Aircraft of World War I by Kenneth G. Munson

By Kenneth G. Munson

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48 So, finally, only eight months after the two countries went to war together, the French learned the truth about Joffre’s ability to instruct, direct or command the actions of the BEF. What is more, the communication of this news had had to be prised out of the British through unofficial channels. 49 On 27 May he asked his minister to request that the British government send twenty new divisions to France. Not only that, he wrote informally to Kitchener the very same day, urging the primacy of the French front, given the Russian reverses.

In a consolatory note to Churchill, written on 25 October, Sir John claimed that he had tried hard to ‘retain a hold on the Belgians’ but the French ‘smelt a rat and sent Foch & a mission to take charge . . ’29 Even allowing for the identity of the recipient and his responsibility in the Antwerp expedition, there were evidently still traces of suspicion in Sir John’s mind. In general terms, as King George’s private secretary described it to Lord Esher, the Antwerp operation was a ‘fiasco’. Former secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, Lord Sydenham, also wrote to Esher: ‘The Antwerp performance was appalling.

Moreover, the increasing size of the BEF meant that the military partnership was changing. The original six-division BEF may not have grown to equal the French armies, but its subordination to Joffre was now patently impossible and its political masters wanted a greater, and more formal, say in its deployment. The necessity for such coordination was clear, particularly to the British. Both Kitchener and Robertson, who was the BEF’s CGS throughout 1915, appreciated this.

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