The STRAITS Trilogy

    Volume I: Superior Force : the conspiracy behind the escape of Goeben and Breslau     Volume II: Straits : British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign     Volume III: The Millstone : British Naval Policy in the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to France and British Intervention in the War

Superior Force

The Conspiracy Behind the Escape of Goeben and Breslau xxiii + 458 pages 20 illustrations 2 maps Full bibliography, notes and index Laminated card cover, 6¼"x9¼" ISBN 0 85958 635 9 Published 1996


British Policy Towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign xxvi + 604 pages 12 illustrations, 1 map Full bibliography, notes and index Laminated card cover, 5¾"x8¼" ISBN 0 85958 635 9 Hardcover ISBN 0 85958 663 4 Published 1997

The Millstone

British Policy in the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to France and British Intervention in the War xv + 611 pages Full bibliography, notes and index Laminated card cover, 5¾"x8¼" ISBN 0 85958 690 1 Published 1999
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These books provide a comprehensive account of British naval and diplomatic policy in the two decades prior to the Great War, focusing in particular on the escape of the German ships Goeben and Breslau [Superior Force], the origins of the Dardanelles Campaign [Straits], and the political and diplomatic imperatives behind the British decision to enter the war in August 1914 [The Millstone].
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Given below is the complete Introduction which appears in "The Millstone". This introduction is provided as a service to those who may be interested in the subject. It provides an indication of the scope and content of the book but please note that, in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1988, it may not be reproduced without the prior permission of the author. Further below is the Table of Contents.
On the morning of Wednesday, 20 December 1905, Major General James Grierson mounted his charger, settled his large frame in the saddle and commenced his constitutional ride in the crisp winter air of Hyde Park. As he trotted along Rotten Row another military figure on horseback came into view. The dapper, almost dandified, rider whose delicate features were accentuated by an ornate, waxed moustache was soon revealed to be Major Victor Jacques Marie Huguet, the French Military Attaché. It was, so Grierson claimed a few weeks later, a chance encounter. At most other times, Grierson’s word might have been accepted; however, with Germany engaged in a periodic bout of sabre-rattling, and with the threat of a Franco-German war over Morocco pervading the diplomatic atmosphere, the meeting was anything but a coincidence. Grierson, the Director of Military Operations at the War Office, had had a brilliant career, including a spell as Military Attaché in Berlin. Untypically, he spoke French ‘with ease and fluency,’ and, in the opinion of General Sir John French, ‘he used to astonish French soldiers by his intimate knowledge of the history of their regiments, which was far in excess of what they knew themselves.’ Feeling completely at ease in Grierson’s company, Huguet expressed the anxiety felt in Paris that Germany may soon attack. However, when Huguet then inquired about the current British war organization, Grierson alleged that he did no more than refer Huguet ‘to the Army List, which shows [the war organization] and actually gives the composition on mobilisation of a division which does not exist in peace.’ Huguet, apparently satisfied by this less than revealing answer, then inquired if the General Staff ‘had ever considered operations in Belgium’, to which Grierson replied that he himself had worked out such a plan of operations the previous spring, though only as a ‘strategical exercise’. And that, maintained Grierson, to the best of his recollection, ‘was all that passed between us’. Grierson’s memory, which also put the date of the chance meeting ‘about the 16th or 18th December’, was conveniently faulty. As the French reports show, the Wednesday encounter was the first of two meetings and, far from simply referring Huguet to the Army List, Grierson in fact confirmed that up to 120,000 British troops would be available for Continental operations, although the force lacked the most up-to-date field artillery. Grierson also dismissed the Admiralty’s proposed plan of operations in the region of Schleswig-Holstein in the event of war as ridiculous. Encouraged by what he had heard, Huguet arranged to meet Grierson on the following day. At this subsequent meeting Grierson, effusive and indiscreet in equal measure, informed Huguet of the latest General Staff study which envisaged reinforcing the available British force with two divisions currently serving in the Mediterranean. Tactically, Grierson favoured operating in Belgium; however, when pressed, he admitted that the British force could land at Calais where it would ‘unite with the French forces, of whom it would, for example, form the left wing.’ Grierson then added a cautionary provision, which would become a familiar litany to the French: the General Staff deliberations should not be interpreted as prejudicing the decision which the British Government might take at any given moment. This exchange was neatly to encapsulate the sorry history of Anglo-French naval and military planning during the following eight years. Plans — detailed plans — could be formulated; plans which would allow of no last-minute tinkering, and of no last-minute faint-heartedness. But these plans were not to be put into operation until a political decision had been made. Events on the battlefield would have to await Cabinet deliberations in London. However, with the lack of overt Cabinet scrutiny before the war (neither the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, nor the pre-war Liberal Prime Ministers, Campbell- Bannerman and Asquith, showed any interest in considerations of strategy) assumptions tended to be made — assumptions which could never be admitted. It was assumed by the General Staff that the British Army would operate in Northern France or Belgium; but this could never be admitted. It was assumed that, if the British withdrew their battleships from the Mediterranean at the same time as the France transferred theirs into the Mediterranean, that France would undertake to guard British interests in return for an implied guarantee of her Northern Coasts; but this could never be admitted. It was assumed that, so long as France was not the aggressor, British support would be forthcoming in a Continental War; but this could never be admitted. No wonder Grierson’s memory failed him. This need to disguise the actual extent of Anglo-French military and naval co-operation would be evident throughout the pre-war period. As a result of Grierson’s activities (and a simultaneous, though independent, series of meetings instigated by the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence) Grey, the incoming Foreign Secretary following the fall of the Conservative administration, acquiesced in January 1906 in the commencement of officially recognized though informal Anglo-French staff talks. It has always been accepted that Grey then left the military and the naval planners to get on, with a minimum of political interference; this was simply accomplished by virtue of Grey’s own lack of interest and by his deliberate action in not informing the majority of his Cabinet colleagues that the secret talks had commenced. Such an interpretation has been emphasized by Grey’s own comments. When, in April 1911, to protect his own position Grey was forced to acknowledge that the ‘military experts then convened [in January 1906]’, he added, ‘What they settled I never knew’. There is evidence however that, in so far as military planning was concerned, Grey knew more of what was being decided than he admitted to (with regard to naval planning Grey’s genuine ignorance was more a product of the fact that there was no naval planning to speak of, merely a succession of half-baked schemes). While Grierson and subsequent Directors of Military Operations, particularly Sir Henry Wilson, further integrated military strategy with their French counterparts, despite the official go-ahead from Grey in January 1906, Anglo-French naval co-ordination and strategic planning remained chaotic. The blame for this can be placed squarely at the door of that most colourful of First Sea Lords, Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher. An abysmal strategist and a born centralizer, Fisher’s undoubted gifts in other areas were balanced by his refusal to countenance the formation of a naval war staff. Similarly, the saga of joint war planning by the Admiralty and War Office from 1905 till 1914 exhibits a depressingly marked failure to co-operate. In the early years of the century, while the Army was tarnished by its performance in the Boer War, the Navy, overwhelmingly strong and with no threat yet to appear on the horizon, held sway in the nascent Defence Committee. Within a few years the position was reversed. While the War Office adapted to new realities, the Admiralty under Fisher remained locked into a narrow range of strategic options whose common denominator was their impractical, if not suicidal, nature. During 1905 the Admiralty and War Office could not agree on a joint plan of operations in a future war. When the War Office version prevailed, Fisher took his bat home. Then, in 1908, he thoroughly confused the French with his invitation for them to assume overall control in the Mediterranean. Fisher’s excesses resulted in his opinions being discarded, even when he had a legitimate grievance: ‘Are we or are we not going to send a British Army to fight on the Continent as quite distinct and apart from coastal raids and seizures of islands, etcetera, which the Navy dominate?’ he complained in 1909. The accusation was a valid one; it went unanswered just the same. Unfortunately, Fisher’s faults were also evident in his successor, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson. So long as the German challenge remained a threat on paper (and Fisher was fortunate that the launch of Dreadnought severely disrupted the German ship-building programme) there could be no real winner between the Admiralty and General Staff whenever strategic options were debated, although greater weight was given to the General Staff appraisal. By 1910, with Fisher’s departure and the German naval programme now a reality, it had come to a showdown. With the coming of the next major crisis, the Admirals and the Generals would have to fight it out until one of them won. The date for the bout was 23 August 1911; the setting, a meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence to which only the inner core of the Cabinet were invited. Both protagonists were called Wilson — General Sir Henry Wilson and Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson. There the similarity ended. The one fluent, confident, a master of his brief with a detailed and convincing answer for every question; the other hesitant, inarticulate, unsure of himself in cross-examination. By the time the