The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916-1918

By David French | Go to book overview

Introduction
Geography and Time: The Debate on British Strategy, 1916-1918

ON 31 October 1940 Winston Churchill told his War Cabinet that 'The question might be asked, "How are we to win the war?" This question was frequently posed in the years 1914-1918, but not even those at the centre of things could have possibly given a reply as late as August of the last year of the war.'1 The Prime Minister's reminiscences, designed to encourage his ministers to see a bright strategic future when they had little cause for such optimism, were bad history. Between 1914 and 1918 those, at the centre of things', the British policy-making élite, had several replies to the question of how Britain might win the war.

The notion that the debate within the policy-making élite was an almost gladiatorial contest between 'frock coats' (politicians/'easterners') and 'brass hats' (generals/'westerners') permeates much of the historiography of the war.2 The wide currency of these ideas is not surprising, for they have a venerable pedigree, dating back to the battle of the memoirs which commenced as soon as the guns stopped firing. They were lent weight by the prestige of writers like Lloyd George, Churchill, Robertson, and Hankey, who had themselves been members of the policy-making élite, and by historians as distinguished as Sir Basil Liddell Hart and Sir James Edmonds.3

____________________
1
Quoted in E. A. Cohen, "Churchill and Coalition Strategy in World War II", in P. M. Kennedy (ed.), Grand Strategies in War and Peace ( New Haven, Conn., 1991), 66.
2
I have adopted the concept of the policy-making élite from D. C. Watt, "The nature of the Foreign-policy-making Élite in Britain", in id., Personalities and Policies: Studies in the Formation of British Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century ( London, 1965), 1-15.
3
See e.g. B. H. Liddell Hart, History of the First World War ( London, 1930; 2nd edn. 1972), 136-7, 166; M. Hankey, The Supreme Command 1914-1918 ( London, 1961), ii.466-70; D. R. Woodward, Lloyd George and the Generals ( Newark, NJ, 1983), passim; R. Blake (ed.), The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914-1918 ( London, 1952), 30-2; D. Lloyd George, War Memoirs, 2 vols. ( London, 1938), passim; W. S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918, 2 vols. ( London, 1968); G. A. B. Dewar and J. H. Boraston, Sir Douglas Haig's Command December 19,1915, to November 11, 1918

-1-

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