Stop Tiptoeing Around Russia
It Is Time to End Washington’s Decades of Deference to Moscow
SHORTLY after April 6, 1917, there began to arrive and to establish themselves in Washington military, naval and financial missions from the Allied governments in Europe with whom we had, from that date, associated ourselves in the war against the Central Powers. It was at the beginning of the campaign in the fourth year of the war. The campaigns of the third year had resulted in no decision. Events on the Western Front were marked by the magnificent defense of Verdun, but it had left the victors too exhausted to follow their negative success with an important offensive. The battle of the Somme paralleled the weary, bloody months of the battle of Verdun. At its close the Allies had gained, over a few miles front in the hundreds of miles of line from the North Sea to the Alps, a depth of not much more than half the width of the District of Columbia. They had not broken the enemy line and, perhaps, the most that can be said of it is that it led to the withdrawal of the Germans in the following spring to a stronger position than they had held before. The Italian campaign had come to an end on the Isonzo, with the Austrian main defense still intact. By October of that year the last Russian efforts had worn themselves out, with no fruitful results unless that country could remain in the war for another campaign--which was not to be. At the beginning of the year ended the disastrous adventure of Gallipoli; while the end of it found Rumania, which had entered the war in August, with her army destroyed, with her territory and all its resources in the hands of the Central Powers.
On the cry that it was necessary to save the war, the government of Mr. Asquith in England had fallen, succeeded by that of Mr. Lloyd George. In France, Marshal Joffre had been relieved from the command of her armies and General Foch had been retired in unmerited disgrace to an insignificant duty. The time had not yet come when a radical and anti-clericalist government was to appoint generals not for their boastful republicanism and ardent anti-clericalism but solely for their ability to win battles. All these campaigns had cost the Allies enormous sacrifices in money, material and men, against adversaries who, in spite of their admitted mistakes, were far more unified in their purpose and efforts. The German dream of a Mittel-Europa seemed about to be realized.
In a nutshell, the cause of this failure--for failure it was--was the manifest absence of unity of purpose on the part of the Entente Powers. They were allied little more than in the sense that each found itself fighting, at the same time with the others, its own war against one enemy, and too largely for separate ultimate ends. The governments apparently had no conception that a war of such magnitude required political as well as military strategy. Otherwise, instead of basing all their hopes for three years on consistent, continuous efforts of Russia--made impossible by the inertness of her mass, her lack of industrial organization, her inconceivable corruption--they might have saved that country from collapse; they might have prevented the entry of Rumania into the war just in time to help the enemy at his crisis; nor is it inconceivable that they might, later, have pushed the Italians through the Alps and thrown Austria out of the central combination. The main efforts of the governments were individual, meeting the insatiable requirements of their commanders for munitions and men. Their attitude was reflected in that of the commanders in the field. These sometimes met together and thought that they had formed broad, comprehensive plans. But their real responsibility was limited to their own front. Naturally, their perspective of the war was largely limited by that front. There, it was hoped, the war would be won. On that front lay the essential objective of the nation behind it. It was like a battle line held by twenty independent division commanders trying to work to a general result in unison, but none having any responsibility for anything but what is in front of him. During the entire war no Allied plan was ever attempted under such conditions that did not result in dismal failure.
But the situation in the late spring of 1917 was even worse. The Germans had completed, without appreciable loss, the withdrawal of part of their line from a dangerous salient to a new and stronger position. To the illusion that they were on a disorderly retreat that might end only at the Rhine had succeeded the conviction that the old process was to be resumed--fighting for days and weeks and months to gain at great sacrifices a few yards of ground at isolated points. Then followed the attempt of Nivelle to break this line between Reims and Soissons, resulting in disastrous failure, demoralization of the armies, loss of all confidence in their command, and in some parts of it a state of sullen mutiny. Nor did it thoroughly "come back" until the days of unified command in 1918.
Unfortunately for ultimate unified command, an abortive attempt had been made at just this time to secure it. For the purposes of the Nivelle campaign, and by agreement between the governments and despite military unwillingness, the command of the British armies had been placed, with some limitation, under the French High Command. The main result was mutual recrimination and the belief of British troops that they had been sacrificed in a hopeless attempt to secure success for their ally.
Thus, when the Allied missions arrived in Washington, they had left very dark clouds of despondency lowering over their armies in the field and their peoples at home. A ray of hope originated in the fact that they were coming to a new ally of boundless resources. They found a people not yet recovered from its amazement at finding itself at war, eager to do anything that would help but not certain what was best to do. Then, if ever, what was needed was not Allied missions but a mission of the Allies; not missions representing the discredited, disjointed political strategy of governments not working in harmony with each other, nor the dominant national military parties with their equally discredited and disjointed military strategy, but one harmonious mission with a definite plan of the military assistance that we could best and most quickly give. Surely they had ample time to learn just what they wanted this new ally for, and ample lessons to teach it. They brought with them the old, despairing cry out of Macedonia, "Come over and help us"--a spur to energy but not a guide to direct it.
It became painfully evident that these missions represented the continued lack of unity that had been the costly bane of Allied efforts from the beginning. There was no common plan. There was no definite plan in any mission. Some individuals urged that what was wanted from the United States was not men, not an army, but money, food, munitions, supplies of all kinds; others said, send men, trained or untrained, and send them quickly; still others, send one small division to France to show the flag and inspire the hope that others will follow quickly, but then take a year, if need be, to train those others. And underneath it all was a quiet, guarded insistence that we direct our effort to reinforce the front of this or that particular ally. It is no wonder that the young giant began to buckle on his armor and prepare to "fight for his own hand," just as the others were doing.
Mid-autumn of 1917 came, with America sending millions of youths into the training camps, diverting her industries to the manufacture of their supplies and equipment, and with an initial plan for the dispatch of a small number of divisions to France by about the beginning of the summer of 1918. Even these would have to go unprovided with important elements of their fighting equipment. The force was small compared with what was actually sent. But, small as the effort seemed to be, there were many contingencies, any one of which might delay the execution of the plan indefinitely.
It was at this time that the United States, faced with uncertainty on every side, sent a mission of its own to Europe. It was composed of representatives of every agency of our Government, military, naval and civilian. It carried with it plans of cooperation for discussion. Its purpose was to ascertain as exactly as possible the existing conditions in the Allied nations and to learn, in conference on the spot, the most efficient way in which all the resources of our country--military, naval, industrial, commercial, financial--could be brought to bear in order to bring the war to the most prompt and successful conclusion.
The mission landed in Devonport in the night of November 7, 1917. On that same day a momentous event had occurred at the little village of Rapallo on the northwest coast of Italy. It was the first attempt to secure, not unity of command, but unity of control and a general direction of effort.
