The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916-1918

By David French | Go to book overview

7
Victory in 1918 or 1919?

THE implication of the War Cabinet's rejection of the Kühlmann peace offer, Russia's collapse, the weakened state of the French and Italian armies, Haig's failure, and the slow arrival of American troops in France, was that the war would continue into 1919 and perhaps beyond. The British therefore had to refrain from squandering their dwindling manpower resources in another futile offensive in France in 1918, for fear that otherwise they would have too few troops left at the end of the war to dictate the peace settlement. It was better in 1918 to hold the line in France with sufficient forces to stop any further German gains. Any troops over and above those needed to perform this vital task could be diverted to Palestine, where, Lloyd George hoped, they might win propaganda victories to sustain British and allied morale. Furthermore, such reinforcements could occupy territory that the British needed to prevent the Germans from exploiting the collapse of Russia to attack Britain's Asiatic empire. In the meantime they had to do everything possible to hasten the arrival of American troops in Europe in order to bring closer the moment in 1919 when it might be possible to deliver the knock-out blow against Germany. In December 1917 Lloyd George had three objectives: to persuade his own colleagues to accept this new programme and timetable for victory, to persuade Britain's partners to accept it, and to persuade the British people that it was worthwhile continuing the war to achieve it.

The increasingly rapid disintegration of Russian power in the summer and autumn of 1917 was accompanied by much hand-wringing in London and amongst British officials in Russia, but there was little they could do. By September, even the optimists no longer believed in Russia's military regeneration, and the War Cabinet stopped all large-scale shipments of munitions to its ports.1 In mid

____________________
1
PRO CAB 24/25/GT1980: Milner, Supplies for Russia [n.d., but c.7 Sept. 1917]; PRO CAB 24/25/GT1995: Cowdray, Dispatch of aeroplanes to Russia, 10 Sept. 1917; PRO CAB 23/4/WC230: War Cabinet, 10 Sept. 1917; K. Neilson, "TheBreakup of the Anglo-Russian Alliance: The question of Supply in 1917"

-171-

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