meeting had finished late that afternoon the naval view of how a future war would be fought had been comprehensively demolished. Admiral Wilson had gone down for the count. From that moment onward, despite some Cabinet ructions by the Radical wing of the Liberal party, tacit approval was given to the scheme by which a minimum of four of the six regular divisions of the British Army would operate on the left wing of the French Army. Subsequently, any proper discussion of the momentous new strategy would become submerged in the minutiae of troop movements, railway timetables, shipping requirements. The Continental commitment, for that was what it was, like the debates in the first winter of the war leading to the Dardanelles Campaign, had developed a momentum of its own. Grey acknowledged his powerlessness to control the situation: it ‘would create consternation’, he declared soon after the C.I.D. meeting, ‘if we forbade our military experts to converse with the French. No doubt these conversations and our speeches have given an expectation of support. I do not see how that can be helped.’ Nevertheless, it remains the case that the Continental policy, committing British troops to fight in Europe, was decided upon in August 1911 by a small inner circle of the Cabinet who knew precisely what it would entail. Another signpost on the road to war was Churchill’s transfer to the Admiralty late in 1911. In response to the proposed new German Navy Law, one of Churchill’s first acts after settling in to the position he coveted was to propose, in February 1912, the withdrawal of the Mediterranean battleships. The German initiative had, in Churchill’s view, rendered ‘the formation of an additional Battle Squadron in Home waters necessary. We cannot afford to keep fully commissioned battleships abroad during these years of tension,’ Churchill argued, as the first days of war ‘would require the maximum immediate development of naval power in the North Sea and the Channel.’ The proposal by the new First Lord of the Admiralty was a further indication of British naval overstretch in the face of new challenges and proof of Admiral Sir John Fisher’s dictum, that ‘We cannot have everything or be strong everywhere’. With the German building programme continuing apace, and with dreadnoughts being constructed in Italy and Austria-Hungary, British command of the Mediterranean could not be guaranteed by the force of elderly battleships stationed at Malta in 1912. The French meanwhile realized that their original plan, to base the main part of their fleet on the Atlantic coast so as the defeat Germany first before then entering the Mediterranean was no longer tenable. They could, naturally, have reacted to altered strategic conditions by unilaterally moving their fleet into the Mediterranean; much better, however, if the move could be made at such a time that it appeared contingent upon the planned British withdrawal of the Mediterranean. Although Churchill’s initial scheme, to denude the Mediterranean almost completely, was over-ruled and a compromise force of British battle-cruisers was to be stationed at Malta from 1912, it was still open to the French to argue, as they did successfully in 1914, that the transfer of their battle squadrons was dependent upon the British evacuation and would not have been taken without the presumption of British assistance to protect the now denuded Atlantic and Channel coasts of France. In London the Cabinet fought against this presumption. As Churchill continually insisted, ‘The present [naval] dispositions represent the best arrangements that either power can make independently. It is not true that the French are occupying the Mediterranean to oblige us. They cannot be effective in both theatres and they resolve to be supreme in one.’ Ultimately, this battle of words was lost. Semantics had been overtaken by reality. The situation created by the German, Italian and Austro-Hungarian naval programmes, and the failure to reach an accommodation with Berlin over the limitation of warship building, gave Britain no option other than to denude the Mediterranean. And this, despite the specific injunction contained in the exchange of letters between Grey and Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador, in November 1912, was generally regarded as part of a reciprocal arrangement with the French. The heat which had built up during Sunday 2 August 1914 succeeded eventually in setting off a series of heavy downpours, one of which resulted in breaking up the meeting of Socialists in Trafalgar Square. The cause for which they had congregated was already a lost one. Earlier that afternoon, the Foreign Secretary had informed Paul Cambon, of the decision which had just been arrived at by, or rather, had been forced upon, the British Cabinet after days of rancorous debate. Despite not yet being at war with Germany, Grey declared that if the German fleet ‘came into the Channel or entered the North Sea … with the object of attacking the French coasts or the French navy and of harassing French merchant shipping, the British fleet would intervene … in such a way that from that moment Great Britain and Germany would be in a state of war.’ It was to be Grey’s defence, both at the time and after, that this assurance, ‘did not bind us to go to war with Germany unless the German Fleet took the action indicated, but it did give a security to France that would enable her to settle the disposition of her own Mediterranean Fleet.’ The disposition of the Mediterranean Fleet had, in fact, been settled in 1912. This was clearly just another example of Grey’s strategic ignorance — or was it? It continued to suit Grey to deny any awareness of what had been decided by the military and naval planners. Grey would also claim that the German Government was made aware of the pledge; in fact, Grey was determined to conceal this fact until the afternoon of Monday, 3 August. For Cambon, when he was informed of the pledge, the feeling was similar to that which would be experienced by Churchill twenty-seven years later when news was brought to him of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. ‘So we had won after all!’ was Churchill’s immediate response in December 1941. In August 1914 Cambon also knew precisely what Grey’s declaration meant: ‘The game was won’, he subsequently stated. ‘A great country does not make war by halves.’ What led to the giving of this pledge? Was there an obligation on Britain’s part, or merely a commitment, moral or otherwise, to intervene in certain circumstances? Grey was to insist in his memoirs that the promise to the French ‘did not pledge us to war.’ The Foreign Secretary was, however, wrong — once the promise was made, as Cambon appreciated, British entry into the war was certain. Despite this, a group within the Cabinet would then spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening of Sunday 2 August desperately searching for an issue around which they could group, and which would provide a more convenient excuse for British entry into the war than one based upon a moral commitment to France, of which the public was generally unaware; that excuse was to be Belgian neutrality. However, despite protestations to the contrary, the issue of Belgian neutrality was a blind: it was used to assuage consciences and to prevent the formation of a coalition Government but it was not crucial to the British decision for intervention. In what follows I will attempt to show that two circumstances and one overriding fact guaranteed British entry in the war in August 1914: the two circumstances were the secret Anglo-French military and naval conversations, and the naval position in the Mediterranean. The overriding fact was the consideration of British interests. The problem of contending with the superior numbers of the German Army was not going to be solved immediately by French planners merely by the dispatch of a British Expeditionary Force. Yet the French realized that if one British soldier set foot on French soil, others would follow. Indeed, so confident were they that there was no attempt made to conceal the intention. For example, General Sir Henry Wilson spent the afternoon of 14 January 1910 at the École Supérieure de Guerre being lectured by General Foch on the functioning of the college. With the lecture completed, Wilson and Foch then ‘talked at great length of our combined action in Belgium’ in the event of a war with Germany. ‘What’, Wilson inquired of Foch, ‘would you say was the smallest British military force that would be of an practical assistance to you in the event of a contest such as we have been considering?’ Foch did not hesitate: ‘One single private soldier’, he replied instantly, ‘and we would take good care that he was killed.’ Furthermore, with British military support assured, France could then count upon the full might of the Royal Navy. With British command of the Mediterranean in doubt, the French, similarly over-extended, were unable to protect both their Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. From strategic necessity came political expediency. The convergence of British and French interests, which had commenced with the signing of the Entente Cordiale in 1904, had continued gradually until 1911, after which it accelerated. By 1914 British and French interests were inseparable. Although, between 1906 and 1911, the main push for closer Anglo-French military co-operation was provided by the French (Cambon would become a familiar sight at the Foreign Office in times of crisis), a change was evident from 1911 following the most serious of the many pre-war crises, when a German gunboat was dispatched to the sleepy African port of Agadir. In 1906, in the aftermath of the First Moroccan Crisis, the German naval challenge, which had not yet made any serious inroads, was dealt a huge blow by the launch of HMS Dreadnought. ‘We can protect ourselves of course,’ Grey declared emphatically at the time, ‘for we are more supreme at sea than we have ever been.’ By 1911, and the Second Moroccan Crisis, the Cabinet had already weathered a first class naval scare when, in 1909, it was thought, erroneously, that Germany would achieve parity with the Royal Navy in dreadnoughts within a matter of years. ‘Splendid isolation’ was no longer a feasible option. The consistent theme running through the deliberations in London in the wake of the Agadir crisis was fear of French weakness and how this would impact upon the British position. This would not have mattered so much had the Royal Navy maintained its earlier lead over the German High Seas Fleet. Following the very real scare, the conclusion to be drawn from the 1911 crisis was obvious to some: the Entente had outlived its usefulness; it was time to replace it with an alliance. But the Cabinet could not bring itself to accept this conclusion; heads remained buried in the sand. When war erupted on the Continent in the summer of 1914 the Cabinet suddenly had to ask itself some searching questions — questions which should have been posed years previously. Was there at the very least on the British side a moral commitment to France? If so, could the Cabinet have refused to honour it? Did this commitment (whether moral or not) entail an