|The Supreme Allied War Council|
meeting atVersailles in 1918
In early January, Lloyd-George took advantage of a speaking engagement with the Trades Unions to re-frame Britain’s objectives for the war. Gone were any references to destruction of the German, Austro-Hungarian or Turkish empires. The objectives were much the same, but stated more positively – restoration of occupied territory in France, Belgium, Italy, Serbia and Montenegro; restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France; independence for Poland and for any aspiring nations within Austia-Hungary; and further east Britain wanted to see separate states for Armenia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Arabia. Constantinople would remain the capital of Turkey, but the waters surrounding and the Dardanelle straits should become international. Reparations for war damage would be required, and an international ‘war prevention’ organisation created. Of course, the German government would take little notice of it, but they did pay heed to a similar document issued by the US President Wilson just a few days later. Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’, published on 8th January were:
· Open covenants of peace and no secret diplomacy in future
· Absolute freedom of navigation in peace and war outside territorial waters
· Removal as far as possible of all economic barriers
· Adequate guarantees for the reduction of national armaments
· An absolutely impartial adjustment of colonial claims, the interests of those peoples concerned having equal weight
· All Russian territory to be evacuated, and Russia given full opportunity for self-development, the Powers aiding
· Complete restoration of Belgium, in full and free sovereignty
· All French territory freed and the wrong done by Prussian in 1871 in the matter of Alsace Lorraine righted
· Re-adjustment of Italian frontiers on lines of nationality
· Peoples of Austria-Hungary accorded an opportunity of autonomous development
· Rumania, Serbia and Montenegro evacuated, Serbia being given access to the sea, and relations of Balkan states settled on lines of allegiance and nationality
· Non-Turkish nationalities in the Ottoman empire assured of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles to be permanently free to all ships
· An independent Polish state
· A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
Wishful thinking? Certainly Wilson’s greatest hope was the fourteenth point – the creation of a League of Nations, to promote democracy, weaken imperial power and preserve peace. Idealistic, as we well know by now, but it received a positive, if disingenuous response from the Chancellors of Germany and Austria-Hungary. They were facing difficult domestic conditions, particularly in Austria, where Vienna was largely incapacitated by unrest and strikes. Both Cernin, for Austria-Hungary, and Hertling, for Germany, gave gushing responses in public statements about the principles, whilst rejecting points concerning territory and nationalist aspirations.
Lloyd-George was also determined to push his own military agenda, rather than listen to Haig, or the increasingly isolated CIGS Sir William Robertson. He chose the Supreme Allied Council meeting in Versailles in late January to do this. Largely due to Lloyd-George’s disruptions, this committee produced (in military aspects) a camel rather than a thoroughbred horse. Predictably, the agenda was dominated by the defensive plan for the Western Front. There was agreement about the need for a unified command, and the majority, including the generals, wants a supremo, generalissimo to take control. Lloyd-George was against this, despite (or perhaps because of) support for it by both Haig and Robertson. He argued successfully for a compromise that in the end suited nobody. A military executive, with Marshall Foch at its head would be allocated a force of thirty Divisions made up from the Allied armies, and have discretion over its deployment as the German plans revealed themselves. This was never likely to be a success, but Lloyd George was not finished. He insisted that the British advance through Mesopotamia and Palestine should not be compromised by shifting resources to France (this at a time when Ludendorff was moving forces from Rumania, Bulgaria and Turkey to maximise his strength on the Western Front). Finally he used the meeting to pursue his own domestic agenda. He informed Robinson bluntly of his decision that the senior representative of the British Military on the Council should not be the CIGS, but a separate position. He offered Robertson the choice of either, but not both. Robertson, who believed the opposite, decided to resign - as Lloyd-George must have hoped he would. This neatly ended several differences Lloyd-George had with his CIGS. The most important was an impasse over whether all available British reserves should be transferred to France, as Haig was demanding (more of this in a future episode). It was hard on Robertson – the first man to rise from the rank of private to the very pinnacle of the British Army. He had laboured unceasingly for the cause for over two years since Kitchener’s fall from favour, and now paid the same price – probably for being too supportive of Douglas Haig and for Lloyd-George’s understandable unwillingness to risk another Passchendaele.
Sir Henry Wilson, the new CIGS, was much more to Lloyd-George’s taste. At the same time as appointing Wilson as CIGS, Lloyd-George moved
Lord Milner within the cabinet, creating the post of Secretary of State for War.
He now had two new (and strongly supportive) senior advisers.
|Sir Henry Wilson, the new CIGS|
A better fit with Lloyd-George,
he had better political skills than
the soldier's soldier, Robertson.
Shortly after the dysfunctional Versailles summit, President Wilson made a further contribution, outlining four principles as preconditions for peace. Each dealt with the importance of allowing self determination and peoples’ sovereignty rather than service under the yoke of oppression. More worthy principles. This time the German Chancellor Hertling seemed less interested – probably because Germany had just secured its access to the resources of Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic states. More important still, a secret session of the Reichstag held in January had been promised by Ludendorff that Germany was poised for certain and outright victory on the Western Front.