THE BALKANS AND POLITICAL REACTIONS
The combined offensive of the Allies in 1916 was not limited to the Russian, French, and Italian fronts, and there is a diplomatic story that when the battle of the Somme seemed unlikely to produce the fruits expected from it, pressure was put by one or more Western Powers upon Rumania to intervene. The story was denied in the interests of those Powers, and an alternative tale was told of a sinister plot, engineered by the Russian Prime Minister, Stuermer, by which Rumania was lured into the war in order that her defeat might pave the way for her partition between the Hapsburg and Russian Empires, Wallachia going to the one and Moldavia to the other. Both explanations were relics of the suspicion engendered by the diplomacy of the old regime rather than serious contributions to historical truth; and, while the conduct of the masters and tyros of political strategy was not calculated to render these fables incredible, there were other circumstances more intimately connected with Rumania to account for her action. After all, neither side was in August 1916 in a position to dictate to neutrals; and the Rumanian Army counted for too much in the delicate balance for any belligerent Power to invite its hostility by undue pressure. The decision was Rumania's own, and it was not unnatural. She had been on the eve of intervention more than a year before, but German successes in 1915 had constrained her to caution. By August 1916 it was clear that the Central Empires could hope for no more than a negotiated peace, and Rumania had claims which would only enter into the negotiation if she took part in the war.
Natural affinities left no doubt as to the side she would choose. Her old king Carol, who had died on 10 October 1914, was a Hohenzollern, though of the elder and Catholic line; but his successor was bred a Rumanian and a constitutional monarch. There was also a pro-German and anti-democratic party, led by Carp and Marghiloman and supported by the landlords, which harped upon Rumania's grievances against Russia and placed Bessarabia in the scales against Transylvania. But the Rumanes across the Pruth were few compared with the four millions across the Carpathians, and the hardships they shared with the Russians at the hands of the Tsardom irked them less than those injuries which the Magyars knew so well how to inflict on subject nationalities under the cloak of equal rights and liberties. The claims which Rumania might hope to enforce against a defeated Hapsburg Empire would increase her population by more than 50 per cent and make her territorially compact, while the gains she could get from Russia would be less extensive and less homogeneous, and would leave her with still more straggling frontiers. The cause was fairly clear; the occasion was provided by the failure of the Germans at Verdun, the success of Brussilov, the apparent likelihood of Turkey's collapse before the Russian advance in Asia Minor, and the promise of an Entente offensive from Salonika.
Turkey, indeed, had exhausted the credit she had won at Gallipoli and Kut. She had not been able to convert the capture of Kut into an advance down the Tigris; and on 19-20 May Gorringe had taken the key to the Es Sinn position and cleared the south bank by an advance towards the Shatt-el-Hai which would a month earlier have effected Townshend's relief. Summer, indeed, procured a respite from British attacks, but not from Russian progress in Asia Minor. On 15 July Yudenitch captured Baiburt, and Erzinghian on the 25th (see Map, p. 182). A counter-offensive, which led to the temporary loss of Bitlis and Mush, was nullified by a Russian thrust at Rayat on 25 August, and Bitlis and Mush were recovered. Asia Minor seemed to be slipping from Turkey's grasp, and her hold on Arabia was still more precarious. The Arabs had never been patient subjects of the Sultan, and the progressive vagaries of Young Turk infidels shocked the fidelity of the orthodox people of Mecca. On 9 June its Grand Sherif proclaimed Arab independence, occupied Jeddah, took Yambo, laid siege to Medina, cut the Hedjaz railway, and was joined by tribes farther south who captured Kandifah. An ineffectual Turkish effort to cope with this rebellion postponed another projected attack on Egypt, and when it was made in August it was crushed at Romani on the 3rd and 4th and the Turkish retreat was turned into a rout.
