K of K is no secret - he sets out his stall in his Preface, stating that "My research reinforced the favourable view of Kitchener that I had previously held. While this book does not gloss over the shortcomings, or whitewash the misjudgements, of its subject, it is unapologetically pro-Kitchener." Now you may disagree with the interpretations which Cassar bases on his research; however what's under the microscope here is Churchill's role and the consequences of that role to himself and others. Arguing the degree of Kitchener's culpability won't change Churchill's one iota - and Cassar's account provides a useful tally of Churchill's central role.

I would caution, too, those with a tendency to put all their eggs in the CAB basket. These papers are an invaluable source, but they are one source amongst many for the myriad strands of the stories which they touch upon rather than being the final word. Anyone who has ever been to a minuted meeting and not entirely recognised it in the published minutes knows the score, and that people can and will say or refrain from saying certain things as an insurance policy precisely because a meeting is being minuted. All has to be put into the context of the evidence of what we know was said or done in other settings. And the fallen Churchill's rush, in partnership with Ian Hamilton, to set K of K up as the prime scapegoat for the Dardanelles going tits up, rather than those who'd pressed hardest for such a strategic folly in the first place (and K was hardly that), is beyond dispute.

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JimSmithson

I know George but when someone uses the minutes, as Cassar did and bends them to his advantage it will inevitably lead to the others involved being put at a disadvantage. This is what happens in the meetings in 1915. I am not in any way trying to put up a defence for Churchill (I am not going for silk!), merely pointing out that there were others just as culpable when it came to Gallipoli and Kitchener was one of them. There can be no denying, however well or otherwise written, the minutes of 8th January which have Kitchener giving his opinion as to the manner in which the war was to be carried further into the year. He is quoting communication from French that the main British forces should be in France; however, the reasons for this are defence, not attack. He (French) says that success in the West would not be decisive but that "ultimate victory must be sought for in the Eastern theatre of war." Thus Kitchener goes on to argue that until a further German attack comes to naught no troops should be spared. He then gives good reasons for not attacking a number of places and finishes with:

"The Dardanelles appeared to be the most suitable objective, as an attack here could be made in co-operation with the Fleet. If successful it would re-establish communication with Russia; settle the near eastern question; draw in Greece and perhaps Rumania and Bulgaria; and release wheat and shipping now locked up in the Black Sea."

Put yourself in the position of a politician listening to his only sources of information over the conduct of the war, i.e. the military, pointing out in one case that decisive victory will only be found in the East and in the other that the Dardanelles was the most suitable objective; sugaring that pill with hints of allies joining the cause. The military were not exactly putting the brakes on the politicians race for Gallipoli.

Whatever you think about other sources George in the end it was at these meetings that the decisions were made and the information available to those making them was laid out in these councils. Whatever shenanigans took place elsewhere might have an impact on events but they were eventually shaped in Council. That shape was dominated in early 15 with negative, pessimistic reports from the military of the likelihood of any major success in France. Is that not a breeding ground for madcap schemes being nurtured and coming to their sad conclusions?

Jim

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michaeldr

Hello there Chris,

the debacle of sending the largely untrained and ill-equipped Royal Naval Division to the defence of Antwerp in October 1914

Antwerp was a débâcle, as you call it, only so far the Tory press and other anti-Churchill elements were concerned.

K was certainly unhappy about the Admiralty stepping on his toes and getting involved in land operations.

But who else was there to help here? The New Armies existed only on paper at this stage. Rawlinson comments on a plan whereby the 7th Division were to be introduced hereabouts, however he immediately discounted the idea “when it was made clear that the Division could not remain permanently locked up in Antwerp.” [2 Brigades of the 7th Div were eventually sent to cover the flank of the retirement.]

FM Sir John French did not see it in 'débâcle' terms - “...the action of the force under General Paris certainly delayed the enemy for a considerable time, and assisted the Belgian army to be withdrawn in a condition to enable it to reorganize and refit, and regain its value as a fighting force. The destruction of the war material and ammunition – which, but for the intervention of this force, would have proved of great value to the enemy – was thus able to be carried out.

