Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  
PhilB

Belgian Neutrality

Recommended Posts

SiegeGunner

Ostend would do, at a pinch, and was perhaps more or less equidistant from several British ports, but Antwerp would surely have been a better bet ... unless considered too dangerously close to German North Sea naval bases.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
RodB

What stands out for me in the years leading up to the War is the failure by the British Government (Asquith and Grey) to make it clear in words of few syllables to Germany that Britain would view any hostile occupation of the opposite coast as a threat to its survival, and hence would wage all-out war to prevent it. The German leadership just did not envisage a BEF arriving within days, mass mobilisation, a naval blockade, and had no idea they would immediately also be facing the Empire's entire human and material resources.

This reality should have been made very clear to the German leadership, who appear to have been somewhat inexperienced and naive in realpolitik since the departure of Bismarck.

Edited by RodB

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
healdav
15 minutes ago, RodB said:

What stands out for me in the years leading up to the War is the failure by the British Government (Asquith and Grey) to make it clear in words of few syllables to Germany that Britain would view any hostile occupation of the opposite coast as a threat to its survival, and hence would wage all-out war to prevent it. The German leadership just did not envisage a BEF arriving within days, mass mobilisation, a naval blockade, and had no idea they would immediately also be facing the Empire's entire human and material resources.

This reality should have been made very clear to the German leadership, who appear to have been somewhat inexperienced and naive in realpolitik since the departure of Bismarck.

As British foreign policy had for centuries been to keep the Channel ports and hinterland out of the hands of only one country, it may well have seemed so obvious to them that they didn't find it worth mentioning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
yperman

I agree with Healdav. The German leadership seems to have floundered into the Great War. The Kaiser and German leadership  wrote off the treaty as a 'scrap of paper'  or took a gamble partly because they failed to appreciate the importance of Belgium and especially the Belgian coast to the British. The German focus was on Paris.

 

With the English Channel only  an hour's or so steaming  across - the HSF could (and did) use the Flemish ports to raid the English coast. They could and to some extent did close one section of  one of the British Empire's key sea routes. The presence there of the Royal Navy's only serious rival was a major, though not the only, cause for Britain to go to war.

 

Ostend was not that vital as a disembarkation point. After all the British managed well enough without it in both Wars. The French  northern coast was not seen as menace because the British quite simply did not see the French as a naval rival,  unlike the German HSF.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ron Clifton
6 hours ago, RodB said:

What stands out for me in the years leading up to the War is the failure by the British Government (Asquith and Grey) to make it clear in words of few syllables to Germany that Britain would view any hostile occupation of the opposite coast as a threat to its survival, and hence would wage all-out war to prevent it.

Whilst healdav's reply to your post has its merits, I don't think Asquith's Liberal government would have been too keen to use the threat of war. In the run-up to 1914 Lloyd George was Chancellor of the Exchequer and would have known how heavy the financial burden of a major war would be, even if his personal view was eventually to support the declaration.

 

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60

   Oh God, brings back memories of my first degree in International History from the London School of Economics. The 1914 debate was quite important when I was a student- as the leading British commentator, James Joll (1914:The Unspoken Assumptions) was a Prof-  and his German chum was Fritz Fischer (The Fischer Thesis- summary-"It was the Krauts wot dun it")

   The question of the neutrality of Belgium is different to the issue of its integrity being guaranteed. Belgium was tagged on to Holland by the 1815 settlements, in order to make a stronger state against the borders of France- For the same reason, the weak and fragmented states of western Germany were reorganised  to bring Prussia to the borders of France and Lombardy-Venetia in the south for the same reason-to bring Austria to the borders of France. When the 1839 Treaty was signed, France was the perceived threat. The split of Belgium from Holland in 1830 undermined the 1815 settlement as a series of strong-state bastions on the borders of France. The Treaty was a cost-free exercise in case of the revival of French expansionism. Yes, the War of 1870 saw the integrity of Belgium observed- but the Prussians were strong enough in that war to wallop the French through common borders-and despite the Campaign of Sedan, the Prussians were successful in a direct attack from the east in Alsace-Lorraine.