The full extent of the Caporetto disaster was then known--a disaster which had completely disorganized the Italian army and, for a short time, made its escape doubtful. The British and French Governments rushed to Italy's assistance the troops which they had refused before, and General Foch, the French Chief of Staff, visited the Italian General Headquarters and arranged for a complete rehabilitation of that army. The heads of the British, French and Italian Governments, the ones who had participated in stemming the flood of invasion, met in conference at Rapallo and considered ways and means of ensuring closer coordination and unity of action in waging the war. The formation of the Supreme War Council was decided upon, and the session of the Rapallo Conference on 7th November, 1917, became the first session of the new body.
The Supreme War Council came into being in accordance with the following joint resolution of the governments concerned:
DECISIONS OF A CONFERENCE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE BRITISH, FRENCH, AND ITALIAN GOVERNMENTS
The representatives of the British, French and Italian Governments assembled at Rapallo on the 7th November, 1917, have agreed on the scheme for the organization of a Supreme War Council with a Permanent Military Representative from each Power, contained in the following paragraph.
SCHEME OF ORGANIZATION OF A SUPREME WAR COUNCIL
(1) With a view to the better co-ordination of military action on the Western Front a Supreme War Council is created, composed of the Prime Minister and a Member of the Government of each of the Great Powers whose armies are fighting on that front. The extension of the scope of the Council to other fronts is reserved for discussion with the other Great Powers.
(2) The Supreme War Council has for its mission to watch over the general conduct of the war. . . .
(3) The General Staffs and Military Commands of the armies of each Power charged with the conduct of military operations remain responsible to their respective Governments.
(4) The General war plans drawn up by the competent Military authorities are submitted to the Supreme War Council, which, under the high authority of the Governments, insures their concordance.
(5) Each Power delegates to the Supreme War Council one Permanent Military Representative whose exclusive function is to act as technical adviser to the Council.
(6) The Military Representatives receive from the Government and the competent military authorities of their country all the proposals, information, and documents relating to the conduct of the war.
(7) The Military Representatives watch day by day the situation of the forces, and of the means of all kinds of which the Allied armies and the enemy armies dispose.
(8) The Supreme War Council meets normally at Versailles, where the Permanent Military Representatives and their Staffs are established. . .
The Permanent Military Representatives will be as follows:
|For France,||General Foch|
|For Great Britain,||General Wilson|
|For Italy,||General Cadorna|
November 7, 1917.
It will be noted that while chiefly concerned with watching over the "conduct of the war" the Supreme War Council was nevertheless a political body. The decision to give it a political character was sound, in accord with the military principle that war is but a continuation of political policy in a new form and affording reasonable assurance that it would not be an organization "which should either supersede or interfere with the unfettered activity and independent position vis-à-vis the several governments and staffs, or, again, which would in any way derogate from the authority or ultimate responsibility of each of the Allied governments over its own forces and to its own people."[i] This political body had the wisdom not to attempt to direct military operations in the field, but to limit itself to reaching decisions as to: (a) questions of policy affecting the military situation; (b) distribution of available man-power, equipment, supplies and shipping among the various theatres of operations; (c) the character that military operations should assume, in view of the forces available, in each theatre of operations.
It will be seen that these are all questions of a general character, which could have been decided only by the political heads of the governments. The Supreme War Council did not supersede the Commanders-in-Chief but gave them for their guidance an expression of the definite policy of the Allied governments. It was not to act as a Commander-in-Chief, but as an agency for the adoption and maintenance of a general policy for the Allies in the prosecution of the war, consistent with the total resources available and the most effective distribution of those resources among the various theatres of operations.
While paragraph 1 of the resolution quoted above shows that the immediate problem was "coordination of military effort on the Western[ii] Front," paragraph 2 extends "its mission to watch over the general conduct of the war," and it was found from the outset that the general military situation had to be considered in reaching a decision in any particular case. Indeed, at the first session it was agreed, as suggested by Mr. Lloyd George, that "the Supreme War Council should concern itself with all the fronts where the Allied armies were fighting in common."
Nevertheless, there was a certain vagueness in the Resolution creating and defining the functions of the Supreme War Council (although in its preparation the principal military men of the countries concerned took part), and this was accentuated in the speeches formally announcing it at a diplomatic breakfast in Paris on November 12, 1917. This resulted in a misunderstanding of its purpose--a misunderstanding maliciously fomented in certain quarters--with a resulting outburst of disapproval in the French and British press and among military and many political men. Strange to say--in the light of recent experience --the thing which carried most weight with the public was the allegation that a deliberate attempt was being made to surrender national for inter-Allied control. This is of no consequence now except as showing how little ripe was either the civilian or military sentiment for a unified command in the field.
This outburst was promptly followed by the downfall of the Painlevé government in France. A good result was the accession to power of Mr. Clemenceau. He and Mr. Lloyd George were twin-thunderbolts of war--the two men who, working in harmony and in their own spheres, did more than any other two in Europe to win the war. In England the government had a fight for its life over the same issue and there is reason to believe that the adhesion of the United States to the Supreme War Council, just before Mr. Lloyd George had to defend in the Commons his action at Rapallo, had much to do with the maintenance of that government, whose fall then would have been disastrous.
Had the Supreme War Council been functioning at the time of its arrival, the American mission would have found its work easier. As it was, the members had to obtain their information piecemeal from various representatives of the different governments, put it together and reconcile conflicting views as best they could. The task of the military member was probably the easiest. He made known the plan for the American military effort to be made late in the following spring. In reply he heard described the gravity of the situation, due to the, by then, complete defection of Russia and the disaster at Caporetto. This situation, he was told, required the doubling of the proposed American effort, notwithstanding what seemed insuperable difficulties in equipment and in securing shipping for transportation. All this was reinforced at a conference of the mission with the War Cabinet at 10 Downing Street, on November 20th.
Among other things the Prime Minister said:
"Take first of all the question of sending men over into the battle-line as soon as you can possibly train and equip them. I will give you the reasons why that is extremely urgent, and I do so after consultation with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Sir William Robertson) who supplied me with the necessary information."
After reviewing the situation on the different fronts he said:
"The Germans may be able to put 600,000 more men on to the French and Flanders fronts next year, and we might have 600,000 fewer men . . . That shows that it is a matter of the most urgent and immediate importance that you should send to Europe next year, and as early next year as possible, as many men as you can spare, to enable us to withstand any possible German attack, apart altogether from the possibility of inflicting any defeat upon them."
And again, he said that the first and most important thing for the United States to do to help France and her Allies on the battle line was to send as many men as possible and
"at the earliest possible moment, so as to be able to sustain the brunt of any German attack in the course of next year . . ."