obligation? Was the unwritten pledge to France to be the sole determinant of British intervention in the war or was the consideration of British interests to be paramount? Did the two in fact coincide? As the great Continental armies mobilized, the Cabinet deliberated, at once destroying Henry Wilson’s scheme for simultaneous Anglo-French mobilization. To the Cabinet debates must be added some further, more speculative, queries: Realistically, could Britain have remained out of the war? If the commitment had been formalized, and replaced by a specific obligation, would the same decisions have been taken in the last week of July 1914? Was the outcome of the British refusal to conduct military conversations openly with the French a lack of British influence upon French war planning, with the result that the disastrous French Plan XVII went unchallenged? Could the Cabinet have prevented Britain’s entry into the war or, with the unrelenting pressure of ‘events’, could they have done no more than to prevent the formation of a coalition Government? What bearing did operational orders issued unilaterally by Churchill and the Admiralty in the final days of peace have on Cabinet deliberations? But the questions do not end there — how had this situation arisen in the first place? Symptomatic of the Liberal administration from 1906 to 1914 was its ambivalent attitude, with certain key exceptions (principally Churchill and Haldane), to the overall issue of defence. This same attitude explains in part Grey’s hesitancy in divulging the opening of Anglo-French military conversations. In the political culture of the day, the General Staff and Admiralty were given a free hand — too free a hand — in the belief that they knew best. Exacerbating this, in so far as the Admiralty was concerned, was the genuine sense of awe in which Fisher was held. This allowed his malign influence in the question of a Naval War Staff and his refusal to co-operate with the War Office on joint planning to go unchecked. In view of Fisher’s early pronouncements in favour of a Naval War Staff, what explains his subsequent antipathy? Fisher’s legacy was to be a distinctly unhelpful one. With serious naval war planning virtually non-existent, the strategic impetus shifted by default to the War Office. Would the General Staff have won the battle in the C.I.D. on 23 August 1911 quite so easily had the First Sea Lords been Fisher since 1904 and then Wilson since 1910? These faults could have been put right following Churchill’s transfer to the Admiralty in 1911; however, Churchill had faults of his own. Naval policy, which could have been simplified if a formal Anglo-French convention had been concluded, was instead complicated by the conditional nature of joint planning, by the emergence of new challenges, and by the financial priorities of the Liberal administration. The response was to be decidedly ad hoc, so that the Government reacted to events and not in anticipation of them — this helps to explain the numerous defence scares which punctuated the political scene. Furthermore, without a Naval War Staff before 1912, and then with an emasculated one until the outbreak of war, there was no systematic approach to the problem of overstretch. So, was the stationing of the battle cruisers at Malta after 1912 an inspired compromise or an admission that these ships had no part to play in the North Sea? Was the 1909 German dreadnought scare a ploy to prod an administration perceived as financially stringent and intent on diverting funds to social causes? Were the Anglo-German naval talks of 1912 bound to fail in the face of German and British suspicion and French unease and pressure? What was the rationale behind the Austro-Hungarian dreadnought building programme? Was Churchill correct in his assertion that the French and British moves into and out of the Mediterranean were made independently of each other? What effect did the German spy in the Russian Embassy in London have on naval planning in Berlin? Was there, as Nicholas Lambert asserts, a secret policy of ‘substitution’ in place at the outbreak of the war by which dreadnought construction would give way to an increased number of submarines? Indeed, Lambert goes further, and argues the case for a ‘major revision of our understanding of pre-1914 British naval policy.’ Basing this finding on his own research and that of Jon Sumida, Lambert claims that ‘the strategic thought of Britain’s naval leadership has been fundamentally misrepresented. In addition, a reappraisal of naval thinking is almost certain to produce significant changes in the understanding of British defense policy before the First World War. There must be serious doubts over not only the accuracy of the currently accepted historical narrative but also the methodology used to produce it.’ Was the substitution policy, if it can be dignified by that name, a genuine shift in tactics or merely a possible reaction to British dreadnought preponderance in the North Sea? Is Lambert’s contention supported by the evidence? Although he used the excuse of increased Italian and Austrian building to help justify an increase in the Naval Estimates, what was Churchill’s own view of the Mediterranean situation? If answers can be provided to these questions, it may then be possible to decide whether British interests in the Mediterranean were capable of being safeguarded adequately, or whether, by virtue of the obligations it entailed and the threats posed elsewhere, Britain’s continuing presence in the Middle Sea was, in the words of a noted nineteenth writer on naval affairs, a ‘Millstone Round the Neck of England’.