Greece remained the most dubious factor in the Balkan situation. There was no doubt where her interests lay, for the only two allies of the Central Empires were Turkey and Bulgaria, one the ancient tyrant, and the other the modern rival, of the Greeks. But Greece was divided in mind between her faith in a brilliant future and her fear of German success. Her king, with his Prussian queen and marshal's baton, was interested in the success of the German Army and of the principle of royal autocracy; and his wishes made him doubt the prospects of her foes. Apart from the Court and official influence, he was given a hold on his people by the fame which had been fathered on him in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and the fable that he was another Constantine the Great. So far his doubts seemed to have more justification than the faith of Venizelos; and Greece had in return for her security put up with an unconstitutional government and the shame of her broken Serbian treaty. But the strain which Constantine put upon the patience of his people reached the breaking-point in 1916. In May, acting under his orders, Greek troops admitted the Bulgars into Forts Rupel and Dragotin, the keys of the Struma Valley. Popular protests were made at Salonika, where Constantine's writ did not run; and the Entente retorted with a pacific blockade in June. But in spite of a shuffle of ministers, the Court held on its pro-German way and did whatever it could, by secret communications with Berlin and facilities for German submarines, to hamper the Entente preparations for an offensive from Salonika.
Early in August Sarrail, who was now commander-in-chief, ordered a French attack on Doiran, and Doldjeli was taken. Probably this was no more than a feint, for the real design was farther west, where the Serbians under Prince Alexander were looking forward to Monastir. Their offensive was anticipated by the Bulgars, who after some pourparlers with Rumania, were induced or constrained by their German masters to attack on the 17th. In the west Florina and Banitza were seized on Greek territory, and on the east the whole of new Greece, including Seres, Kavalla, and Demirhissar, as far as the Struma; the Greek garrisons surrendered and were sent to Germany as the Kaiser's guests (see Map, p. 151).
This was the last straw for the better part of Greece. Venizelos addressed a mass meeting of protest at Athens on the 27th, and on the 30th a revolution broke out at Salonika under Colonel Zimbrakakis, the Venizelist deputy for Seres. Regiments were enrolled for service against Bulgaria, and one of them set out for the front on 22 September. On the 24th a similar movement swept over Crete; Mytilene, Samos, and Chios and smaller Greek islands followed suit; and Venizelos left Athens to form with Admiral Condouriotes and General Danglis a provisional government of insurgent Greece at Salonika. It was grudgingly recognized by the Entente and at once declared war on Bulgaria. The mainland, south-west of Salonika, however, remained under Constantine's control, and added to its hostility to the Entente a murderous vendetta against the Venizelists. The militarist party engaged in the curious campaign of forming leagues of reservists to oppose a war which would involve their call to the colours, and a succession of embarrassed phantoms was established in office to enable the king to evade the demands of the Allies. They increased in severity from the surrender of the fleet to that of the army's batteries and then to its disbandment; but they were backed by inadequate force and bungling diplomacy. On 1 December detachments of Allied troops, landed at the Piraeus, were driven back with bloodshed, and well into the new year the King continued to defy the Entente and push Greece deeper into anarchy. On its side the Entente wished to avoid a civil war, which would be almost worse than united enmity, because it would preclude a naval blockade; but the principal cause of its blunders was its own divided counsels. France and Great Britain were stoutly Venizelist; but the Tsar had personal reasons for dreading revolutions, particularly one against his cousin, and Italy had no liking for that greater Greece which was represented by Venizelos, might become a rival in the eastern Mediterranean, and would certainly reclaim the Dodecanese from its Italian masters.