The assistance which the Belgian army has rendered throughout the subsequent course of the operations on the canal and the Yeser river has been a valuable asset to the Allied cause, and such help must be regarded as an outcome of the intervention of General Paris's force. I am further of the opinion that the morale effect produced on the minds of the Belgian army by his necessarily desperate attempt to bring them succour, before it was too late has been of great value to their use and efficiency as a fighting force.”

FM French's comments on the Belgian army were also backed by Rawlinson: “Worn out with incessant fighting, and continually short of food and sleep, they had by the beginning of October reached a condition when nothing but a period of rest and recuperation, such as they will now, I hope, secure, could restore their fighting value.” (see ADM137/1010)

several naval disasters at sea and the Navy’s lacklustre performance in meeting public expectations

On the contrary, it was the RN's earlier victory at the Falkland Islands which was seen as having removed German (surface) sea power from all but their own home waters, and thus having released enough RN ships for a new scheme.

To return to the original debate - The British system of government is by a Cabinet made up of equals, chaired by a Prime Minister, who is the 'first among equals.' Each cabinet minister may offer his opinion on all matters, however, he represents only his own department and can only act for that department. [EG when Kitchener withheld the 29th Div for sometime, Churchill could not overrule him. Likewise when he forbade the RFC going to Gallipoli, K could not be countermanded by Churchill]

As a discussion forum, the members of the Cabinet and its sub-committees, discussed many and various ideas for the advancement of the allied cause, especially after it became clear that the Western Front had got hopelessly bogged down in static trench warfare. These included an amphibious landing on the German North Sea Coast, the capture of the Kiel Canal and a link up with the Russians in the Baltic. DLG proposed both a advance from Salonika, and a separate attack in Syria/Palestine to divert Turkish troops from the Caucasus.

As early as 26 August 1914 Admiral Limpus had written to Churchill suggesting an action in the Dardanelles/Marmara to 'annihilate the remaining power of Turkey.'

Churchill wanted Greece to take part in any such venture, however it was only later that he learned of Grey's secret negotiation with the Russians which vetoed Greece's taking Constantinople and thereby effectively excluded them. It was with reference to Fisher's plan to use Greece that Churchill made the remark I quoted in my earlier post.

Turkey mined the Dardanelles channel on 29th September 1914, effectively cutting Russia off from her Entente allies and depriving her of her only warm water port. Tuchman gives the figures for the lost trade as, 98% of Russian exports lost and 95% of her imports. Asquith was particularly worried about the price of bread and how Russian grain might have helped solve this particular problem.

Turkey's first undeniably offensive act was her bombardment of Odessa on 29th October and British hostilities against Turkey were authorised by the Foreign Office two days later. The bombardment of the outer forts was on 3rd November and therefore legitimate by this timetable. It should also be noted that it was only one of five actions at about this time; the others being at Smyrna (1st Nov), Akaba (2nd Nov), Fao (7th Nov, by Indian Army) and Alexandretta (18th Dec)

Hankey's proposal of 28th December was for Bulgaria to attack Turkey in return for territory in Thrace. Greece and Serbia were to be similarly encouraged with enlargements, while the British were to provide 3 army corps to help capture Constantinople. Hankey's plan concluded with Roumania joining in, and an allied march into Austria-Hungary. In a letter to Asquith on 31st December, Churchill supported Hankey's plan.

Zeebrugge, The Dardanelles, Cattaro and the Danube: lots and lots of plans, from lots of different ministers (and a Cabinet Secretary) but, at the end of 1914, not a clear decision to take a definite course of action yet.

Two days into the new year and Kitchener signals a clear step in this direction with his support of Russia, saying 'The only place that a demonstration might have some effect in stopping reinforcements going East would be the Dardanelles.' Asquith followed this up on the 13th Jan by asking for the Admiralty's preparations 'to bombard and take the Gallipoli Peninsula, with Constantinople as its objective.'

Cabinet government equals collective responsibility

However, when you have to negotiate the entry of a new coalition partner, then seats at the table have to be found for them too. And, if your hand is not played well enough (or if you are Asquith and you're badly distracted by your young lady friend's impending marriage) then you will fall prey to that new party's machinations. Churchill, seen by them as a turncoat, was the Tory's prey

I recommend reading 'Churchill and Gallipoli' a lecture by Martin Gilbert given on 26 April 1995 in the series organised by the Gallipoli Memorial Trust, and published in Chapter 11, pages 123-136, of 'The Straits of War – Gallipoli Remembered' Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2000, ISBN 0-7509-2408-X

best regards

Michael

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Belmont Road

Since future researchers on GWF could be misled, may I urge that the title be corrected.