These views were confirmed and strengthened by French authorities after the mission arrived in Paris.
Looking back at the situation of that moment it is difficult to understand the apparent attitude of mind towards it of all those charged with the gravest responsibility. It was only a little less evident then than now that the situation had resulted from the lack of a general, unified direction. As a result, it was the conviction of every one that a grave military crisis was impending which would develop in the early spring. The British and French had recently been obliged to send a number of good divisions to Italy, nor could they venture to bring them back. Against the depleted line in France the Germans were beginning to mass the divisions no longer necessary on the Russian front. When they thought they had enough the blow would fall. But no one knew where it would fall. To the last moment each commander believed the drive would be made against his own front. Each did what he could to make his front secure, but knowing that in the last resort he must have help from his ally. Their point of junction was vital. If that were crushed through completely the British almost certainly (their people would have forced it) would swing back to protect the Channel ports; the French would swing back to protect Paris. It is true that, much earlier in the war, General Foch had declared that this must not be. But no one but General Foch as Commander-in-Chief could have prevented it. And he could have prevented it only by doing what he would instantly have done--by creating an Allied General Reserve which we know from his own map he would have stationed so as to prevent the possibility of the enemy's crushing the point of junction of the British and French armies. Yet, in all the conferences of that time, and up to the great disaster four months later, any suggestion as to a Commander-in-Chief only developed the belief that it was quite impossible.
Nevertheless, when the members of the American mission submitted their reports for the information of the President, the military member, under date of December 17, 1917, stated the following as the first conclusion formed from his observations:
"A military crisis is to be apprehended, culminating not later than the end of the next spring, in which, without great assistance from the United States, the advantage will probably lie with the Central Powers.
"This crisis is largely due to lack of military coordination, lack of unity of control on the part of the Allied forces in the field.
"The lack of unity of control results from military jealousy and suspicion as to ultimate national aims.
"Our Allies urge us to profit by their experience, in three and a half years of war; to adopt the organization, the types of artillery, tanks, etc., that the test of war has proved to be satisfactory. We should go further. In making the great military effort now demanded of us we should demand as a prior condition that our Allies also profit by the experience of three and a half years of war in the matter of absolute unity of military control. National jealousies and suspicions and susceptibilities of national temperament must be put aside in favor of this unified control; even going if necessary (as I believe it is) to the limit of unified command. Otherwise, our dead and theirs may have died in vain."
And he added the specific recommendation
"that the Government of the United States represent to the other governments concerned the great interest which it has in securing absolute unity of military control even if this should demand unity of command."
It was held, however, that the time was not yet ripe for making such a representation to the Allied governments. For a reason given later, it is not unlikely that the governing political heads would even then have cordially united upon General Foch. But behind the governments were powerful military parties not yet ready for this step. Its success depended on general harmony, without which it was a foregone conclusion that sufficient power could neither be given to a Commander-in-Chief nor exercised by him. The attempt made a few months before to secure, for a limited purpose, unification of command had discredited it among the very men who would have to accept it cordially if it were to be successful. And the fact that at that time the American military effort was still small, with great uncertainty as to whether it could be increased in time to meet the demands of the Allies, made it seem ungracious to couple our promises with any limitation. Therefore, up to the moment of the crisis, the only attempt at unified control--not command--had to be made by the Supreme War Council.
This attempt was the one which was made to create an Allied General Reserve. The connection of such a Reserve with unified command is obvious. The first suggestion as to its necessity that the writer heard came from General Foch in November of 1917, when the American mission was in Paris. But, while not otherwise expressed, the urgency of it stood out in every interview with military men. It was evident, and admitted, that if the great enemy offensive should fall on either one of the national Allied fronts the maintenance of a national reserve of sufficient strength to make the position of that army perfectly safe was impossible, and that assistance would have to come from the other army. But the danger was (as subsequently proved to be the case) that, with the fortunes of two nations at stake and the possibility of two nearly simultaneous drives, neither commander would realize in time that he was relatively safe while his ally was in mortal peril, and his assistance might go too late.
But how could there be an Allied Reserve without an Allied Commander-in-Chief? The control of a General Reserve, the ability to order it hither and yon without let or hindrance from anyone, is the supreme function of a Commander-in-Chief. It is for him to decide the point of danger, to meet it, if he can, by first stripping his line of disposable local reserves; to decide when and to what extent to send in his general reserve; and, if he can defeat the enemy while still leaving his own general reserve intact, it is for him to decide whether with it he can change his defense into an offensive that may win ultimate and supreme victory.
Thus is seen the intimate connection between the creation of an Allied General Reserve and the question of unified command. Its commander would become, for one all important purpose, an ipso facto Commander-in-Chief. And the failure to create this reserve resulted from an inherent inability of a political council of governmental heads to meet sudden emergencies on the battlefield. It could, and did, with the full support of the commanders in the field, establish a general policy for the opening of the campaign of 1918; it could bring coordination into such matters as the supply of munitions and material of all kinds, transportation by land and sea, etc. In all matters in which civil and military unanimity could be arrived at it was effective. But when an irreconcilable difference arose between the military men of two nations the inevitable tendency, despite honest efforts to pull together, was for the head of each government to side with his own military party.
The most important session of the Supreme War Council was held at Versailles, January 30-February 2, 1918. Some fourteen Joint Notes submitted by the military representatives were to be considered. Two of them--Nos. 1 and 12, relating to military policy--were the subject of discussion until into the third day. One of them contained the provision
"that the whole Allied front in France be treated as a single strategic field of action, and that the disposition of the reserves, the periodic rearrangement of the point of junction between the various Allied forces on the actual front, and all other arrangements should be dominated by this consideration."
The other contained the provision:
"A definite and coordinated system of defense from the North Sea to the Adriatic must be adopted by the Allies," to include among other things, "the use to the utmost of all possible mechanical means [for defense] in order to provide the maximum mobile reserve."
Both of the notes were accepted, after a discussion between the representatives of the governments then principally concerned which revealed the almost insuperable difficulty in securing military coordination but which made no suggestion as to the only way to meet it. But in accepting them the Supreme Council had also accepted, in principle and probably without fully realizing it, a General Reserve and some sort of military control that would effect a coordinated strategy on the principal fronts.
Besides the general reference to the "maximum mobile reserve" made in the note on military policy, Joint Note No. 14 was specificially directed to this subject. It read:
"The Military Representatives are of opinion that the formation of a General Reserve for the whole of the Allied forces on the Western front, both in France and Italy, is imperative. The Military Representatives recommend that in view of its urgency the creation of this Reserve should be decided at the next meeting of the Supreme War Council."
