WSC Before the Fact, Part 2

Churchill 2 copyThe other day I made note of Churchill’s description in a 1901 speech of what we would come to call “total war” in the 20th century.  In August 1911, around the time of the Agadir crisis and when he became First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill wrote a memo critiquing the existing view of the British and French general staffs that a German offensive into France could be easily beaten back by a counter-offensive against the German center in Alsace-Lorraine.  Churchill correctly anticipated what was to become known as the Schliefflen Plan (swing through Belgium, you idiots), but more remarkably forecast not only how the battle would unfold, but also the timeline by which it would unfold.  Some excerpts:

The following notes have been written on the assumption that a decision has been arrived at to employ a British military force on the continent of Europe.  It does not prejudge that decision in any way.

It is assumed that an alliance exists between Great Britain, France, and Russia, and that these Powers are attacked by Germany and Austria. . .

3.  A prudent survey of chances from the British point of view ought to contemplate that, when the German advance decisively begins, it will be backed by sufficient preponderance of force, and developed on a sufficiently wide front to compel the French armies to retreat from their positions behind the Belgian frontier, even though they may hold the gaps between the fortresses on the Verdun-Belfort front.  No doubt a series of great battles will have been fought with varying local fortunes, and there is always a possibility of a heavy German check.  But, even if the Germans were brought to a standstill, the French would not be strong enough to advance in their turn; and in any case we ought not to count on this.  The balance of probability is that by the twentieth day the French armies will have been driven from the line of the Meuse and will be falling back on Paris and the south.  All plans based upon the opposite assumption ask too much of fortune. . .

7.  By the fortieth day Germany should be extended at full strain both internally and on her war fronts, and this strain will become daily more severe and ultimately overwhelming, unless it is relieved by decisive victories in France.  If the French army has not been squandered by precipitate or desperate action, the balance of forces should be favourable after the fortieth day, and will improve steadily as time passes.  For the German armies will be confronted with a situation which combines an ever-growing need for a successful offensive, with a battle-front which tends continually towards numerical equality.

That’s pretty close to how and where it unfolded.


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