Changing fortunes

Britain’s strategical interest in the Mediterranean following the opening of the Suez Canal — the French threat — the propagation of naval scares — naval expenditure is increased — the Naval Defence Act of 1889 — the Mediterranean debates of the 1890s — the dissipation of the French threat — Fisher as C-in-C, Mediterranean — the necessity for economy — Fisher is appointed First Sea Lord.


The Fisher Factor

The perils of taking Fisher at face value — his inconsistency — Fisher’s remit — the elimination of the French and Russian threats — French policy in Morocco — Fisher’s preference for Alexandria — the constant redistribution of the British Fleet — the Anglo-French Entente — the first Moroccan crisis — Russia’s defeat — the naval centre of gravity moves north — the inception of the battle cruiser — new methods of fire control.


Bigger Guns and Greater Speed

The example of the Russo-Japanese War — the importance of long-range gunnery — the threat posed by the torpedo — real or imagined? — the tactical advantage of speed — finding a suitable rôle for the battle cruiser — the German response to the new class — renewed calls for economy — the Mediterranean fleet is halved.


Foreign Entanglements

The threat from Germany — the Committee of Imperial Defence — its objects — Admiralty hegemony — the formulation of War Plans to assist the French — the Navy’s plan is found wanting — a change of Government — an innocent discussion group — a fortuitous meeting while riding — the military correspondent of The Times — the Army view prevails — an interview with the French Ambassador — the ‘great question’ — Sir Edward Grey authorizes Anglo-French Staff Talks — Cabinet debate is denied — who knew what and when? — the influence of the Under-Secretary — a sanguine appraisal — Fisher rejects the military strategy — the moral force created by the Entente —a bribe for Germany? — the heckling of the French Senator — the awkward question.