In the discussions of the preceding two days the significant suggestion had been made that this note was "highly contentious" in character, and it was decided to withhold its consideration until the "Supreme Council should dispose of their non-contentious business."
Mr. Clemenceau opened the discussion of it by propounding four questions:
1. Shall we constitute a General Reserve?
2. Will it be a Reserve for the whole front from the North Sea to the Adriatic?
3. How shall it be composed?
4. Who will command it?
It may be said at once that in the discussion which followed the answer to Mr. Clemenceau's third question was, by common consent, left to be decided by the answer to the fourth question. But, while there developed a general agreement, in principle, on the first and second questions, there were radical differences of opinion on the fourth. In regard to the first question, General Foch, Chief of Staff of France, held that "the necessity of having a Reserve was indisputable; and that there was no doubt that the Reserve should be constituted for the whole front from the North Sea to the Adriatic, and consequently it should be drawn from the British, French and Italian armies." And his general view was that the matter was one of urgency, admitting of no delay.
General Robertson, Imperial British Chief of Staff, was "in general agreement with General Foch in regard to the necessity of creating a General Reserve;" but he doubted "the need of the General Reserve at the moment, because most of the Allied troops are needed where they are;" and he added, "any day, however, it might be necessary to form the proposed Reserve, and, therefore, the question of the organization should be studied in detail." There was no difference of view, expressed from any quarter, as to the necessity in principle of organizing a General Reserve; nor as to its being a reserve for the entire front from the North Sea to the Adriatic. Nor was there any doubt as to its being quite independent of local reserves. In reply to the statement of Mr. Orlando that he understood that each army would "continue to have its own reserves in addition to those under the inter-Allied central body," General Pétain replied that the idea was "to constitute an inter-Allied Reserve in addition to the local reserves of the armies." And General Foch had previously stated the condition that "this Reserve must be additional to the divisions which each army has behind its own front."
With reference to Mr. Clemenceau's fourth question, General Foch said:
"There must be one authority, able to constitute, conserve, and prepare for the employment of the General Reserve by the various armies, in agreement with the commanders. When the moment arrives to make use of the Reserve the same authority must decide on its use, must arrange for its transport, and feed the battle-line in which the Reserve was to be engaged. As the Reserve might be used to support any of the Allies, the central authority must be inter-Allied in character. It must be able and entitled to make all the necessary preparations. Moreover, this inter-Allied organ must be required to make decisions if the Governments are not in session at Versailles. In fact, it must be an inter-Allied organ of execution. I would suggest to bring together the Chiefs of the Staff who advise their Governments on the different questions, in order that they may carry out their duties in agreement. To these principal members of the central organ there should be added representatives of the American army and of the Belgian army."
The British Imperial Chief of Staff agreed with General Foch that the best persons to control the Reserve would be the Chiefs of Staff. This arrangement would perfectly well suit Great Britain and France. He foresaw some difficulty in the case of Italy which had, he said, no Chief of Staff except with the army in the field; as well as in the case of the American army whose government had very wisely given its Commander-in-Chief absolute control of all operations in the field in France without any interference from it directly or through a Chief of Staff in Washington. But he believed that this difficulty could be surmounted and he concluded that "whoever commands the Reserve must be in a position to issue orders immediately the emergency arises."
The evident tendency of the discussion was towards the creation of an Allied body of several men to control the Reserve, notwithstanding an earlier remark of Mr. Clemenceau's that "when the question of creating an inter-Allied Reserve was raised it was with the idea that, as we could not have a single Commander-in-Chief, we might at least have a Commander of Reserves." The American military representative said that there was absolute unanimity of opinion on the creation of a reserve if sufficient troops could be found; that it seemed generally admitted that the latter point would be promptly settled as soon as there was agreement on the matter of command; and that the question of command, as thus raised, must be decided now. He said that "if the Commanders-in-Chief could agree on a single man to command the reserves that would be by far the best plan." If that were not possible, then the Allied body that exercised this function must represent the various Commanders-in-Chief and have their confidence.
The British Prime Minister then said that the exact terms of the resolution to be moved with respect to a General Reserve were of great importance and proposed that General Foch be asked to prepare a draft. This was done during a brief recess and, on reassembling, the following resolution was considered:
1. A Superior War Board is created to secure the coordination of military operations, in accordance with the general instruction of the Governments, over the whole front from the North Sea to the Adriatic.
2. The members of this Board are the French and British Chiefs of the General Staffs, and also Generals representing Italy, America and Belgium. It sits in Paris.
3. This Board draws up, in agreement with the Commanders-in-Chief, the general plans of operations. These plans can be proposed either by the Board or the Commanders-in-Chief.
4. The powers and duties of the Board include--
a. The constitution of General Reserves. . . .
b. The maintenance and movement of the General Reserves. . . .
c. The use of the General Reserves. . . .
It soon became evident that it would not be accepted. The first three paragraphs of the text went beyond the terms of any definite proposition that had been discussed. It is true that the Council had already accepted the principle of "one front" and of coordinated strategy along it. And, in the absence of an Allied Commander-in-Chief, General Foch's plan offered perhaps the only hope of coordinating strategy. But some governments were not ready to divest themselves of the real power of intervention in this matter. They doubtless knew and were guided by the temper of their own peoples at that moment. The British Government found the same objection as before to this assignment for their Chief of Staff who, as was said a few hours later when another plan was adopted, had the duty of advising the War Cabinet in London and they would not be willing for considerable periods to put up with some officer of lower status. And the Italians, who had no Chief of Staff, did not see how they could put any other officer in a position where, as they assumed, he might have to give orders to his own Commander-in-Chief. They modified this view when the final plan was proposed.
Thus a long day's discussion closed with no decision, but with the way to a decision clearly marked. The reader will have noted that the question was not solely "Who shall command the General Reserve?" but "Who shall control its commander?" Every proposition had been eliminated that seemed to deprive the heads of governments of this power; there was nothing left to exercise it but the Supreme War Council which was composed of those heads. It was decided that each of the four national sections of the Council should prepare that night, independently of each other,its own solution, and that these should be presented at the session of the following morning. Naturally, as they could not wander very far from the line that had been fixed, it was found that the solutions were in substantial unanimity. A common draft was quickly prepared.
At this stage an announcement was made that ought to have carried conclusive weight--though it did not--in the minds of those who had any doubt as to the character of the control and command of the Reserve. The final draft created an executive body. The British Prime Minister stated that he and his colleagues had agreed that its President should be named by the heads of government. He said:
"The President of the Committee must necessarily have special qualifications, and the members of the SupremeWarCouncil have agreed --that is to say, the three heads of Governments attending that meeting have agreed, and in the absence of the President of the United States have ventured to assume the latter's concurrence--that the right man to be President is General Foch on account of his experience, his record and his energy, his accomplishments and his reputation."