 

      By 1914, Belgium was a tripwire, an excuse-  The unspoken assumptions were that the Germans might reprise 1870-which of course would shorten the French defensive line (Worked well with the Maginot Line,didnt it?). All the strategic planners in all the Powers knew Belgian neutrality was a fiction in the event of a war.  Easily the best summary of what happened is Bethmann-Hollweg's statement to the Reichstag when the German invasion began (in the face of criticism from the Socialist members) "Gentlemen, we are fighting a war of necessity and necessity knows no laws"

   The control of Belgium by a hostile power was part of the British decision for war in 1914. The real reasons were the probable collapse of France under a German onslaught (as in 1870) and the control of Belgium by a hostile naval power (Guess who?). If Belgium were occupied,then Holland would (as in some ways it always has been) a client state of the Germans.

     Belgium was a pretext -it engendered a propaganda campaign to sell the war-plucky little Belgium and assorted  related twaddle).

   1)  Naval commitments-  Even the dimmest German analyst could work out what the understandings re Anglo-French naval dispositions might mean-  A copy of the Navy List and reports of where RN and French ships were would show up what the 1911-1912 agreements with the French actually were.

    2)  Control of the Channel ports - only important if the hostile power controlling had a strong navy (Yes, again,Guess who?)   The ports themselves were not that important. One of the strategic lessons of the war was that the huge sacrifices of the Ypres Salient were a waste-  Why did we defend the Salient?-  To safeguard the Channel ports.  Why did we need the Channel ports?- to supply the Ypres Salient. It was a circular argument. I recommend an older book by P.H.M.Bell-"A Certain Eventuality"- about British planning for the possible collapse of France in another European war.  The planning was bascially that FRance was indefensible against the Germans along the North European Plain. Thus, pull the British army back sharpish from France/Belgium and abandon the Channel ports. Which is what happened in 1940. Planning for a British army evacuation of France/Belgium dates back to at least 1918- 1940 was not as ad hoc as might be presumed.

    The experience of the British was to sit tight in an island fortress, seek allies and wear down the enemy by blockade. Worked in the Seven Years War, the Napoleonic Wars and the Great War

 

      To subvert a phrase from Bismarck re the real importance of Belgium- "Not worth the bones of a single British Grenadier

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
PhilB
12 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

   The ports themselves were not that important. One of the strategic lessons of the war was that the huge sacrifices of the Ypres Salient were a waste-  Why did we defend the Salient?-  To safeguard the Channel ports.  Why did we need the Channel ports?- to supply the Ypres Salient. It was a circular argument.

 

 

Without the Channel Ports, how were we to supply the rest of the BEF?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60

   PhilB- Ergo, the experience of 1940 and 6/6/44

 

              The Bell book is good.

 

Other ports all along the coast, in the expectation that a front could be held- Cherbourg through to Le Havre. But the immediate ports Calais/ Dunkirk were indefensible, save at disproportionate cost.

      Sounds harsh but the Boche effectively had us on the ropes throughout the war in the Salient throughout the Great War- No real retreat, hugely costly for even the most minimum of territorial gain. We might have held the Salient but the sheer level of casualties suggests it was a Pyrrhic victory. Forcing an enemy to defend a point at huge cost was a strategic victory for the Germans.

      One thing that might illustrate if the point was correct-what were the British/French/Belgian causlaties in the Salient compared to the German???     

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
PhilB

Which suggests that Ypres was strategically to the Germans another Verdun?

However, doesn`t the loss of the Channel Ports mean that only ports west of Portsmouth can be easily used by the British to supply through the French ports?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60

Phil-  The Fischer Thesis on 1914 in Germany is instructive(well,at least to me). Fischer looked at what German aims were in WW2-of which there was little doubt- and backtracked those aims to 1914 and turned up a lot of stuff on German war aims and aggression for 1914, instead of the interwar mush about all of Europe sliding into a collective tragedy.

