The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916-1918

By David French | Go to book overview

4
The War Policy Committee and the Origins of the Flanders Offensive

IN February 1917 the Entente had a plan to win the war. But by the beginning of June, as Milner explained, 'The defection of Russia has completely destroyed these prospects. On the other hand, the entrance of America into the war has introduced a new factor, of great ultimate promise but little immediate value.'1 At the same time as Britain's command of the seas was being challenged by the U-boat offensive, the effectiveness of the Russian and French armies seemed to be dissolving. It appeared that Nivelle's successor, Pétain, would place the French army on the defensive for the remainder of the year and await the arrival of a powerful American army in France before seeking a decision on the western front in 1918. Released from the Calais agreement by Nivelle's failure, Haig wanted to revert to his plan to mount a major offensive from the Ypres salient to clear the Flanders coast. However, the faltering efforts of their two major allies gave the War Cabinet pause for thought. The relative decline of French and Russian power made Britain the dominant member of the Entente, at least until the USA was able to deploy its great latent strength in France. This presented the British with a window of opportunity during which they might be able to shape the Entente's strategy and secure their own war aims. But it also meant that the Entente's power vis-à-vis the Central Powers had declined. That implied that if Haig mounted a major offensive without significant allied military support, the Germans would be able to mass the whole of their reserves against the BEF and perhaps blunt its offensive capacity for good. In early June the War Cabinet established the War Policy Committee to weigh up Britain's strategic options in the light of the crises in France and Russia, Britain's own economic and manpower problems, and the military and diplomatic options in the Middle East, the Balkans, and on the Italian and western fronts.

____________________
1
PRO CAB 1/24/16: Milner, War Policy, 7 June 1917.

-94-

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