The World Crisis 1911-1919
Perhaps the greatest work in the English language along with The Seven Pillars of Wisdom . The World Crisis is the best thriller I have ever read.
Winston Churchill charts the course of the origins of the war from the Agadir Crisis of 1911 through to the commencement of hostilities. It was the crisis at Agadir which resulted in Winston Churchill's appointment to the Admiralty. It was he who forced upon the Admiralty the huge risks of adopting the un-tried fifteen-inch battleship gun, along with oil-fired boilers, which increased the speed of the ships as well as allowing their re-fueling at sea. Both of these decisions required huge risks to be run, but would assure British naval domination for the duration of the war. However, as Churchill had to demonstrate, the risk of not taking these courses of action was even larger. Prior to Churchill's arrival at the Admiralty, the entirety of defence planning for the last two-hundred years had been focused on a strategy known as 'close-blockade' - close-blockage of France. The naval defences of the entire English southern coastline were organised around this naval strategy. No planning existed for a major engagement with a German fleet, which up until von Bismarck's dismissal, did not exist. It was only at the bidding of Kaiser Willhelm II that a German fleet was constructed. Furthermore it became obvious during the period of diplomacy that the object of the construction of the fleet was to rival British naval power, which was then the world's dominant force. This was the decision of the Kaiser alone. The Royal Navy did not threaten the smallest hamlet in Germany, nor did British foreign policy threaten German colonies or sea communications. In fact it was the opposite. This demonstrates the Kaiser's lack of foresight: For if he had never built the German fleet, the Royal Navy would never have been threatened and Great Britian may not have been drawn into the land war regardless of how much coastline Germany acquired. Just for good measure, it was the Kaiser who precipitated most of the diplomatic crises between 1911 and 1914.
Just as later in the Second World War, the advent of radar equipped naval patrol aircraft eliminated the possibility of commerce raiders (such as the Graf Spee), the invention of the torpedo in the early years of the Twentieth Century made the strategy of close-blockade untenable. Worse still, the distant prospect of a sericeable submarine equipped with torpedos rendered it naval suicide. Planning sessions by the Naval Staff found that close-blockade of Germany was next to impossible even for a navy the size of the Royal Navy. Worse still the geography of the German coastline and the size of the North Sea compared to the channel gave every advantage to the defender. Close-blockade would be a strategy now confined to the history books.
It should be noted that Winston Churchill saw humanity in world affairs as a whole, in the manner of a benevolent, patient and experienced schoolmaster who knows that the schoolboys will not understand fully what their self-interested and low-cortex driven actions will lead to, and how they will not achieve their objective, that of a peaceful, properous, ordered, civilized world dominated by like-minded men, which he saw as his objective, in that manner. Like similar really big men, he was endlessly forgiving of his charges. When he writes his history this becomes evident. Much as T.E.Lawrence described Auda of the Abu Tayi:
He saw life as a saga. All the events in it were significant: all personages in contact with him heroic. His mind was stored with poems of old raids and epic tales of fights, and he overflowed with them on the nearest listener. If he lacked listeners he would very likely sing them to himself in his tremendous voice, deep and resonant and loud.
Churchill saw life as an Epic saga, both his life and the life of the British Empire. And all personages in contact with him as heroic. You can see in his assessment of Admiral Craddock who had through foolishness lost several cruisers in an action with the German vessels Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the Pacific. Churchill does not linger on Craddock's ineptitude but instead, in his eulogy, he focuses on Craddock's bravery in battle and the selfless way in which he attemted to inflict damage on the enemy regardless of the fact that the battle would be unequal. Later in his six-volume The Second World War he is equally mitigating of a Japanese Admiral Kurita's confusion during a fierce battle with the US Navy. He owed him, nor the Japanese anything, and yet from Churchill's position at the center, in a world-scale, he finds time to weigh in the scales of his assessment, the balance.
Sixth months after writing the above paragraphs, I found this:
Lord Chandos , speaking at the fortnightly meeting of The Other Club on 1965-FEB-04, which Churchill, the founder member, always attended, recalled Churchill the Club member, and the statesman, who had been present for the previous fortnightly meeting:
"He enjoyed a good dinner. He made jokes at the expense of all but at the cost of none. He enjoyed a conflict of ideas, but not a conflict between people. His powers were those of imagination, experience, and magnanimity. Perhaps not enough has been made of his magnanimity. He saw man as a noble and not as mean creature. The only people he never forgave were those, who, in the words he so often used 'fell beneath the level of events'.