   There are reassessments of Soviet foreign policy of 1939-1941 by taking matters back to the Soviet war in Poland of 1920 or so. Geography and resources dictate strategy- as one is fixed, then its good to look for similarities forward and backward in time from the Great War.

    British planning for another European war in the inter-war years, as well as the experience especially of 1939-1941 suggests to me at least that Britain reverted more to its traditional foreign policy tactics- avoid large scale army involvement on the Continent, fund others to do it by forming coalitions+ use a trade war.

     The Great War was an unintended stalemate- the British "victory" was at disastrous cost - a race to the cemetery with the Germans- and not to be repeated.

   On a different note, I found the Peter Barton BBC documentaries on the Somme useful for framing some of British military actions of World War 2-  in particular, how to overcome German tactical developments in defence- For me,this was an interesting comparison-when did we learn the lessons of the Somme?  Probably on 6th June 1944.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
PhilB
On ‎22‎/‎12‎/‎2016 at 10:37, PhilB said:

 

However, doesn`t the loss of the Channel Ports mean that only ports west of Portsmouth can be easily used by the British to supply through the French ports?

Do I take it that your answer is that we shouldn`t have been in France and Belgium in the first place?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
voltaire60

  Yes and No

1) Yes- as viewed AT THE TIME-  The Allies had the long-term advantages. The deterrent effect of these alliances clearly did not work and Germany risked a ( Pearl Harbor) approach- a pre-emptive strike, which was contained (just) in the west and continued as stalemate.

 

2) NO- as viewed in retrospect- the war was not worth it. A sustained stalemate which no military planner of either side would have advocated before 1914. Both sides waged a war on the wrong killing ground for all. As A.J.P.Taylor posited- plenty on how wars begin, much less on how they end.

     To use the modern term, just what was our "exit strategy" in 1914?   Either way. What were our aims if victorious?  German colonies carved up between Britain and France? But effectively what else? Anything other than an exhausted Germany would come back for a second helping. One way of looking at the Armistice in 1918 is that the Allies (Britain and France, America may have been problematic in continuing a long war) lacked the strength to finish off Germany completely enough to impose an enduring settlement.

     Or - what were our plans if we lost or France was defeated?  Something of a sustained silence on that across the century. But there must be a whack of stuff about contingencies of defeat generated in Whitehall but I have no real knowledge of what it is. All I know is that a century on, materials relating to what Britain would settle on in a peace deal from the wartime years is still closed- As far as I am aware the main materials on the Lansdowne peace offer negotiations of 1917 are still suppressed. Im sure if you scratch around, there will be some material on the contingencies of defeat- but just look at the size of Gooch and Temperley "British Documents on the Origins of the War" -all 13 volumes of it- every possible contingency, every possible nuance on pretty much everything. And then a huge silence for the war years and a similar deluge for Versailles onwards.

     Personally, I suspect that British planning for a long war in 1914 still had visions of a war of movement across the European mainland, as it had been in all the main European wars before that. There must be planning for the contingency of defeat- My history snout tells me that where there should have been materials generated and they aint there, then that is the first place to start digging.

    A comparison of the activities of British "statesmen" of the 1914 era with regard to entry into a war and contingencies during it, especially "exit strategy" is instructive. Lloyd George and Co got away with it- Would they have survived a Chilcot style investigation?  Lets not compare matters to present day politicians- it would be a pity to wake up the Moderator while he is happy dozing with a mince pie and a glass of port- BUT- if 1914 was studied with the methods and terminology of much more recent events, then I suspect perceptions would change

    But the main business of the day- A merry Christmas to you, Phil- Happy to continue this engagement after I have exhausted the turkey sandwiches.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...