Amid these scenes of Hellenic turmoil Sarrail strove to prosecute his offensive in aid of Rumania. The die had been cast by the northern kingdom on 27 August, and on the 28th Rumanian troops poured over the Carpathian passes into Transylvania. This direction of Rumanian strategy was severely criticized because it did not suit our Balkan plans. Bulgaria was the foe we had in view, and Rumania, it was said, should have launched her armies across the Danube in an effort to cut the corridor and join hands with Sarrail. The criticism was unjust for other reasons than the fact that in the treaty signed on 16 August it was stipulated that the principal aim of Rumanian action should be in the direction of Buda-Pesth. Sarrail's objective was Monastir, an eccentric route to Sofia or the Danube, and the British troops along the Struma were not cast for the part of an advance towards Rumania. Bulgaria, moreover, was not yet Rumania's enemy, and had shown signs of remaining neutral. Nor is a strategical motive ever an adequate reason for making war; there must be a political justification, and the grounds for Rumania's intervention was the injury suffered by the Rumanian population in Hungary and Transylvania. She had no quarrel with Bulgaria on the score of national rights; indeed, it was rather she who ruled over Bulgars in the Dobrudja, and a Rumanian war could only be defended in principle as a crusade to redeem the Rumania irredenta north of the Carpathians. Even had it been her business to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the Entente, it might be urged that she did her part in opening the door for a Russian attack on Bulgaria. In 1915 the Russian reason for non-fulfilment of the threats of punishment for Bulgarian treason to the Slav cause had been the obstacle of Rumanian territory. That was now removed; and a Russian advance through the Dobrudja would not only have saved Rumania from Mackensen's envelopment, but have given effect to Russia's menace against Bulgaria, facilitated Sarrail's operations, cut the corridor, and isolated Turkey. Of all the strategic failures in the war none was more tragic than this which was imposed upon Russia, partly by her internal weakness and partly by her divergent ambitions in Asia Minor. The Rumanian advance across the Carpathians would have been sound enough strategically as well as politically, had it been properly supported by her huge but unreliable neighbour.
The Central Empires were preparing but unprepared, and the Rumanian attack prospered brilliantly at first. Apart from the political object, there was the strategic purpose of improving Rumania's defences. Her own frontier--over 700 miles in length--was even worse than Italy's because of its circular configuration; the enemy, with the interior lines, military railways, and easier approaches to the passes, could strike from the centre at any one or more of a dozen alternative points and could shift his attack from one to another flank in a fraction of the time it would take Rumania to transport her forces to meet it. She had no lateral lines for her northern frontier, and of the vertical lines only two went up to the passes. If, however, she could reach the Maros, she would not only straighten her line and shorten it by half, but deprive her enemies of their railway and other strategic advantages. On that line she might hope to resist the Teutonic counter-offensive and protect her territory, which would have been left defenceless if her armies had gone south to invade Bulgaria. For a fortnight all went well; the enemy troops in Transylvania were few, inferior, and unreliable, and one Czech battalion went over to the invaders. By 10 September Kronstadt and Orsova had been taken, Hermannstadt evacuated, and Hatszeg was in danger; at points the Rumanians had advanced some fifty miles, and the Maros line seemed almost in their grasp.
The appearance was delusive. Germany declared war on 28 August, Turkey on the 30th, and Bulgaria on 1 September. But the real danger did not come from Bulgaria, and it would have been at least as serious if Rumania had invited attack by declaring war on Bulgaria herself, and thus exceeding the requirements of the treaty of 16 August. It came from Germany, and was as little foreseen by Rumania's critics as by her Government. That Germany should have divisions to spare for another Balkan campaign after Verdun, and while the battle of the Somme and Brussilov's offensive were at their height, amazed the Entente Powers, and was, indeed, quite inconsistent with the versions of those campaigns to which they had given currency. Yet it was true: besides an Alpine corps of Bavarians, Germany sent no fewer than eight divisions to the Carpathians, and put Von Falkenhayn at their head. She also sent a lavish supply of guns, munitions, and aeroplanes to which Rumania had not the wherewithal to reply. The promised Russian supplies fell short, eaten up perhaps by Brussilov's requirements, and partly, it was said, surreptitiously withheld in the interest of Stuermer's treacherous design of a separate peace with Germany at Rumania's expense. The first blow was struck by Mackensen, whose rapid concentration of the German forces south of the Danube had not been disturbed by the promised offensive from Salonika. The treaty had fixed it for 20 August, but Sarrail's plans were betrayed by two of his officers and conveyed through a Spanish diplomatist to the enemy; possibly this was the cause of the Bulgar attack on the 17th, and Sarrail did not move until 7 September. He did, however, detain the three Bulgarian armies on the Salonika front, and Mackensen only had the help of the fourth, which had all along watched the Rumanian frontier.