Plans of War

Fisher attempts to quell his critics — the subsequent naval War Plans — Beresford finds fault — the War Plans controversy continues — the clamour for a Naval War Staff — the threat of war in 1908 — the Invasion Sub-Committee — Fisher’s unexpected reaction — the Tweedmouth letter — the international situation — Anglo-French naval talks — the "three conventions" — the French reaction — the entrenchment of the Continental Strategy — the great naval scare of 1909 and its aftermath.


A New Enemy

The Mediterranean naval race and its implications — French reactions — the great Fisher-Beresford feud — an Asquithian compromise — agitation for a Naval War Staff increases — Fisher’s tenure ends — Admiral Wilson is appointed First Sea Lord — his faults — the Anglo-Russian entente — Empire or encirclement? — the Straits question — a difficult year in the life of the Liberal Government — the resumption of Anglo-German naval conversations.



The origins of the crisis — the British position in the Mediterranean — Churchill enters the debate — Admiral Wilson is unconcerned — the conciliatory approach of Grey — the subsequent flare-up — Lloyd George speaks his mind — were British interests affected? — the German Ambassador’s fury — tension eases — the Continental commitment outlined — Haldane’s secret initiative — the C. I. D. pronounces on strategy — Admiral Wilson’s lamentable performance — the inept naval alternative.


The Right of Free Choice

Asquith determines on changes at the Admiralty — Haldane’s longing for the position — a second suitor — the ramifications of Admiral Wilson’s performance — Anglo-French naval talks are re-activated — increasing French confidence — the French centre of gravity moves south — the mania for secrecy — Asquith’s concern— the militarization of the "Terrible Twins" — policy is dictated by considerations of strategy — fear of French military weakness and the position of Belgium — Churchill stakes his claim for the Admiralty — the influence of Henry Wilson — the Radicals fight back — all change at the Admiralty — a confrontation in the Cabinet.


Churchill Arrives

The revivification of Fisher — the formation of a Naval War Staff — its defects — Churchill determines on a new First Sea Lord — the Turco-Italian War — Fisher and Alexandria once more — Churchill’s renewed interest in the Mediterranean naval situation — a French rebuff — Battenberg’s unease — the finalization of the Naval War Staff — the German novelle — Churchill’s attempt to bypass the Committee of Imperial Defence — the plan to withdraw the Mediterranean battleships.


"We cannot have everything or be strong everywhere"

The Haldane mission — proposals and counter-proposals — Churchill’s unhelpful intervention — the Anglo-German talks fail — French suspicion — the Mediterranean to be evacuated — the Naval Holiday — the proposed recasting of the fleet — the Foreign Office becomes involved — Sir Arthur Nicolson is let in on a secret — an alliance with France? — the War Office reaction.


The Malta Compromise

A small victory for the Cabinet — the summer cruise of Asquith and Churchill — Admiral Beatty’s idea — the Malta meetings — Churchill overcomes Kitchener — Kitchener enlists Grey’s help — Churchill tries to overcome the Cabinet — a job for the battle cruisers — McKenna fights back — the question of figures — who was right? — Churchill marshals his support — Sir Arthur Nicolson’s cold feet.


The Numbers Game

The C.I.D. sits in judgment — a loose compromise — Esher is elated, Churchill deflated — a trap for the Canadians — the Canadians escape — the dispositions for the Mediterranean are set — the pliable Admiralty — the Franco-Russian Naval Convention — Churchill’s new initiative — the private and public stances of the Admiralty — formal Anglo-French conversations.