The American military representative then said that the three Prime Ministers were right in assuming that President Wilson would acquiesce because the name alone of General Foch justified his designation.
Continuing with the reasons for this action, Mr. Lloyd George said:
"General Foch is loyal not only to France but also to the Allies. When the British Army in Flanders was in difficulties he threw all his weight into rendering it assistance. So prompt and generous was that assistance that General Foch might almost have been an Englishman himself. Again, when Italy was in trouble, General Foch, without any hesitation and on his own responsibility, decided to send troops to her aid. General Foch therefore commands the confidence not only of the French but also of the British and Italians, and, I am glad to hear, the Americans. We can be quite sure that as President of the Committee General Foch would be quite unbiased. I have, therefore, great pleasure in announcing this decision of the Supreme War Council."
In the light of this action and of these remarks it is difficult now to understand how anyone could have believed that the executive body to control the Reserve would have been anything but a "one-man" body, that there would be anything but a "one-man" command of the Reserve, and that the "one man" would be anyone but General Foch. The members of the Committee would have been his staff. But this proved impossible. The fact remained that it was not merely the Chairman of an Allied Committee but the Chief of Staff of the French armies who was to give certain all important orders to the other armies.
Just before the resolution was read for adoption, the British Commander-in-Chief said that he desired to be informed "by what channel I will receive my orders from the new body;" that "I am responsible for the forces under my command to the British Government, and I receive orders from the latter through the Chief of the Imperial General Staff;" that "a constitutional question of great importance is involved, and I want to be quite clear about the matter." In reply to this Mr. Lloyd George stated that "I wish to inform the Supreme War Council that before Lord Milner and I left England to attend this session the War Cabinet, which is the British Government, gave us full powers to act on behalf of that Government. As regards the question of the communication of orders, these would be issued by the member of the body nominated by the Supreme War Council." Nevertheless, the Field Marshal asked "that the exact position shall be made clear to me in writing, as it involves a change in constitutional procedure."
An American is not competent to discuss the point thus raised. But looking back at it in the light of such knowledge as we then had, it seems as though whatever "change in constitutional procedure" was involved was at that moment, actually and constitutionally, being made by the government concerned. Moreover, at that very time the French Commander-in-Chief in the field, while still urging the necessity of the proposed General Reserve, had announced the steps that he and the British commander had taken to meet the coming crisis as well as they could without such a reserve. He said that "the whole of the plans, both for the defensive and for the preparation of sectors for local attacks, have been completed between Sir Douglas Haig and myself. I will have an army ready to support Sir Douglas Haig in an emergency, and I know Sir Douglas Haig will be ready to assist me in the same manner." This meant nothing if it did not mean that when the crisis should come, either, by mutual agreement, on the demand of the other, would send assistance. Surely, otherwise, the agreement was a mere form of words, a broken reed for either to lean his weight upon. In making it they gave no thought to constitutional procedure. In carrying it out they would not wait for permission or orders from governments in distant capitals. But it was only too likely that, when a crisis came that seemed to threaten both, either commander might hesitate, perhaps just for the fatal moment, to strip his own line and send the assistance the other demanded. And the action of the government on the 2nd of February, 1918, was only to give to a third man--General Foch, who could survey the events on both fronts as neither commander could do--the decision as to when and where the real crisis occurred and, above all, to be ready for it in time.
But it was evident that if this constitutional objection were maintained--as it was--it would nullify--as it did--this gravely important matter. It was to prove that while Mr. Clemenceau was right in assuming (until the great disaster came) that "we could not have a single Commander-in-Chief," he was wrong in his hope that "we might at least have a Commander of Reserves."
The first two Resolutions adopted by the Supreme War Council on February 2, 1918, were the following:
RESOLUTION NO. 13
1. The Supreme War Council decides on the creation of a General Reserve for the whole of the Armies on the Western, Italian, and Balkan fronts.
2. The Supreme War Council delegates to an Executive composed of the Permanent Military Representatives of Great Britain, Italy, and the United States of America, with General Foch for France, the following powers to be exercised in consultation with the Commanders-in-Chief of the Armies concerned:
(a) To determine the strength in all arms and the contribution of each national army [to the Reserve]. (b) To select the localities in which to be stationed. (c) To make arrangements for transportation and concentration. (d) To decide and issue orders as to the time, place, and period of employment of the General Reserve . . . . (e) To determine the time, place, and strength of the counter-offensive, and then to hand over to one or more of the Commanders-in-Chief the necessary troops for the operation. . . .
3. In case of irreconcilable differences of opinion on a point of importance connected with the General Reserve, any Military Representative has the right to appeal to the Supreme War Council.
4. . . .
5. The SupremeWar Council will nominate the President of the Executive Committee from among the Members of the Committee.
RESOLUTION NO. 14
The Supreme War Council designate General Foch as President of the Executive Committee for the General Reserve.
The Executive Committee immediately organized and began the examination of the four essential points indicated by General Foch: 1, the strength of the General Reserve and the contribution of troops from each army; 2, its initial points of concentration; 3, its transportation, north and south, to any points on the line from the North Sea to the Adriatic; and, 4, the terrains prepared for counter-offensive in the different armies.
On February 6th a letter was addressed the Commanders-in-Chief of the British, French and Italian armies analyzing the situation, giving the reasons why a General Reserve should consist, at a minimum, of about thirty divisions taken from all three armies, and suggesting, as contributions from the national armies, nine or ten British divisions[iii] (including three temporarily in Italy), thirteen or fourteen French divisions (including four temporarily in Italy), and seven Italian divisions. It was proposed that the divisions allotted from each army should be held in the zone of that army--that is, behind its own front--and not removed to any other front unless the crisis of the battle demanded it. But they were to be so stationed at the outset that when the crisis did demand it either could go to the assistance of another with the minimum delay. The proposed distribution was shown upon a map which accompanied the letter. Finally, with a statement as to the urgency of prompt action, the special views of each Commander-in-Chief as to the initial distribution were invited, as well as certain information as to additional air craft and heavy artillery units for the Reserve.
Correspondence and personal interviews followed. By February 19th, a definite agreement was made with General Pétain allowing a reduction of two divisions from the ten (exclusive of his divisions temporarily in Italy) originally requested of him. By March 1st, a similar agreement with General Diaz was made, with a reduction from seven divisions to six. The reply from British headquarters was dated March 2nd and received the following day. It read as follows:
"An enemy offensive appears to be imminent on both the English and French fronts. To meet this attack I have already disposed of all the troops at present under my command, and if I were to earmark six or seven divisions from these troops, the whole of my plans and dispositions would have to be remodeled. This is clearly impossible, and I therefore regret that I am unable to comply with the suggestion conveyed in the Joint Note.