On 1 September his forces invaded the Dobrudja and seized Dobritch, Balchik, and Kavarna on the coast. On the 5th they captured Turtukai on the Danube with an infantry division and a hundred guns. Silistria farther down the river was thereupon evacuated, and on the 16th Mackensen stood on the line Rasova-Kobadinu-Tuzla, a dozen miles from the important railway running from Bukarest across the Tchernavoda bridge to Constanza; Tchernavoda was the only bridge across the Danube in the Balkans, and Constanza was Rumania's only Black Sea port. Here the stipulated Russian three divisions, composed partly of Serbs who had escaped into Rumania in 1915 and of Jugo-Slavs taken prisoners by the Russians from the Austrian forces, came to Rumania's assistance; and Mackensen was not only held, but driven back some fifteen miles. Falkenhayn, north of the Carpathians, disposed of greater strength, and during the latter half of September the Rumanians were steadily driven out of their conquests. A great feat of the Bavarian Alpine Corps was the capture on the 26th of the Roterturm Pass in the rear of the First Rumanian Army; elsewhere the retreat was carried out with skill, valour, and comparatively slight losses, and Falkenhayn found it no easy task to break the Carpathian barrier despite the advantages he possessed in every kind of equipment and in the experience of his men. But for the paralysis which overcame the Russian effort in the Carpathians he would have had the tables turned upon him, for no advance would have been possible against the Rumanian frontier had his flank been seriously threatened by the Russians from Jablonitza to the Borgo. Indeed, with a little more energy on the part of the Russian Government the Central Empires might have encountered in Transylvania a greater disaster than had yet befallen them. The Russian excuse was that their liabilities to Rumania involved an awkward extension of their front, yet it was Russia which had put most pressure on Rumania to intervene; and no account was taken of the huge extension of the Teutonic front achieved by that intervention, nor of the fate which Russia might have suffered if Falkenhayn and Mackensen had concentrated in the north the forces they led against Rumania. The relief which Russia secured thereby almost seems to support the sinister view of Stuermer's policy.
It was not until 10 October that the northern Rumanian armies were forced back to the Moldavian border; and all Falkenhayn's efforts to debouch from the central passes towards Bukarest were defeated by Rumanian valour. Nor was he more successful against Moldavia, and November arrived with its promise of snow to block the mountain-routes before he had advanced more than four miles into Rumanian territory. Mackensen, too, was held up in the Dobrudja, and a month's inactivity was only relieved by rival raids across the Danube. But by 20 October he had received reinforcements in the shape of two Turkish divisions and one German. The Russo-Rumanian line was broken, and on the 21st the railway between Constanza and Tchernavoda. Constanza was abandoned on the 22nd, its stores of oil and wheat being burned, and on the 25th a span of the great bridge at Tchernavoda was blown up by the retreating Rumanians, while the Russians hastily withdrew thirty-five miles to Babadagh. Here on 1 November Sakharov arrived to take the command with several new divisions, for Alexeiev did his best to redeem the failings of his Government, and a counter-offensive was begun. On the 9th Sakharov recaptured Hirsova, and by the 15th he had advanced to within seven miles of Mackensen's lines defending the Constanza railway. But he was too late, for the Rumanian defence which had held north and south in the central zone was crumbling fast in the western salient.
Having failed along the direct route to Bukarest, Falkenhayn now concentrated his efforts on the passes west of the Törzburg; but he had little success in October. Two columns which crossed the mountains east of the Roterturm Pass and made for Salatrucul were flung back with heavy losses on the 18th, and Falkenhayn transferred his main attack to the Vulcan Pass still farther west. But he kept up his pressure from the Roterturm down the Aluta valley in order to detain there the Rumanian reinforcements which the extension of Lechitsky's line into Moldavia had released for service in the West; and in the first week of November his troops were threatening Rymnik. But south of the Vulcan they had come to grief at Targul Jiu, where on 27 October General Dragalina, with inferior numbers and artillery, won the most brilliant success of the campaign. Unfortunately he died of his wounds on 9 November, and with fresh reinforcements and guns the Germans under Falkenhayn's eyes resumed their advance on the 10th. Their progress was stubbornly contested, but on the 21st they entered Craiova on the main Rumanian railway, thus cutting off the western part of Rumania from the capital and isolating the army defending Orsova and Turnu Severin. Presently it was surrounded, but for nearly three weeks of gallant effort and romantic adventure it eluded its fate and only surrendered at Caracalu on 7 December after the fall of Bukarest.