Page 1364, Never Despair - Winston S. Churchill 1945-1965 by Martin Gilbert, Heinemann, 1988
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Vol 1 Chapter 01, page 13.2
To create the unfavourable conditions for herself in which Germany afterwards brought about the war, many acts of superior unwisdom on the part of her rulers were never the less still necessary. France must be kept in a state of continued apprehension. The Russian nation, not the Russian Court alone, must be stung by some violent affront inflicted in their hour of weakness. The slow, deep, restrained antagonism of the British Empire must be roused by the continuous and repeated challenge to the sea power by which it lived. Then and then only could these conditions be created under which Germany by an act of aggression would bring into being against her, a combination strong enough to resist and ultimately to overcome her might. There was still a long road to travel before the Vials of Wrath were full. For ten years we were to journey anxiously along that road.
Forward to the 1937 reprint
Winston Churchill wrote this preface to the second, revised, edition after he had revised its content during 1937,1938. The excerpt starts at paragraph four and continues to the end:
I write this new Preface in a day of extraordinary difficulty and danger. So strange indeed is the present international situation and it passes the wit of man to say what new portent will have appeared in the European sky by the time these words see the light. Armed to the teeth and feverishly adding to their armaments, the nations of Europe are asking themselves, "Is this the peace for which we fought ?" What have our sacrifices brought us ? What is coming next ?" It is possible that the appalling drama with which this book is concerned was enacted in vain ? It is conceivable that in our own day the hand of Destiny will raise the curtain of a tragedy of even greater horror ? These are gloomy questions, but History's answer need not be gloomy. The attainment of a genuine peace should not be beyond the reach of human wisdoms inspired by human goodwill. But if we are to escape a cataclysm fatal to civilization itself let us lay to heart before it is too late the lesson, writ large in these pages, of the tragic years 1914-18, a lesson that the events of this Autumn have only too bitterly emphasized - the paramount necessity of preparedness.
Winston S. Churchill
November 22, 1938
Preface to the original edition
The World Crisis 1911-1919 by Winston S. Churchill, 2nd Edition, page 147: WSC describes the in-fighting in parliament over the (Irish) Home Rule Bill and the Naval Estimates:
It is greatly to be hoped that British political leaders will never again allow themselves to be goaded and spurred and drive by each other or by their followers into the excesses of partisanship which on both sides disgraced the year 1914, and which were themselves only the culmination of that long succession of biddings and counter-biddings for the mastery to which a previous chapter has alluded. No one who has not been involved in such contentions can understand the intensity of the pressures to which public men are subjected, or the way in which every motive in their nature, good, bad and indifferent, is marshaled in the direction of further effort to secure victory. The vehemence which great masses of men yield themselves to partisanship and follow the struggle as if it were a prize fight, their ardent enthusiasm, their glistening eyes, their swift anger, their distrust and contempt if they think they are to be baulked of their prey: the sense of wrongs mutually interchanged, the extortion and enforcement of pledges, the infectious loyalties, the praise that waits on violence: the chilling disdain, the honest disappointment, the cries of 'treachery' with which every proposal of compromise is hailed: the desire to keep good faith with those who follow, the sense of right being on one's side, the harsh unreasonable actions of opponents - all these acting and reacting reciprocally upon one another tend towards the perilous climax. To fall behind is to be a laggard or a weakling, not sincere, not courageous: to get in front of the crowd, if only to command them and to deflect them, prompts often very violent action. And at a certain stage it is hardly possible to keep the contention within the limits of words of laws. Force, that final arbiter, that last soberer, may break upon the scene.
The World Crisis 1911-1919 by Winston S. Churchill, 2nd Edition, Vol 01, page 150 - page 151, 1914-JUL-28:
At the end of June the simultaneous British naval visits to Kronstadt and Kiel took place. For the first time for several years some of the finest ships of the British and German navies lay at their moorings at Kiel side by side surrounded by liners, yachts and pleasure craft of every kind. Undue curiosity in technical matters was banned by mutual agreement. There were races, there were banquets, there were speeches. There was sunshine, there was the Emperor. Officers and men fraternized and entertained each other afloat and ashore. Together they strolled arm in arm through the hospitable town, or dined with all the goodwill in mess and wardroom. Together they stood bareheaded at the funeral of a German officer killed in flying an English seaplane.
Vol 01 Page 153.5 WSC describes the Grand Fleet review of 1913:
Here on the 17th and 18th of July was held the grand review of the Navy. It constituted incomparably the greatest assemblage of naval power ever witnessed in the history of the world. The king himself was present and inspected ships in every class.
