AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
`Mais diriger la Quadruple-Entente, n'est-ce pas chercher la quadrature du cercle?' (Raymond Poincare)(1)
THE expectation of a long attritional struggle had been far from the minds of Europe's political and military leaders when they plunged the Continent into war in August 1914. Expecting a short war resulting in a decisive military victory, the political authorities of the Anglo-French Entente had placed responsibility for the war effort in the hands of their military chiefs. General Joffre directed the coalition forces in France and Flanders, in a rather uneasy relationship with his political masters in Paris and his allies in the field. Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, appointed Secretary of State for War in August 1914, was responsible for organizing Britain's military effort, and with commendable foresight set to harnessing the Empire's manpower resources for a lengthy struggle. It was not until the failure in the spring of 1915 to break the stalemate on the western front by a series of offensives, or to outflank the Central Powers with a landing at Gallipoli, that the magnitude of the task before the coalition became apparent. The first signs of reorganization for an industrial total war followed in May with the appointment of munitions ministers in Britain and France and the reorganization of Britain's government into an all-party coalition to parallel the political union sacree that had existed in France since the outbreak of hostilities.
A vital area that had yet to be properly addressed was the politico-military co-ordination of the alliance at the highest level. This was evident from the fact that the Prime Ministers of Britain and France did not meet for the first time until July 1915, eleven months into the conflict. In the first year of the war, military, diplomatic and financial effort had been co-ordinated on an ad hoc departmental basis, with discouraging results. In the politico-military sphere different strategic perceptions and military priorities, following on from earlier confusion and disappointments (notably French failure to sustain the allied effort to relieve Antwerp in October 1914 which still rankled with Kitchener), meant that by March 1915 the Secretary for War was barely on speaking terms with his opposite number, Alexander Millerand. The spring and summer months were spent patching together a viable joint military policy from the two competing strategies, a western front offensive and an initiative in the eastern Mediterranean, which had sparked the allied disagreement.(1) Equally, at the ancillary levels of inter-allied military co-ordination and civil-military relations in the belligerent states, things were far from satisfactory. In August 1914 the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), commanded by Field Marshal Sir John French, had joined their French allies in the field, but the failure to establish a proper chain of command soon caused tensions which were to compromise the cohesion and military effectiveness of the alliance on the battlefield. By the summer of 1915 French's independent demeanour had obliged Kitchener to give in to Joffre's increasingly strident demands for a formal recognition of French authority over the BEF.(2) A similar situation existed in civil-military co-ordination, both in Britain, where Sir John French and Kitchener had long since fallen out over military policy and Kitchener's Cabinet colleagues were increasingly at variance with the Secretary of State's conduct of the war,(3) and in France, where the French opposition were anxious to wrest greater control of the war effort from Joffre and his civilian protector, Millerand.(4) Meanwhile, the military situation was deteriorating; allies were not living up to expectations and potential allies were holding back or even defecting to the enemy. The western front remained stalemated following the failure of a renewed offensive in September; Joffre's breakthrough strategy and the costly and indecisive offensives which it necessitated had been discredited. The Dardanelles campaign was going nowhere after the indecisive August offensive and the question of evacuation was on the agenda. Russian armies were retreating rapidly across Russian Poland. Italian offensive operations had ground to a halt in the foothills of the Alps. Bulgaria entered the war on the enemy's side in October. It was belatedly realized for the second time that the war would not be over by Christmas. Consequently, the winter of 1915-16 witnessed frantic political and military negotiations as each allied state, finally waking up to the reality of a long war, endeavoured to put its own house in order by reorganizing its high command, war ministry and government institutions in an attempt to ensure better civil-military co-operation and more effective management of military policy. Against this complex and inauspicious background of military failure and political intrigue more effective machinery for exchanging views and formulating joint military plans had to be developed. It is the purpose of this article to examine these concurrent reforms and their interrelationship, and to assess their significance and consequences for allied policy-making.
Those at the centre of allied decision-making, who had witnessed the frictions of allied policy-making at first hand, had long been aware of the need for better co-ordination.(1) It took a further military fiasco in the eastern Mediterranean, the ill-fated Salonika expedition in the autumn of 1915, to bring these problems to the fore and to lead to an attempt to solve them. Politicians started to look for scapegoats and heads began to roll. In London an attempt was made to put some backbone into the military advice offered to the government. The innocuous Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), General Sir James Wolfe-Murray, was replaced in September by Sir John French's former Chief of Staff, General Sir Archibald Murray. General Sir Ian Hamilton was relieved of his command at the Dardanelles in October and the biggest fish of all, Kitchener and Sir John French, were in danger of a similar fate. In Russia the commander-in-chief, Grand Duke Nicholas, had already gone, to be replaced by the Tsar himself and a new advisory staff headed by General Alexeieff. In France the cabals against Joffre which had been fomenting in political and military circles over the summer months intensified with the removal of his political protector Millerand at the end of October.
