The Strategy of the Lloyd George Coalition, 1916-1918

By David French | Go to book overview

5
'Boche Killing'

AT the War Policy Committee, Robertson had insisted that he did 'not advocate spending our last man and our last round of ammunition in an attempt to reach that coast if the opposition which we encounter shows that the attempt will entail disproportionate loss'.1 The committee had agreed to launch the Flanders offensive in the belief that if at any stage it proved to be too costly, they would be able to call a halt. But they did not. Despite a mounting casualty list and little tangible progress towards the Belgian coast, they permitted Haig to continue his offensive until the middle of November. After the war Haig and his apologists claimed that he had persevered in order to wear down the German army and because the French had begged him to do so. Lloyd George claimed that he had allowed Haig to continue because the generals had misled him about the reality of the battle in Belgium. Both claims were disingenuous.

It began to rain heavily on 31 July, the day the assault started, but bad weather was only one reason why Haig failed to achieve an initial rapid breakthrough in Flanders. In May GHQ had had some success in deceiving the Germans about where their offensive would take place, but in July, when they tried to persuade the Germans into believing that their objective was Lille and not Ypres, they failed.2 Following the Arras offensive the Germans had no doubt where the next British offensive would occur. They strengthened their defences and, despite switching six divisions to Russia to counter the Kerensky offensive, they retained adequate reserves in the west.3 The tactical planning for the initial attack was

____________________
LHCMA, Kiggell MSS V/114: Kiggell to Gough, 7 Aug. 1917.
1
PRO CAB 27/7/WP19: Robertson, Note by the CIGS on the Prime Minister's memorandum regarding future military policy, 23 June 1917.
2
PRO WO 256/20: Kiggell to Army Commanders, 6 July 1917; LHCMA, Benson MSS B1/104: Anon., Scheme for dissemination of information, 18-23 May 1917.
3
PRO WO 158/898: Charteris to Macdonogh, 11 Aug. 1917; G. C. Wynne, If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West ( London, 1940), 282-93; G. deGroot

-124-

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