Craiova was bad enough, but almost worse was to follow; for on 23 November Mackensen succeeded in forcing the passage of the Danube beween Samovit and Sistovo, and by the 27th he effected a junction with Falkenhayn's armies which had swung east and were now across the Aluta advancing on Bukarest. The Rumanians' flanks were thus both turned by the crossing of the mountain passes and of the Danube, and they had no option but a rapid retreat to a line where those flanks held firm. That line did not cover the capital, and its elaborate forts would have been merely a trap for the Rumanian army. Nevertheless, a brave and skilful attempt was made to save it by a manoeuvre battle, and hopes were entertained in allied countries that Rumania was about to repeat the success of the Marne. The success could only come later when Averescu had flanks as secure as Joffre's. Still a wedge was for the moment driven between Mackensen and Falkenhayn's centre, and the movement might have succeeded had the reserves been up to time. Bukarest fell on the 5th, and for the rest of the year the Germans continued their progress eastwards until the Russo-Rumanian forces were able to stand on a line formed by the Danube, the Sereth, and the Putna ascending to the Oitos Pass. Sakharov had been forced to withdraw from the Dobrudja, and all that was left of Rumania was its Moldavian province, less than one-third of the kingdom, with its capital near the Russian frontier at Jassy.
Sarrail's campaign in the south provided inadequate compensation. The part assigned to the British contingents under General Milne, which had taken over the front from the Vardar eastwards past Doiran and down the Struma to the sea, was the somewhat thankless one of pinning the Bulgars to that sector and preventing them from reinforcing the threatened line in the west. The various British attacks on villages east of the Struma, such as Nevolien, Jenikoi, Prosenik, and Barakli-Djuma, were thus merely raids, and the ground gained was soon evacuated for tactical or sanitary reasons. The serious offensive was towards Monastir, and the lion's part was played by the Serbian army with assistance from the French and a moderate Russian contingent; Italians from Avlona also fought occasionally. The Bulgarian offensive from Monastir in August had penetrated far into Greek territory, patrols even reaching Kailar, and it threatened, indeed, to turn Sarrail's left wing by an advance to the shores of the Gulf of Salonika when Sarrail began his attack on 7 September. The first serious fighting took place to the west of Lake Ostrovo, where on the 14th the Serbians captured Ekshisu. On the 20th they stormed Mount Kaymakchalan and recovered a footing on Serbian territory, while the French and Russians drove the Bulgars out of Florina. On the 29th, after furious Bulgarian counter-attacks, the Serbian general Mishitch descended the mountains towards the bend of the Tcherna river, and turning the left flank of the Bulgar-Germanic army forced it back to the lines at Kenali beyond the Greek frontier. These had been selected by Mackensen and strongly fortified, and a frontal attack by the French and Russians on 14 October broke down (see Map, p. 151).
Better success attended the Serbian efforts to turn the enemy flank. By 5 October they had secured the crossing of the Tcherna at Brod, and slowly they pushed across it. Bad weather delayed them for a month, but by 15 November Mishitch had mastered the river bend from Iven to Bukri; and, thus outflanked on their left, the enemy yielded to the Franco-Russian attacks on Kenali and retreated to the Bistritza, four miles from Monastir. On the 16th and 17th the Serbians again attacked on the mountains in the Tcherna bend, carried the Bulgar positions, and by the 19th had reached Dobromir and Makovo whence they threatened the line of retreat from Monastir to Prilep. On that day the Germans and Bulgars moved out of and the Allies into Monastir. Their position was further improved before the end of the year, and it is said that had Mishitch been allowed the use of reserves, Prilep would also have fallen and Monastir been spared the annoying bombardment which it suffered at intervals for nearly two years. For its capture marked the limit of Entente success in that sphere until the closing months of the war. The campaign had not been fruitless, for Greece had been saved as a brand from the burning, and presently did her part in the Allied cause. But the Balkan corridor had been expanded by the Rumanian disaster into a solid block, and revolution in Russia soon put an end to all threats from the north. The hopes that were built on Salonika were destined to remain in abeyance until events in September 1918 justified the faith of those who refused to abandon the Balkans.