Meanwhile, the new Salonika campaign had opened inauspiciously. Both governments had woken up to the need to take a military initiative in order to support their diplomacy as the political situation in the Balkans worsened in September, although the slow working of allied decision-making did not bode well for rapid and effective intervention.(2) Bulgaria's mobilization left the allies' Balkan diplomacy in tatters, and Serbia found herself surrounded by a hostile coalition and fighting for her life. A civil-military crisis in France, the `affaire Sarrail', had earlier prompted the French government to create a new eastern expeditionary force to remove the troublesome General Sarrail from the western front.(3) Although initially conceived with the objective of forcing a decision at the Dardanelles, Joffre's refusal to provide troops for the new expeditionary force until his autumn offensive had taken place ensured that the allies once again surrendered the strategic initiative. Sarrail's force had to be diverted to Salonika in an attempt to establish communication with the beleaguered Serbian army. Political as much as military considerations dictated this change of plan. Rene Viviani's government had been under siege for some time from the National Assembly for its dilatoriness in strategic policy.(1) Coming on top of Bulgaria's entry into the war, the loss of Serbia, or failure to bring the sympathetic Greek government in on the allied side, might spell the end for the administration. Furthermore, the French expected a sizeable British military contingent to reinforce the French force: a sticking point, since the British had not been consulted over the new strategic initiative and rapidly came to doubt its practicality. October therefore saw the hasty assembly of an allied expeditionary force for Salonika despite the misgivings of the British government. The errors which had marred the inception of the Dardanelles campaign were being repeated: independent political initiative without proper consultation of professional military advisers; lack of effective military planning and logistical preparation; failure of consultation and co-ordination between the allied governments.(2)
The Russians and Italians, who had their own political ambitions in the Balkans,(3) and the British, who were preoccupied with the position in the Middle East, all had to be won over to the French point of view. Kitchener was placed once again on the horns of the strategic dilemma which had preoccupied Britain's strategists from the outbreak of war: his need to reconcile Britain's obligations to her Entente partners with her own strategic interests.(4) `We cannot afford to have unsatisfactory relations with the French, or we may find ourselves finishing this war as best we can without them', he had reminded his Cabinet colleagues in the summer.(5) For political reasons, therefore, at the end of August Kitchener had given in to French demands for an autumn offensive on the western front, and there was little to show for it.(6) Consequently his relations with his allies were by now excellent compared with those with his Dardanelles Committee colleagues,(7) which were to deteriorate further as the strategy in the eastern Mediterranean became an issue.(8) Under pressure from France and Russia Kitchener felt obliged to find troops for Salonika, which would have to come from the Dardanelles.(1) But before any troops could be landed the fall of the pro-allied Venizelos government in Greece lessened the attraction of an expedition to Salonika. At the same time the potential threat to the Entente's strategic position in the Middle East, following the opening of direct communications between Germany and Turkey via Bulgaria, preyed on the minds of the members of the British Cabinet. The military position at the Dardanelles now appeared untenable, and the safety of Egypt and the strategically vital Suez Canal could no longer be assured. Wishing as always to maintain his freedom of action with respect to both his colleagues and his allies,(2) Kitchener overruled his Cabinet colleagues' suggestion that troops should go directly from France to Salonika, and rejected the new CIGS's advice that troops should not be diverted from the main western theatre. He argued instead for diverting any British troops released from France to Egypt, from where they might intervene most effectively against Turkey at the Dardanelles or elsewhere. As tensions in the Dardanelles Committee mounted, the Attorney General, Edward Carson, a vociferous amateur strategist who favoured landing at Salonika and evacuating Gallipoli, resigned in protest.(3)
France too was torn by discord over the Salonika plan; the `organised anarchy' which Anthony Adamthwaite has suggested characterized French governmental decision-making during the war is clearly in evidence over the ensuing weeks.(4) After much soul-searching the ailing Ministre des Affaires Etrangeres, Theophile Delcasse resigned from Viviani's ministry in protest at the Salonika expedition. Forces were gathering …