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Belmont Road

Churchill's removal from the Admiralty 1915

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George Armstrong Custer

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.

An option which Churchill effectively ended with his press release of 19 February 1915, another key event which contemporaries, including Kitchener and Hankey, laid squarely at Churchill's doorstep, and which bears repeating here:

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, 'Kitchener's War, British Strategy from 1914 to 1916, p. 138]

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JimSmithson

George

The point I was making was that Cassar used the minutes themselves to make a number of points but not correctly and therefore misled. We will have to differ on our use or not of particular primary sources but although I was hasty a couple of years ago in questioning, for example Spears, without sufficient evidence, the amount I am now putting together, primary and secondary, does indeed make him a source to use with care when not present at an event. I don't think we are on different tracks here George, I just like to see all parties in a decision making process take their fair share of the consequences.

Jim

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George Armstrong Custer

Fair enough, Jim - but you've yet to produce anything to support your contention that K of K was as equally culpable as Churchill, when the evidence is overwhelming that it was the latter who drove the concept of an intervention in the Dardanelles after he felt he'd been wrong-footed by Turkey at the start of the war.

Every source must be used with care - but also take care that you're not looking for evidence to fit a preconception about Spears!

George

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JimSmithson

As I said George (somewhere, could have been on the other thread), I am not trying to put equality into the equation of where the blame lay. The evidence on Churchill is sound and convincing as the main driving force but there has to be a level of joint responsibility taken up by all those on the War Council. K of K was a powerful figure and his opinion, voiced in Council, would/could (conjecture here) have swayed many of those present. The shame on them all is how the blame, after the war, was not collectively accepted, but flung around like mud; K of K, of course, not being there to fight any thrown at him.

Jim

PS I am being careful George, :hypocrite: thank you for your concern. ;)

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Magnumbellum

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?

Further to earlier contributions, these may throw further light:

Winston S Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-18, pub c 1934:

17 May 1915 - he tendered his formal resignation, with all other ministers, to give Asquith a free hand in forming the Coalition.

18 May - he learned that he would probably not be re-appointed as First Lord.

21 May - he learned that it had been decided that Arthur Balfour would be First Lord.

26 May - the full list of the Coalition Cabinet was announced, ministers changed offices and new ones kissed hands on appointment. "Early on the morning of the 26th - my last at the Admiralty" - and before setting out for Buckingham Palace, he wrote a letter for Balfour. "Thus ended my administration of the Admiralty".

David Lloyd George, War Memoirs, pub c 1937.

21-25 May - formal Liberal-Conservative discussions re forming Coalition, settled late on 25 May. "... the most notable change was taking Mr Winston Churchill out of the Admiralty and placing him in charge of the Duchy of Lancaster ... a cruel and unjust degradation ... it came to me as a cruel and unpleasant surprise ... it had [previously] been arranged that he should be placed in the Colonial Office ... On 26 May 1915 the names of the first Coalition Cabinet were published".

I further take this opportunity of clarifying references in this thread to ministers being "sworn in" as such. That is not the British way. There are two separate formalities undertaken by senior ministers.On first taking such a post they are sworn in as Privy Councillors, a post which they normally hold for life, so not requiring swearing in again. They also kiss the hand of the sovereign on taking a particular ministerial office (and sometimes receive a seal of office), and that process has to be repeated on change of office.

.

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michaeldr

If Churchill was replaced as First Lord because of his support for the Dardanelles action, then one must presume that his replacement had been a longstanding and outspoken critic of that same operation.

However Churchill was replaced by Balfour who had given his support to the enterprise throughout.

Balfour was a former Conservative Prime Minister and even though part of the opposition, under the strange circumstances of war, he was invited to sit in on meetings of the War Council.

On 28th January 1915 when the Dardanelles was discussed “Mr. Balfour then dwelt on the advantages which would accrue from a successful attack on the Dardanelles, and concluded by saying that ‘it was difficult to imagine a more helpful operation’”

Even as late as 23rd March, after the check of the 18th, Balfour had discussed and agreed with Churchill on the need for the continuation of the naval attack on the Narrows. (As the first report of the Dardanelles Commission pointed out, Enver Pasha later confirmed “If the English had only the courage to rush more ships through the Dardanelles they could have got to Constantinople…” however Asquith, Balfour & Churchill were overruled by the men on the spot)

So, if Balfour did not become the First Lord because of his strong and lengthy opposition to the Dardanelles, how came he by that post?

LG’s comment quoted in the previous post is revealing of the party politics at play here, even in the midst of a war; “.. a cruel and unjust degradation ... it came to me as a cruel and unpleasant surprise”

The Parliamentary Archives should also be worth a look at; eg –

Margot Asquith, 10 Downing St., to Mr. Lloyd George. LG/C/6/12/15 24 March [1915] These documents are held at Parliamentary Archives. Holograph. Contents: Invites Lloyd George to Walmer.

Considers Churchill should be careful about what he says to A.J. Balfour who is a very hostile political opponent

The shell shortage may have precipitated the formation of a wartime coalition, but the Conservatives used the opportunity to settle an old score with one whom they saw as the reviled turncoat

.

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Belmont Road

Thanks to all who have replied.

Jack

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John Orchard

...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."

If Winston's plans had been fully implemented and the Army had been fully engaged with it from the start. Had the Greeks been brought in at the time that Winston had urged they be encouraged to do, then the plan would most probably have succeeded in its entirety. The Turks would have been effectively blockaded by land and in their current state of preparedness at the beginning would probably have been knocked out of the war. The impact on the war would have been considerable. The Russian forces may have been relieved and re-supplied from the Black Sea, which may have impacted on the Revolution. The forces ranged against the Turks would have been turned on the German and Austro-Hungarian forces and their allies, and the issues in the Arabian peninsular may have come to nought without all the investment of lives, money and materiel that followed - notwithstanding the avoidance of the plans at Gallipoli that were eventually acted upon which Churchill had strenuously emphasised would not achieve the objectives that he had originally outlined.

Fisher was irascible at the best of times, and his appointment as First Sea Lord was made on Churchill's advice and urging, against the prevailing attitudes of the Admiralty, the Government and even the King. Churchill recognised Fisher's capacity for bold action and for thinking outside of the box - and they had been firm friends despite their age difference. The maverick qualities that Churchill admired developed into something less radical and more curmudgeonly as the political pressures and the expectations of the Royal Navy to achieve the impossible grew. The falling out of the two men was largely because of these growing pressures and the intuitive conservatism of Churchill's cabinet colleagues.

The official investigation into the planning and execution of the whole Dardanelles campaign fully vindicated Churchill, but the timing of the report came when he was already out of Government. Whilst it was in the public arena, the Tory press barons repeatedly mentioned Gallipoli maintaining the link between what really did become a debacle with the one man that had been in high office who was innocent of the faults. Even Kitchener quite publicly defended Churchill, but his political opponents saw their man down. The Tory party was able to smack Winston for crossing the floor, and even for his father's sins a generation before. Churchill made mistakes, some potentially grave, but the Dardanelles was not one of them.

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