"I would also point out that I foresee a wider employment, etc., of Allied Reserves than that foreshadowed in the Joint Note.
"In the event of the enemy making a sustained attack in great force on any of the Allied Armies on the Western front, it might be necessary to dispatch a considerable force to the assistance of the Army attacked, and to maintain that force by a rotation of divisions. But this force could not be earmarked or located in any particular areas prior to the delivery of the German offensive or the development of the enemy's intentions, for the situation might well demand the ultimate employment of the whole of the resources of any one army.
"For such a purpose or to meet any emergency on the Franco-British front, I have arranged as a preliminary measure with the Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies for all preparations to be made for the rapid dispatch of a force of from six to eight British divisions with a proportionate amount of artillery and subsidiary services to his assistance.
"General Pétain has made similar arrangements for relief or intervention of French troops on the British front. These arrangements, both French and British, are now being completed, and zones of concentration opposite those fronts which are most vulnerable and likely to be attacked are being provided.
"As regards the extension of the Belgian front, as suggested in the note to para. 2 of the Joint Note, I am of opinion that it is inadvisable to carry out such an extension at the present time before the enemy's intentions are sufficiently known. I agree, however, that the extension should be studied by the Belgian Army with a view to its execution should the necessity arise and the situation permit, and I will discuss the matter with the Belgian authorities."
Brief comment, only, is necessary. It was admitted that in case of "a sustained attack in great force on any of the Allied armies on the Western Front, it might be necessary to dispatch a considerable force to the assistance of the army attacked." But that was admitted and emphasized over and over again by every one, military and civilian, present at the session of the Supreme War Council January 30th-February 2nd. It was admitted that to meet the danger an assured means of inter-Allied assistance must be provided. For that sole reason the creation of an inter-Allied General Reserve was decreed without protest from anyone.
But, it was also declared in the letter from British headquarters, "this force could not be located in any particular areas prior to the delivery of the German offensive." Each army had its own general reserve. What was it for? And where was it to be stationed? Each commander knew that an attack "in great force" could not be made and "sustained" against his entire front. In the absence of an Allied Commander-in-Chief to take the responsibility, each national commander assumed that the sustained attack in force would come against him. He had to assume, in the light of his information, the most probable line of this attack and locate his own general reserve accordingly. Otherwise he left everything to chance. General Foch's proposition was that each army should place its general reserve so as to cover that part of its own front most likely to be attacked, if the enemy struck that front at all; in a position where it could be rapidly moved to any other part of its front if necessary; to have certain of its divisions "earmarked" as belonging to the Allied General Reserve and not to be fed into the battle until he gave the word; and even those latter divisions not to be moved to any other front until the crisis of the battle became so evident that no one could hesitate as to where they ought to go. No one can now deny, nor could anyone have denied after midnight of March 21, 1918, that General Foch's plan was the only one that could have assured prompt assistance the moment the crisis developed.
The British Commander stated that to meet just such an emergency he and General Pétain had arranged "for the rapid dispatch of a force of from six to eight British divisions" in case the attack came on the French front, and that the latter had arranged to send similar assistance to the British. In other words, they were making a futile attempt to provide, as between themselves, an Allied Reserve. For this purpose the British Commander agreed to use very nearly the same force that General Foch requested for a real reserve, for which it was said to be impossible to "earmark" or locate these very divisions. Without such earmarking and location, how could either commander assure the other of the "rapid dispatch" of assistance when needed?
The sketch map on p. 19 is taken from the detailed one which accompanied the letter of February 6th sent by General Foch to the British, French and Italian Commanders-in-Chief. It shows the proposed initial location of the British and French contributions to the Allied Reserve. At that time the Germans, by a skilful massing of their newly arriving troops, by the location of their great ammunition dumps and artillery reserves, threatened attack at widely different points. But also there were not many men who at that time, had they been obliged to stake their fortunes on a single bet, would have wagered that the main attack would come in any other general direction than proved to be the case--either on the British right or the French left, somewhere near their point of junction. That is the probability that General Foch, were he Allied Commander-in-Chief, must have assumed. Had he then been such a Commander, he would have had an Allied Reserve and that is where he would have located it. March 21st and subsequent days would have been"another story."
Events from this time moved rapidly. On March 4th, General Foch's Committee drew up a statement of facts, concluding:
"Under the circumstances the Executive War Board finds itself unable to continue its work and, therefore, unable to organize the inter-Allied General Reserve, as the Supreme War Council at its sitting of February 2nd had instructed it to do, and the Executive War Board decides that each Military Representative shall so inform his own government and ask for instructions."
Action was suspended for twenty-four hours to enable the British member, General Sir Henry Rawlinson, to have a personal interview with his chief. The interview produced no result, and on March 5th the members of the Committee notified its action to their respective governments. In his cable message the American member recommended that his government should suggest to that of Great Britain that
"while admitting the possibility that the military situation on the British Front may make it impracticable to assign British divisions to the inter-Allied General Reserve, nevertheless the principle of such a General Reserve should not be abandoned and that the other Allies who are able to contribute to it should promptly do so. My personal opinion is that there is danger that the Italian and French commanders may hold aloof when they learn the attitude of the British commander, although they may not have the same reason for doing so."
This seemed to be the view of the British War Cabinet as evidenced by their following telegram of March 7th to their representative on the Executive Committee:
"The War Cabinet . . . are strongly of the opinion that hitch which has occurred in regard to composition of British Section of General Reserve should not bring work Executive Board to a standstill. They do not regard Haig's inability to comply with request of Executive Board as necessarily final but rather as due to immediate situation on his front. . . ."
The American member of the Committee then addressed to it a letter stating it as his view
"that the Supreme War Council in its Resolution of February 2nd decreed the creation of an inter-Allied General Reserve and charged the Executive Committee with certain duties as to its composition and use. This decree and these instructions of the Supreme War Council are mandatory, and the Executive Committee can not abdicate the duties and responsibilities with which it is charged, merely because a Commander-in-Chief has stated that he can not agree with it as to one point, which point is a question of method rather than principle."