The Rumanian disaster was, however, a severe trial to the confidence and the patience of public opinion. Some critics held that the war had been lost in that campaign; but it was a worthier sentiment than pessimism that gave edge to popular feeling against the Government. Official optimism had not concealed the indecisiveness of the Somme, and few had the vision to discern the deferred dividends which accrued as a bonus to other ministers in the spring. But disappointment with the achievements on the Somme was not so bitter as resentment at the failure in Rumania. Was friendship with the Entente doomed always to be fatal to little peoples? One more trusting nation had gone the way of Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro, and the blow to our self-respect was keenly felt. The public had little knowledge of the real responsibility, but where knowledge is rare suspicion is rife; and a vicarious victim is always required when the actual culprit is out of reach. Englishmen could exact no responsibility for whatever befell in the war except from their own responsible Government; and few paused to reflect that if Russia could not protect her immediate neighbour, England and France could not save a State from which they were completely cut off both by land and sea. Nor was it open for those who knew the facts to make public comment on the conduct of an ally, and compulsory silence on the part of truth made all the more audible the malicious tongue of slander. Belgium may have been our affair, but the Balkans were that of Russia; and not the wildest of Jingoes before the war had dreamt of British forces protecting Rumania. It was indeed the very distance of the danger that induced and enabled us to indulge in recrimination against the Government; for when eighteen months later a greater and far more preventable disaster threatened us nearer home, public sense rose superior to the temptation and temper of 1916, and instead of attacking ministers the nation bent its undivided and uncomplaining energies to the task of supporting and helping them out of their dilemma.
In the autumn of the Rumanian reverse there was no peril so imminent in the West as to impose unity upon public opinion, the press, or aspiring politicians. The advance on the Somme had been slow, but it was the Germans who were in retreat; the German Navy had been demoralized at Jutland; and Germany's only retaliation had been the judicial murder of Captain Fryatt on 27 July on a charge of having defended himself against a submarine. Nine-tenths of Germany's last and greatest colony had been overrun, and German forces oversea reduced to hiding in unhealthy swamps in a corner of East Africa; while across the Sinai desert and up the banks of the Tigris were creeping those railways which were to lead to the conquest of Syria and Mesopotamia. Two German raids in the dark on the Channel flotilla and the recrudescence of German submarine activity had, indeed, provoked some criticism of the Admiralty, and the substitution of Jellicoe for Sir Henry Jackson as First Sea Lord had been already decided. But the menace of the Zeppelins, which had earlier stirred indignation in breasts unmoved by dangers at the front, had been met when on 2 and 23 September, 1 October, and 27 November successive raiders were destroyed with all their crews by incendiary bullets from aeroplanes; and the Zeppelin had ceased to worry the public mind. The aircraft policy of the Government had been vindicated by a judicial committee in the summer, and the German mechanical superiority in the air which was foreshadowed by the advent of the Fokker had not survived the subsequent improvements in British construction; while the exploits of Captain Ball put those of every German airman into the shade.