Done! Jack

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Belmont Road

This is a very interesting debate and helpful to me - many thanks.

Could I ask antother question please?

I had always assumed that the Shell Scandal forced the Liberals into coalition but did the failures at Gallipoli play a part?

Many thanks,

Jack

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PMHart

The scales have fallen from my eyes - I now see from Michael's inspired summary of Martin Gilbert's arguments (Churchill's able and totally unbiased biographer) that Churchill was in no way connected with or responsible for the Dardanelles fiasco and has been wrongly pilloried by idiots ever since.

He was also not responsible for the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War or indeed the rather unpleasant Burmese pig-sexing scandal of 1908.

This surely is the end of any rational debate. The great men have spoken - let us bow down before their majesty.....

Pete

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JimSmithson

Damn Pete - now I'll have to re-read all my books on the Franco-Prussian War cos I thought all along it was all Churchill's fault and my 1908 Burma 1 Rupee stamp with the pig on it has just lost half its value at Stanley Gibbons. How cruel of you.

You did say it was the end of rational debate after all.

Jim

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George Armstrong Custer

I know George but when someone uses the minutes, as Cassar did and bends them to his advantage it will inevitably lead to the others involved being put at a disadvantage. This is what happens in the meetings in 1915. I am not in any way trying to put up a defence for Churchill (I am not going for silk!), merely pointing out that there were others just as culpable when it came to Gallipoli and Kitchener was one of them.

Jim, I normally wouldn't dream of presuming to continue discussion after the great Sir Martin Gilbert had been invoked to quell heretical discussion of his hero, but you raise a couple of points which are worth responding to.

Whilst Cassar makes no bones about his overall conclusions on K of K being favourable, he retains a sense of balance which you seem to have missed through your being prepared to elevate the CAB records to a higher plane than Cassar is. So, while I would not concur with your statement that K of K was “just as culpable” as Churchill over Gallipoli. I would agree with Cassar when he states that

“Moreover, there can be little doubt that Kitchener and other members of the War Cabinet entertained unrealistic expectations about the benefits that would accrue from successful action. There is no proof that Constantinople, or for that matter Turkey, would have surrendered. It is unlikely that it would have united the Balkan states in a great coalition against the Central Powers. A southern sea route to Russia would have been opened, but to what purpose? The western Allies could hardly be expected to supply war materiel to Russia when they could not meet their own needs.”

I included the foregoing in my earlier quote, but your follow ups about some kind of a whitewash by Cassar do not refer to it. But the fact is that it hardly exonerates K of K and others from responsibility for allowing themselves to be persuaded by Churchill. But it does stop short of your equating K of K’s culpability with that of Churchill, who, partly to restore his own diminished kudos, had been itching to get credit for some flamboyant coup de main against Turkey since August 1914.

You state of the CAB papers that “it was at these meetings that the decisions were made and the information available to those making them was laid out in these councils.” But as Cassar demonstrates, and as I know from my own research, it was not always at these meeting that things were thrashed out. Rather it was sometimes the case that these meetings were a formality to put an official seal on what had been decided at earlier undocumented meetings at which not all of the participants in the formal session had been present or had knowledge of. Cassar uses the testimony of others to the Dardanelles Commission about such unminuted meetings between Churchill and K of K, which Churchill flatly denied. He was tripped up, however, when, after insisting that he could not have met Kitchener before 13 January 1915 to persuade him of the fort-destroying capabilities of the ‘Queen Elizabeth’, as the testimony of others suggested he had, because the decision to use the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ was not taken until that date. But when a commissioner reminded him that “it was on the 12th that you sent a wire to Admiral Carden saying you should consider the effect of utilizing the 15-inch guns of the ‘Queen Elizabeth”, Churchill could only offer a pathetic “I had forgotten about that” in response.