He gave in detail his reasons for insisting that a Reserve was none the less Allied in character merely because at the time of its creation some one army was not represented on it. Thus, for example, it was not proposed to call on the then relatively small American force for any contribution to the Reserve, which would be none the less an inter-Allied one. But he went further than this. He proposed that the Executive Committee should include in its organization of the General Reserve the fair proportion of British troops and then put the whole matter up to the Supreme War Council to decide in the light of any protests that it might receive from any of the Commanders-in-Chief in the field. He recommended
"that the Executive Committee report to the Supreme War Council that, in compliance with the latter's instructions: a. It has constituted an inter-Allied General Reserve consisting of twenty-six divisions, of which for the present ten are to remain in the Italian theatre of war; eight in the French theatre of war; and eight in the British theatre. b. That all of the correspondence, or a resume of it, between the Executive Committee and the respective Commanders-in-Chief, on the subject of the inter-Allied General Reserve, be submitted to the Supreme Council in order that it may pass upon the validity of any protest made against the proposed composition of the General Reserve."
But the opinion prevailed that such action departed so far from the original instructions of the Supreme War Council that a new mandate must be received from it that would ensure compliance. And, whatever they might do, and did do, when the crisis came, it had become evident that there was no disposition to guarantee in advance assistance to any quarter that would give no similar guarantee in return. No further action could be taken until the next session of the Supreme War Council, scheduled for March 14-15 in London.
When this session opened the presiding officer, Mr. Lloyd George, said that "the first question related to the formation of a General Reserve." He referred to the note received in London from Washington on March 11th, to which he gave great importance and which read:
"The Government of the United States admits the possibility that it may be found impracticable to furnish British divisions for the Reserve, because of the military situation in front of the British lines, but nevertheless it desires to express the hope that there will be no abandonment of the principle established for the creation of the General Reserve, and that the Allied Powers who find themselves able to assist in creating the Reserve will act promptly in the matter."
He then outlined the situation in front of the British line. He said that
"though myself a warm advocate of the scheme of a General Reserve, I have come to the conclusion, in view of the exceptional concentration against us, that it would be very difficult for Field-Marshal Haig to spare the necessary reserves."
Mr. Clemenceau, while of the opinion that there "can be no question of abandoning the principle of the General Reserve," said that, "for the moment it is impossible to withdraw divisions from the command of Field-Marshal Haig and General Pétain, in view of the threatened attack."
The facts that General Foch's plan did not contemplate taking any British or French divisions that might be assigned to an Allied Reserve away from their own fronts until the crisis was evident; that if the attack came, as was then supposed most likely, against the British front it would find the British divisions of the General Reserve behind their own line; that the French divisions, also, would have been "earmarked" (to use the British Commander's term) for immediate dispatch to assist their ally and with their organizations absolutely complete, with no missing artillery or ammunition; that this was equally true if the attack came against the French front; all these counted for nothing.
Having decided as it did, there was but one thing that the Supreme Council could do. Assuming that the Italians (who themselves insisted that a serious attack was coming against them) would cheerfully do what the British and French had declined to do, it directed:
"The British and French divisions now on the Italian front, together with the British division which has just left that front, and a quota of Italian divisions to be determined by the Executive War Board, shall form the nucleus of the General Reserve."
The Supreme Council foresaw that what the Italians could do had to be learned on the spot. It therefore directed a committee of four general officers to proceed to Italy and confer with the authorities there. But it was too late. On the night of March 20th, the committee reached Paris on its return from Turin and made its report. But there could be no satisfactory result. The proposition of the American representative, made to the Supreme War Council on February 2nd, that the decisions of the Executive Committee should be made by a majority vote, had been rejected. Decisions, therefore, must be unanimous. It had been three to one on the proposition for a British contribution to the Reserve. It was now three to one on the Italian contribution. Had it been all the world to one, the one vote was a majority.
The great battle commenced on the following morning. And now, because there was no commander of an Allied Reserve there was to be a Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies. And, after all, the supreme necessity for an Allied Commander-in-Chief was to enable him to create and handle reserves at his will.
Even then he did not come until the black spectre of irretrievable ruin was brooding over the battlefield. By the 26th of March the situation had become gravely critical. The Germans had expected, about this date, to inflict the final blow. They were opening a breach between the two armies, the very thing that General Foch's plan for the Allied Reserve--had he been permitted to organize it and prepare it in time for orderly movement--was intended to prevent. It began to appear that British troops might have to be withdrawn on a line that would have completed the separation of the armies. The way was almost opened for an advance on Paris by the valley of the Oise or to the Channel by that of the Somme.
Everything depended upon the arrival in sufficient numbers of the French reserves--and at the right spot. These gallant troops, picked up wherever they could be found, with or without their artillery, were beginning to arrive.
The confusion that reigned is indicated in Lord Milner's report to the British War Cabinet. He had been hastily sent from London to report on the position of affairs. He reached British headquarters on the night of March 24th. He found that the Fifth Army was shattered. He says that
"owing to this Army being so much broken and communications cut in all directions, it is difficult to make out exactly what has happened, and it would take time to place together the reports. Broadly speaking, however, there is no doubt that this Army is shattered and a breach effected in the Allied line between the right flank of the Third (British) Army and the French."
On the morning of the 25th he had an interview with Mr. Clemenceau in Paris:
"He told me that he thought important decisions must be taken at once. His view was that it was necessary at all costs to maintain the connection between the French and British Armies, and that both Haig and Pétain must at once throw in their reserves, to stop the breach which was in course of being effected."
These "important decisions" were the ones that General Foch had wanted to make two months earlier; these reserves were the ones that two months earlier he wanted to prepare so that they could be "thrown in at once" when this very crisis came.
Furthermore, "Mr. Clemenceau said that it would be necessary to bring pressure upon Pétain to do more in that direction. He evidently hoped that Haig would be able to bring down more reserves from the north."
Where was now the agreement between the two Commanders-in-Chief that each would help the other when the crisis came? The thing had happened which had so often been prophesied. Rightly or wrongly, it was believed that Haig still had disposable reserves "in the north" that he was not using. The decision to help being left with either Commander-in-Chief he was not likely to believe that the crisis had come so long as he thought the other had reserves of his own. Nevertheless, the French were doing all that could be expected of them. On the afternoon of the 25th, Gen. Pétain informed Lord Milner that he already had six divisions very heavily engaged, and he was trying to bring up nine more "mostly from the south . . . This is all I can possibly spare at the moment. . . . I can not neglect either the danger of the Germans pushing down the Oise from about Noyon, nor a threatened attack in the region of Reims." In other words, the rupture of the armies at the point of junction taking place, each commander had to think of his own defensive objective--the one Paris, the other the Channel ports.
That night after conference at Versailles with the British Chief of Staff, Lord Milner wrote that
"the greatest promptitude in bringing up reserves and complete cooperation between the armies are necessary. We discussed the personal difficulties of effecting such cooperation, and Wilson made the suggestion--which seemed a good one--that both countries might agree to leave it to Clemenceau, in whom the British Generals had confidence as well as the French, to take any decisions necessary to bring about the better cooperation of the armies and the best use of all available reserves."
