Britain and the Last Tsar: British Policy and Russia, 1894-1917

By Keith Neilson | Go to book overview

12
Alliance in Action, 1914-1917

BRITISH policy in the war had four main pillars: keeping the coalition intact and functioning smoothly, supplying the Allies with money and arms, maintaining the supremacy of the Royal Navy and its command of the seas, and ensuring Britain a dominant postwar position by winning the peace.1 Russia was involved to a greater or lesser extent in all four.2 First, Russia was one of Britain's two (later three) principal allies, and it was always necessary to consider her preferences in all inter- Allied military discussions. Considerations of the Eastern front had a considerable impact on British military planning. Second, due to the unexpected length of the war, Britain had to act as Russia's banker and armourer to an extent never contemplated before 1914. Third, while direct Anglo-Russian naval co-operation was slight, consisting mainly of British submarines acting in the Baltic, Britain had to ship supplies to Russia by sea. This latter activity was often the subject of contention between the two allies, and tied to arguments concerning whether Britain was providing as much in the way of supplies and monies as the Tsarist state required. Finally, Russia was a critical factor when British war aims were considered, for there was a strong belief that Britain must not win the war for the benefit of Petrograd (as St Petersburg became at the outbreak of war). Considerations of the relationship, particularly with respect to defence, between the expected postwar territorial positions of Britain and Russia were an important aspect of British thinking during the war. When discussing the functioning of the Anglo-Russian alliance, each of these pillars needs to be considered separately, but before doing so, there are some general points that require examination.

The expanded nature of the Anglo-Russian relationship during the war, and the exigencies of the war itself, led to an expansion in the membership of the British élite.3 The experiences that the new members brought to the élite were diverse. Those who became involved in Anglo-Russian relations with respect to finance and

____________________
1
These themes are identified by D. French in The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition 1916-18 (forthcoming, Oxford University Press) and his "The Meaning of Attrition, 1914-16", EHR 103 ( 1988), 386.
2
K. Neilson, Strategy and Supply: The Anglo-Russian Alliance 1914-17 ( London, 1984) provides a detailed account of the relationship and an extended bibliography.
3
Neilson, Strategy and Supply, 1-42.

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