Impatience and pinpricks were, indeed, the causes of popular irritation, rather than any such crisis as those of the autumn of 1914 or the spring of 1918. Such irritants are, however, apt to provoke more resentment and provide more scope for recrimination than the stunning blows of national disaster; and in the autumn of 1916 the people felt less need of restraint than in the more perilous moments of the war. The discontent was not due to any particular causes, nor was it confined to any particular country. It was a malaise produced by the fact that the war was lasting longer and costing more than people had expected, and by popular reluctance to believe that Britons could not have beaten the Germans sooner but for the feebleness of their leaders. The public needed a stimulant other than that which mere prudence could provide; and catch-penny journals, having hunted in vain for a dictator, found at least a victim in the Cabinet of twenty-three. It was not an ideal body for prompt decision, and its chief seemed almost as slow at times to take action that was necessary as he was to commit the irretrievable blunders urged on him by his journalistic mentors, who thought the wisdom of a step immaterial provided it was taken at once. He had other qualities which disqualified him for popular favour in a time of popular passion. He was not emotional, and did not respond to the varying moods of the hour with the versatility demanded by the experts in daily sensation. He belonged to an older school of politicians who suffered, like our armies in the field, from the newer and possibly more scientific methods of their foes. He was scrupulous in his observance of accepted rules of conduct, and the charge which was pressed against him most was that of excessive loyalty. He did not intrigue against his colleagues for newspaper support, nor publicly criticize his Government's commanders in the field. He put what success his Cabinet achieved to its common credit, and took the chief responsibility for its failures himself. He was staid in adversity but slow in advertisement, and he did not figure in the cinema.
Mr. Lloyd George was the antithesis of his former leader, a Celt of the Celts, with all their amazing emotion, versatility, and intuition. There is a true story, which has even found its way into French literature, of how the Welshmen were stirred to defeat an all-conquering New Zealand football team by the strains of the "Land of my Fathers." That was the sort of tonic the British public found in Mr. Lloyd George, and it would not have been so much to their taste at a less emotional time. He was the very embodiment of an emotion that was not overburdened with scruples, and of an impulse which hardly troubled to think. He imported the temperament and the methods of the religious revivalist into the practice of politics, and he enlisted strange allies when he found a vehicle for his patriotic fervour in the language of the prize-ring. He prided himself on his aptitude for political strategy, and professed a sympathy with the mind of the man in the street which was keener even than that of Lord Northcliffe. His views were always short-sighted, and he had the most superficial knowledge of the deeper problems of war and politics. Before the war broke out he had complained that we were building Dreadnoughts against a phantom; in August 1914 he estimated our daily expenditure of three-quarters of a million as a diminishing figure; in the following April he was as much in the dark as Mr. Asquith himself about munitions, and denied that conscription would assist our success in the war. According to one of his colleagues, he was the only member of his Cabinet who favoured British participation in the Pacifist Conference of Stockholm; in the November before the great German offensive in the West he quoted with approval a plea for concentration at Laibach; and the views he expressed on the Salonika expedition varied with the fortunes of war and the fluctuations of popular favour. His remark after the armistice that we had achieved nothing in the time of his predecessor except two defeats at the hands of the Turks, was an epitome of his own intellectual limitations; and the intensity of his convictions was discounted by the infirmity of his principles.
There were, however, substantial reasons for the supplanting of Mr. Asquith by Mr. Lloyd George. Political failings like these and lapses like the Marconi scandal might well be forgiven the man who could get on with the war, or at least persuade the people of its progress. The man in the street really believed that after the change of government the war would soon be won, and subscribed with enthusiasm to a "victory" loan calculated to finance a triumph in eight months. Cooler observers discerned a solid advantage in a Prime Minister who could minister at once to the public demands in the rival spheres of speech and action, who could appease with words the popular clamour for the moon and yet be guided by others into the mundane paths of practical common sense. There was at the moment an abnormal dislocation between public opinion and actual possibilities. The harsh amalgam of democratic politics and war seemed to demand an adaptable Premier; he was ex-officio and par excellence the pivotal man, and circumstances required a liberal amount of lubrication and elasticity to ease the friction and avert a fracture.