The Obligation

The Austrian enigma — Poincaré spins a web — Churchill holds out for freedom of action — the problem of finding a successor to Admiral Troubridge — the French move their battleships from Brest — the relentless French pressure — Italian machinations — complications in the Mediterranean — the Grey-Cambon letters — the question of command — naval reaction to the First Balkan War — Bridgeman is outmanoeuvred — Battenberg fulfils an ambition.


The Polarization of the Mediterranean

A lack of resources — the Algerian Corps in French plans — the first British battle cruiser arrives — the completion of the technical Anglo-French arrangement — Battenberg’s cloak and dagger — Mediterranean War Orders — Admiral Milne’s friendly advice — Churchill’s Mediterranean diversions — the Adriatic position — the renewal of the Triple Alliance Naval Convention — the questionable naval co-operation of Italy and Austria-Hungary — a British naval demonstration is required — Beatty wants his ships back — Churchill’s estrangement from the C.I.D. — flaws in the Naval War Staff — Italian duplicity — Grey does not rise to the bait — San Giuliano cries "wolf".


Naval Estimates and the Question of Substitution

Churchill and the policy of Dreadnought substitution — the storm over the 1914-15 Estimates — Lloyd George speaks his mind again — his estrangement from Churchill — the Canadian dreadnoughts fail to make up the shortfall — Churchill’s flexible Mediterranean policy — Asquith intervenes — Lloyd George compromises — the submarine question — the future for Dreadnoughts.


The Limitations of Foreign Policy

Faulty intelligence — Churchill redeems his pledge — the question of substitution once more — a source on ready-made Dreadnoughts — the evolution of tactics — French strength — the French attempt to cement the bond — an initial lack of co-operation — Milne to be responsible for Goeben — Sazonov renews his approach — Britain’s hand is forced — preliminary Anglo-Russian talks are instigated — a diplomatic leak — Grey is discomfited — German knowledge of the talks.


"Before the unknown"

The British pledge to France and its implications — the onset of the crisis — Ulster dominates — the growing awareness — Grey’s proposal for a Conference — localizing the conflict — the question of Belgian neutrality — the Cabinet hedges its bets — the Continent mobilizes — a shameless German proposal — the naval situation — Churchill pre-empts the Cabinet — the embargo of the Turkish Dreadnoughts.


"Mon petit papier"

Grey’s ‘painful’ interview with the French Ambassador — the position of the permanent officials at the Foreign Office — Churchill’s intrigue — Cambon’s allegation — Saturday’s Cabinet and Grey’s unusual initiative — a misunderstanding — Grey’s threat to go — Lloyd George refuses to take the Radical whip — the issue of Belgian neutrality becomes paramount — Cambon goes on the attack — the outcome of the embargo — Grey’s ‘fixation’ with the English Channel — German naval operational plans — the future of the Liberal Party.


The Decision for War

The unprecedented Sunday Cabinet — Grey argues for a pledge to France — the Cabinet is split — the conversion of the middle section— Asquith’s reasoning — Grey controls the agenda — Italian neutrality and the Mediterranean position — Grey’s pledge to Cambon — the problem of Goeben and Breslau and the French troop transportation — the ‘excuse’ of Belgium— Samuel’s exaggerated rôle — the cynical policy of Lloyd George.


"A terrible business"

Cabinet resignations — the army is neglected — an emotional scene in the Cabinet — Grey prepares for his speech — the atmosphere in the House — Grey rises to speak — his lengthy defence of his policy — Grey carries the House — loud and prolonged cheers — Churchill’s immediate reaction — the question of Cabinet unity — Goeben and Breslau are sighted — Churchill is restrained — the moral force of the Grey-Cambon letters — Grey’s responsibility.


Summary and conclusions

Bibliography Index
Books by Geoffrey Miller
Flamborough Manor
Flamborough Manor
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The STRAITS Trilogy

    Volume I: Superior Force : the conspiracy behind the escape of Goeben and Breslau     Volume II: Straits : British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign     Volume III: The Millstone : British Naval Policy in the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to France and British Intervention in the War
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