The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916-1918

By David French | Go to book overview

3
The British Crisis, May-August 1917

RUSSIA and France were not the only members of the Entente to experience a domestic crisis in the spring and summer of 1917. Britain underwent its own crisis. It culminated in a series of strikes in the engineering industry in May which called into question the willingness of organized labour to continue to accept the leadership of Britain's traditional governing classes. However, thanks to the ability of the Lloyd George government to find the appropriate expedients, war weariness did not spill over into widespread defeatism. But the blow which the May strikes delivered to the government's self-confidence cannot be underestimated. A government which had come to power pledged to win the war now had a second task thrust upon it, to act as a barrier to a British revolution.1 Fear that excessive casualties, if they were not coupled with visible victories, might produce defeatism was yet another factor which had to be weighed in the balance when the government devised a military strategy to replace Kitchener's now discredited option.

When the Lloyd George government came to power it was confronted by an economy suffering from labour shortages, falling imports, a worsening balance of payments, and inflation. Large numbers of fit young men had left their civilian occupations and enlisted in the armed forces.2 Imports had fallen to 46 million tons in 1916, compared to 54.5 million tons in 1913, due in part to the sinking of some merchant tonnage and the diversion of much of what remained to war-related tasks.3 In the closing days of the

____________________
1
J. Turner, British Politics and the Great War: Coalition and Conflict 1915-1918 ( London, 1992), 191-3.
2
P. E. Dewey, "Military Recruiting and the British Labour Force during the First World War", Historical Journal, 27/ 1 ( 1984), 205.
3
PRO CAB 24/38/GT3140: Stanley, Eleventh report of the Board of Trade on imports in relation to shipping, 21 Dec. 1917.

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