The genesis of the movement which led to the Cabinet crisis of the first week in December remains obscure, and the transference of power was effected within the camarilla itself without so much as a reference to the House of Commons and still less to the electorate. The old system of Cabinet Government and collective responsibility disappeared, and while ministers multiplied until they numbered ninety, there was little connexion or cohesion between the endless departments. They were all subject, however, to the control of the new War Cabinet, which soon consisted, like the old War Committee, of seven members. The old body of twenty-three was reduced to less than a third its size for the purposes of supreme direction and deliberation, and increased to twice its numbers for those of departmental execution. The higher functions were still reserved for the much-abused politicians; three of them had been members of the old War Committee, and all of them, with the exception of General Smuts who was recruited in June, had been members of the old Cabinet. So-called business men were, however, admitted to departmental duties, though the most striking successes were achieved by two ministers of academic training, Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, President of the Board of Education, and Mr. R. E. Prothero, President of the Board of Agriculture. Both Navy and Army were entrusted to civilians for political reasons, though one retired in July 1917, when the submarine campaign had reached its zenith, and the other as a result of the German offensive in March 1918. Deliberation had been the foible of the Asquith regime; the characteristic of his successor's was the speed of its versatility. The War Cabinet's agenda resembled nothing so much as a railway time-table with ten minutes allowed on an average for the decision of each supremely important question reserved for its discussion; and departmental changes recurred with a rapidity which was reminiscent of French governments in times of peace.
These bureaucratic revolutions were, however, faithful reflections of the restlessness which overcame peoples in all belligerent countries as the war lengthened and produced its logical trend towards anarchy; for civilization cannot resist an unlimited strain put on it by its negation, and there were symptoms of social dissolution throughout the world in the later stages of the war. In Germany they were suppressed for the time by a powerful government and delusions fostered by the success of the Rumanian campaign; and the nation was stirred to a levée-en-masse for national service, supplemented by labour or slave raids in the occupied territories. But even in Germany the Chancellor spoke of the need of peace, and was tottering to his fall. A greater ruin was creeping towards the Russian Government, and in France a series of stormy secret sessions in the Chamber left M. Briand with the task of reconstructing his Government and reorganizing the high command. Joffre was succeeded by Nivelle, and Briand himself was driven from office four months later. In Austria a more violent fate overtook the Premier, Count Sturgkh, who was murdered on 27 October, and his successor Koerber was compelled to resign on 13 December. Three weeks earlier the old Emperor Francis Joseph, who had ascended the throne in the midst of the revolutions of 1848, passed away in time to escape the greater desolation which threatened his empire. His successor and great-nephew Charles could give no better security to his ministries. Koerber was followed by Spitzmueller, and he, after a few days by Clam-Martinitz, a Bohemian noble. Tisza's henchman Count Burian gave way as Foreign Minister to the anti-Magyar Czernin, though Tisza himself maintained his despotic sway in Hungary until his murder in 1918.
This holocaust of European reputations did not extend across the Atlantic to the neutral United States, where President Wilson, who had only been chosen by a minority vote owing to the split between Taft and Roosevelt in 1912, secured re-election by a narrow majority in a straight fight with Mr. Hughes, the Republican candidate. Discerning critics rejoiced at the issue of the contest; for apart from the merits of the candidates, nothing could have been worse than a practical interregnum during the coming crisis in the history of the United States and of the world. Yet an interregnum there would have been, if Mr. Wilson had been defeated; for he would still by the American Constitution have remained in office till March, and as the head of a vanquished party he would have had no moral authority to deal with the German pleas for peace or their unrestricted campaign of submarine war. The peace manoeuvre began with a letter which the Kaiser wrote to his Chancellor at the end of October; it was made public by the latter's speech in the Reichstag on 12 December. The Allies were simply invited in the interests of humanity to discuss terms at a conference with their conquering but magnanimous foe. On the 18th President Wilson addressed an independent inquiry about their aims to both groups of belligerents. The Allies replied to Germany on the 30th and to President Wilson on 10 January, intimating that there could be no peace without the reparation, restitution, and guarantees which Germany was as yet determined to refuse.
The attitude of the Allies astonished no one but the Germans. On 11 January their Government issued a note to neutrals, and on the 12th the Kaiser a proclamation to his people. Mr. Balfour also discussed the situation in a persuasive dispatch to the United States. But the most illuminating comment was made in private and came from humbler quarters. A party of interned German officers in the Engadine were eagerly awaiting the news of the Allied reply to the German offer. When it arrived they could not conceal their amazement and chagrin; some of them even burst into tears, and one remarked jetzt ist alles verloren. While the Government of Great Britain was being dismissed for having accomplished nothing in the war, intelligent Germans were bemoaning that all was lost.