The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916-1918

By David French | Go to book overview

8
The British Peace Offensive, December 1917-March 1918

THE Russian collapse and the entry of the USA into the war did not only compel the War Cabinet to reassess its timetable for victory. The disintegration of their eastern ally also made it more desirable than ever for the British to redress the strategic balance between the belligerent alliances by persuading one of Germany's allies to make a separate peace. Between December 1917 and March 1918 they redoubled their efforts to do so. In addition, the Bolsheviks' appeal to the war-weary peoples of the Entente to revolt compelled the War Cabinet to recast their war aims. They had to make them acceptable to people who were increasingly doubtful of the possibility of inflicting a knock-out blow on Germany and who suspected that their rulers were prolonging the war in their own selfish interests. Consequently, in January 1918 Lloyd George made a major speech outlining British war aims. It was designed to persuade the British people that it was worthwhile to continue fighting, and to convince both the peoples and the rulers of the Central Powers that they had more to gain by negotiating than by continuing to fight.

The War Cabinet had redrafted their manpower and strategic policies because they feared that the British people might not tolerate in 1918 a repetition of the heavy losses which Haig's armies had suffered in 1917. By the autumn the National War Aims Committee, which had been established to encourage the population to work for victory, had discovered that amongst the leaders of organized labour commitment to military victory as an end in itself, was waning.1 Enthusiasm for the war had evaporated amongst soldiers and civilians. It had been replaced by scepticism about the causes for which the war was being fought, and disenchantment with the

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1
J. Ramsden (ed.), Real Old Tory Politics: The Political Diaries of Sir Robert Sanders, Lord Bayford, 1910-35 ( London, 1984), 89; V. H. Rothwell, British War Aims and Peace Diplomacy 1914-1918 ( Oxford, 1971), 145.

-193-

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