Vol 01 Page 158.1 :
The night before (Friday), at dinner. He had just arrived from Germany. We sat next to each other, and I asked him what he thought about the situation. With the first few words he spoke, it became clear that he had not come here on any mission of pleasure. He said the situation was grave. 'I remember', he said, 'old Bismarck telling me the year before he died that one day the great European War would come out of some damn foolish thing in the Balkans.' These words, he said, might come true. It all depended on the Tsar. What would he do if Austria chastised Serbia ? A few years before there would have been no danger, as the Tsar was too frightened for his throne, but now again he was feeling himself more secure upon his throne, and the Russian people besides would feel very hardly anything done against Serbia. Then he said, 'If Russia marches against Austria, we must march: and if we march, France must march, and what would England do ?' I was not in a position to say more than that it would be a great mistake to assume that England would necessarily do nothing, and I added that she would judge events as they arose.
Vol 01 Page 187.5 Chapter XI 'War: The Passage of the Army' August 4 - August 22, 1914 :
The entry of Great Britain into the war with the most powerful military Empire which had ever existed was strategically impressive. Her large Fleets vanished into the mists at one end of the island. Her small Army hurried out of the country at the other. By this double gesture she might seem to uninstructed eyes to divest itself of all her means of defence, and to expose her coasts nakedly to a hostile thrust. Yet these two movements, dictated by the truest strategy, secured at once our own safety and the salvation of our Allies. The Grand Fleet gained the station whence the control of the seas could be irresistibly asserted. The Regular Army reached in the nick of time the vital post on the flank of the French line. Had all our action been upon this level, we should to-day be living in an easier world.
Vol 01 Page 192.5 Chapter XI 'War: The Passage of the Army August 4 - August 22, 1914 :
The arguments against compulsory service, cogent as they no doubt were, were soon reinforced by the double event of over-whelming numbers of volunteers and a total lack of arms and equipment. Apart from the exiguous stores held by the Regular army, there was literally nothing. The small scale of our military forces had led to equally small factories of war material. There were no spare rifles, there were no extra guns; and the modest supplies of shells and ammunition began immediately to flash away with what seemed appalling rapidity. Many months must elapse, even if the best measures were taken, before new sources of supply even on a moderate scale could be opened up. One was now to learn for the first time that it took longer to make a rifle than a gun: and rifles were the cruellest need of all. We had nothing but staves to put in the hands of the eager men who thronged the recruiting stations. I ransacked the Fleet and the Admiralty stores and scraped together another 30,000 rifles, which literally meant another 30,000 men in the field. Afloat only the Marines would have their rifles. Jack must, in the last resort, trust to his cutlass as of old.
1914: During the Battle of the Marne: Winston Churchill sends the Naval Division to re-inforce the badly pressed Belgian army at Antwerp, which will be key in holding the channel ports. There being great confusion and difficulty with communications: A man is killed right in front of him when he steps out of his car and a German shell bursts right overhead. He takes temporary charge of operations until he can be relieved a few days later by a British Army General. Churchill had a lifelong knack of engaging himself in battle regardless of his position in politics or the army, as if he could do it at will.
1914: Battle of the Marne. This was the crux. If von Bismarck had not being sacked, then the Great War would never have happened and the 20thC would have been a long, glorious Edwardian summer, as if the entire progress of humanity had been toward that goal. Once war started, it was on the Marne that the course of the 20thC was decided. If the German Army had penetrated all the way to Paris, then Germany would have been victories and Europe would have been re-cast in the image of the German Empire. If the Dual Alliance and Great Britain were not defeated on the Marne then eventual victory would be theirs. The German Empire was strongest at the start of the war, on the first day. As mobilization proceeded (in all countries) and as the German army advanced, Germany's advantage grew less in proportion to the forces arranged against it. Once it's armies were fully extended and Russia, France and Great Britain fully mobilised, Germany's advantage would ebb away. As ever in war, only mistakes by the defenders or strategic conduct of genius by the attackers could bring about victory for Germany. After the Marne, the armies dug-in to trench lines and there were no appreciable movements of the fronts.
1915: THE DARDANELLES: The disaster at the Dardanelles developed for a number of reasons. (1) The actual objective in terms of the directives given to the parties kept changing. (2) There were two separate parties, the army and the navy (3) There were more than two parties and a committee process (in cabinet) which set the separate directives for the two parties on the ground, the army and the navy. (4) A failure of combined arms planning by the man in charge of the army, Kitchener. (5) Differing objectives and delays in appointing commanders of the naval forces and land army caused delays, which gave the enemy many chances to recover the initiative.