No, Jim, valuable as they are as a primary source, the CAB papers must be approached as any other source, and measured against other sources. You tried to use them a couple of years ago to mitigate Lloyd George’s role at the Calais Conference, and they were found wanting when measured against the overwhelming evidence from other sources. You say you have so much faith in the CAB papers because “it was at these meetings that the decisions were made and the information available to those making them was laid out in these councils.” But put it this way: Suppose in 90 years time historians tried to explain the decision of the Blair government to go to war with Iraq using only the minutes of formal meetings of the cabinet. How accurate a picture do you think they’d get of when the real decisions were taken, by whom, and on what basis, given what we know about how small unminuted ministerial meetings were used to bypass Cabinet? I’m saying to you that there’s nothing new under the sun, so the same scrutiny and weighing against corroborating evidence needs to be applied to the CAB papers documenting the years ’14 – ’18 as any other.

George

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Crunchy

Hello Michael,

I think we will have to agree to disagree on the Antwerp issue. Churchill’s commitment of the RND was impulsive and ill-thought through. There was nothing that the ill-equipped RND, two-thirds of whom had little fighting value due to a lack of training, was going to achieve that justified their commitment, or the losses involved, including the 1500 who were interned in the Netherlands. It was a wasted effort, despite what French says. It certainly didn’t delay the German 1st Army. That Rawlinson recognised any troops there would be permanently locked up in Antwerp - and it was only a matter of time before the fortress fell - speaks for the folly of sending the RND there.

Where we do agree is that the decision to go ahead with the Dardanelles campaign was the collective responsibility of the War Council (rather than the British cabinet). However, that doesn’t negate the fact that Churchill was the prime mover and his urgings tipped the balance of the debate. Within the War Cabinet he was the most vocal in advocating that the navy force the Dardanelles. Thus while the others must bear the collective responsibility for finally agreeing to it, it was Churchill who aggressively pushed for it to happen. Hence IMO he was the main instigator.

Kitchener certainly did discuss with Churchill the possibility of a purely naval demonstration in response to the Russian’s 2 January request for assistance, noting “the only place [it] might have some effect in stopping reinforcements going east would be the Dardanelles.” However, he also noted when the matter was discussed by the War Council on 13th January that a while massive naval demonstration was worth trying, it could be called off if the bombardment proved ineffective. What Kitchener was suggesting was quite different to what Churchill was urging. One was a demonstration through bombardment to stop Ottoman reinforcements going east, which could be called off if it proved ineffective; the other was an all out effort by the navy to force the Dardanelles. Where Kitchener, as Secretary of State for War, and Fisher, as professional head of the navy, failed in their responsibilities, and thus must bear a share of the responsibility for the campaign, is that they did not provide a proper strategic analysis of the merits or otherwise of undertaking the campaign or identifying the resources required. In the end, they acquiesced to Churchill's urgings, which again was a failure of responsibility.

Yes the Falklands was a great victory, but you fail to address the escape of the Goeben and Breslau, the loss of the Hawke, Cressy, and Aboukir, the effects of the Emden raids and the inability of the RN to intercept it, the Coronel defeat, and the German naval bombardments of the English east coast , all of which added to the adverse public perceptions about the lacklustre performance of the navy, into which the public purse had poured so much money and was the world’s greatest at that time.

Concerning Carden’s bombardment of the forts on 3 November, Churchill sent instructions for it to be carried out on 1 November and Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 5 November, not the 31st October.

What occurred on 30 October (not 31st) was: instructions were sent to the British Ambassador Mallet to demand that the Turkish Government dismiss the German missions and repatriate the German sailors; they would have twelve hours to produce a satisfactory reply to the note, otherwise Mallet was then to ask for his passports. At the Cabinet meeting on 2 November Grey reported that the situation in Turkey was still obscure; despite this, the general opinion was that there should be a vigorous offensive and every effort should be made to bring in Greece, Bulgaria and, above all, Roumania into the war. War was declared three days later and two days after Carden's bombardment. Whichever way you look at it, Churchill acted and Carden bombarded the forts before any formal declaration of war was made; an act which Admiral Sir Roger Bacon later described as “an act of sheer lunacy” and Admiral Sir John Jellicoe considered “an unforgivable error.” And certainly not within a legitimate timeframe, unless you are suggesting that a pre-emptive strike is an internationally acceptable act (which I think you might have a hard time defending). Irrespective, it was stupid pre-emptive strike that achieved nothing, but alert the Ottomans.

Regards

Chris

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