Late that night Wilson went to Paris to see Foch who, it was assumed, would be Clemenceau's military adviser if this action were taken. But General Foch was too wise. The next day, when Lord Milner "asked Wilson what Foch had said to his idea of making Clemenceau nominally the 'generalissimo' with Foch to advise him, he said that Foch had objected to this on the ground that Clemenceau, placed in that position, might be drawn in opposite directions by Pétain and himself, and if he agreed now with one and now with the other there would be no unity of control."
Everything had been tried or suggested except one. Under these circumstances the British and French civil and military authorities met at 12 o'clock noon, March 26th, in conference at Doullens. The British commander explained his situation and--still quoting from Lord Milner's report--added, "I can do no more. What can the French do?" The French commander explained his situation and what he could do. "None of his listeners seemed very happy or convinced. . . . Foch, who had been so eloquent the day before, said not a word. But, looking at his face--he sat just opposite me--I could see that he was still dissatisfied, very impatient, and evidently thinking that things could and must be done more quickly."
It was then that Lord Milner, in private conversation with Mr. Clemenceau, asked whether Foch "could not be placed by both governments in a position of general control."
Then followed brief exchanges of views between the political men of the two governments and their military men. The approximation to a solution had been found and all agreed. A resolution was drawn up and signed, as follows:
"General Foch is charged by the British and French Governments with coordinating the action of the Allied Armies on the Western Front. For this purpose he will come to an understanding with the Generals-in-Chief, who are invited to furnish him with all necessary information.--Doullens, March 26, 1918."
Many persons think that this action made General Foch the Allied Commander-in-Chief. It did not. His functions were limited to the British and French armies. They did not extend to the American army. No American was summoned to the conference at Doullens. No control was given over the Belgian nor Italian armies. Moreover, there was given him no power of command. He could only consult and advise. The result was what might have been expected. He had to waste precious time in traveling to one headquarters and the other, persuading commanders to do what he should have been empowered to order.
After just one week's experience all this was made clear at the conference of Beauvais. This conference was called to remedy the situation resulting from the one at Doullens. It resulted in the nearest approximation to giving General Foch supreme command that was ever attained.
The new conference met at the Hôtel de Ville of Beauvais on the afternoon of April 3, 1918. With the British and French the Americans had also been summoned. Those present were Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Clemenceau, and Generals Haig, Pétain, Foch, Wilson, Pershing and Bliss. The situation was tersely stated by General Foch. In a few moments the following agreement was drawn up and signed by all:
"General Foch is charged by the British, French and American Governments with the duty of coordinating the action of the Allied armies on the Western Front; and with this object in view there is conferred upon him all the powers necessary for its effective accomplishment. For this purpose the British, French and American Governments entrust to General Foch the strategic direction of military operations. The Commanders-in-Chief of the British, French and American Armies shall exercise in full the tactical conduct of their armies. Each Commander-in-Chief shall have the right to appeal to his Government if, in his opinion, his army finds itself placed in danger by any instructions received from General Foch."
This was the nearest approach to unified command that, in expressed terms, was ever made. The document carefully refrained from giving General Foch the title of Allied Commander-in-Chief. It gave him no control of any kind over the Italian army. Subsequently, at the session of the Supreme War Council held at Abbeville on May 1-2, it was decided to extend the definition of the "Western Front" so as to include "from the North Sea to the Adriatic." This seemed of itself to extend General Foch's powers to include, under the Beauvais agreement, "the strategic direction of military operations" of the Italian army. The Italian representatives were at first disposed to accept this. But when it was pointed out that this gave General Foch the power to remove troops from the Italian Front as well as to send them there, they said that they could not consent to the exercise of such a power. All that could be agreed upon was that
"the powers of coordination conferred on General Foch by the agreement of Doullens are extended to the Italian front."
These powers were ineffective and illusory. And when, in the crisis of the campaign of 1918, General Foch wanted the Italians to make a move that might relieve some of the pressure against the Western Front, he could only beg--and beg in vain. But they should not be criticised too much. The provision in the agreement of Beauvais, permitting army commanders to appeal to their own governments should they think that an order from General Foch imperiled the safety of their armies, showed that opposition to absolute unity of command was dying hard.
The statement of the case carries its own criticism. Yet, no harsh criticism can justly lie against the inevitable result of the limitations of human nature. Americans may say what they please as to what ought to have been done and what they think they would have done had they had supreme power. But if the situation were to be re-enacted on American soil the same wearisome, bloody process would probably be followed. We would not yield supreme command to an ally who, we knew, had his own ultimate objective in the war, nor would the ally, for the same reason, accept our supreme command until it had become a matter of life or death for both. Unified command came in 1918 at the first moment that it could possibly come. Opposition gave way only when it was manifest that every other course had been tried--and had failed. Unified command was then accepted, not for the purpose of winning victory but to prevent irretrievable defeat.
As it happened, the mere prevention of defeat, the foiling of the last supreme German effort which could not be repeated, opened the path to victory. The failure to create the General Reserve under General Foch, the creation of which he had so earnestly urged, made necessary his appointment as, in everything except the title, Commander-in-Chief. But a great price had to be paid for it, the larger part of which might have been saved. Had the heads of governments been able to exercise their full power, guided solely by their individual judgments, it is possible that the position of Commander-in-Chief, in some form, might have been created at the meeting of the Supreme War Council, January 30-February 2, 1918. They knew its importance. They knew that it had to be a Frenchman. And they knew General Foch. He had been in constant attendance at their meetings. He had impressed them all by his indomitable energy, and the rapidity and accuracy of his decisions. But the heads of governments were not free. They had behind them peoples who had already overturned governments on lesser questions than this. There was no unity of view among the military men--neither as to the need of a Commander-in-Chief nor as to who he should be. And all of these--civilians and military--had first to eat the bitter bread of despair before their governments could act.
And when they acted, putting upon his power the limitation which they imposed both at the conference of Doullens and at the one of Beauvais, nothing less than the good sense, kindly tact, personal magnetism and supreme professional qualifications of General Foch could have secured the degree of cooperation necessary for success and made him in fact, if not in name, the inter-Allied Commander-in-Chief on the Western Front.
[i] Speech of Mr. Asquith before the House of Commons 19th November, 1917.
[ii] Defined by resolution passed 2nd May, 1918, at the Fifth Session of the S. W. C. as extending "from the North Sea to the Adriatic," but not such prior to that resolution.
[iii] Depending on whether the reconstituted Belgian Army could extend its front.