The solution would have to have been to appoint a theater commander. To give him an objective, in the manner detailed by General Walter Warlimont in his text where he compares Hitler's style of command with the instructions given to Eisenhower. Once this was done, the attack would either reach its objective or retreat in the face of superior enemy resistance. There were two reasons that this was not done (1) Only Churchill understood amphibious combined arms at this point. He had enough understanding of military matters of all kinds to be able to practise in the field, but was not steeped in any one military school of thought sufficiently that he could no longer see outside of it and like many long-served military men are reluctant to admit of any conditions which will disturb the boundaries of what they have come to know as their home. (2) The immediate objective that the forces available were given kept changing. The ultimate objective was to force a passage of the straits for the navy, which would enter the Black Sea. The result of this would almost certainly be the collapse of Turkey, the attack of the new Balkan states southwards (Greece, Bulgaria) and the ability of maritime traffic to reach Russia's black sea ports, enabling re-supply (Russia had almost run out of ammunition) and export of foodstuffs. The immediate objective was to force the straits, using the navy, and if this was impossible to occupy the peninsular with the army.
Few actual mistakes were made: Kitchener prevaricated on the appointment of an army commander. The troops arrived off the Dardannelles with the ships packed for transit, not for assault. All the equipment would come out in the wrong order. The reasons for failure were not actual mistakes such as these but failures in omission. The separate laminae of the forces and of their control meant that the co-ordinates 'bite' of the powerful jaws of the forces available never pincered onto the enemy at the same time.
Contrast: Allenby in Palestine.
What is tantalising is that the even this piece-meal effort nearly achieved victory: The Turks had nearly run out of ammunition, could not be resupplied from the Central Powers and the only ammunition factories in the entire Ottoman Empire were in Istanbul. Preparations had been made to evacuate the Turkish government. Wheat prices had fallen on the Chicago mercantile exchange in expectation of Russian supply reaching the market. The new Balkan states and Italy had all rushed forward with self-interested offers of assistance. The German commanders on the ground had expected collapse after only one more day of bombardment by the Royal Navy. With Turkey out of the war, the Balkans sealed off to the Central Powers, Russia freed from isolation, resupplied with ammunition and feeding the Dual Alliance with grain, the shape of World history would have been changed.
NATO TPC Eastern Mediterranean , Turkey - the Dardanelles. A section from the map, below.
NATO TPC Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles, Istanbul, Constantinople, the Black Sea. This map was made from several TPC which had been spliced together: F-3A, F-3B and G-3B
Clearly, Winston Churchill was at his most productive and applied when he was at the Admiralty, with the clear objective of Imperial defense in the face of the growing German threat. After the war, during a term as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill commented after a meeting with Economists that he wished they were all talking about the Naval Estimates because then he would understand what they were talking about. The fog of economics and great uncertainties which attend the decisions taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not suit him at all. Peacetime must have been a struggle for him.
It is clear that Winston Churchill was naturally talented in the fields in which he practiced. Clearly, he understood combined arms, at a time when it had not yet been invented. Furthermore his grasp of naval matters, the role of the navy and its objectives were at least as great as any of the Sea Lords. Churchill's role at the Admiralty was a great one and was pivotal, was the most important role in the Great War, more so than the Prime Minister's, because only the Royal Navy could lose the war for England, just as only the British Army could win it. It is tempting to see Churchill's role in the Second World War as even greater. While he may have carried more rank in the Second World War, his role in the Great War, a more serious and catastrophic event than the Second World War, placed him in a position of greater importance.
In 1930, Churchill reflected on the Great War and demise of Kaiser Willhelm II:
"Time has brought him a surprising and paradoxical revenge upon his conquerors. The greater part of Europe would regard the Hohenzollern restorationas a comparatively hopeful event. This is not because his own personal light burns the brighter, but because of the increasing darkness around. The victorious democracies in driving out hereditary sovereigns supposed they were moving on the path of progress. They have in fact gone further and fared worse."
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+ SEE ALSO
- Winston S. Churchill Young Statesman 1901-1914 Volume II by Martin Gilbert
- Winston S. Churchill - 1914-1916 Vol III by Martin Gilbert
- Chronology of the Great War 1914-1918
+ EXTERNAL LINKS
- After the Battle Magazine journal of historical research
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