Monday, May 25, 2015

May 25th, 1915

- The formation of the new coalition government in Britain is completed, and the new cabinet formally takes office today.  Prime Minister Asquith retains office as Prime Minister, as there was never any serious discussion of replacing him at present, as no Liberal at this moment has the stature to supplant him.  Furtjer, Conservative leader Andrew Bonar Law understands that the alternative to a Liberal-led coalition is not a Conservative-led coalition but a Conservative minority government which would be opposed by a partisan Liberal party that would block Conservative efforts to fight the war as they saw fight (i.e. such as on conscription).  Even though the Liberals and Conservatives have roughly the same number of MPs in the House of Commons, the Liberals also retain a majority of places in the cabinet and many of the key offices; Lloyd George in particular has worked in negotiations to limit Conservative ministers, and has succeeded in convincing Bonar Law to accept the relatively junior office of Colonial Secretary.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this is no longer a purely Liberal government, as Liberal ministers now find themselves sitting at the same time as such objects of long-time partisan hatred as Edward Carson.  In addition, the Labour party has joined the coalition, and for the first time in its history a Labour MP - its leader, Arthur Henderson - has a seat at the cabinet table (as President of the Board of Education).  Of the major parties only the Irish Nationalists are absent; though offered a place, and though the party leadership was tempted, they declined as it would mean serving alongside the hated Ulster Unionists.

Two particular changes warrant mention.  First, the press campaign against Lord Kitchener launched by The Times on May 14th has backfired spectacularly, as the public, oblivious to the administrative bumbling of the War Office, still see the Secretary of War as the great imperial hero.  As a result, removing Kitchener from office is not politically viable.  Instead, though he is left in office, Kitchener's powers are reduced by transferring responsibility for munitions production to a separate Ministery of Munitions.  Lloyd George becomes Minister of Munitions, and though giving up the Chancellorship of the Exchequer to do so would normally be seen as a demotion, he well understands that in wartime public focus is on the performance of the war ministries, and that if he can fix the 'shells crisis' he will become the man of the hour.

Second, today confirms Churchill's demotion from the Admiralty.  His replacement is Arthur Balfour, a senior Conservative (and ex-Prime Minister) whose steady and urbane personality is the absolute opposite of Churchill's, which is precisely the point.  No one would ever fear Balfour racing off to take up the defence of a threatened city, as Churchill did at Antwerp.  This morning Churchill cleans out his desk at the Admiralty building.  He is in the grib of severe depression, feeling that his political career is at an end.  At this moment he is visited by Kitchener, who commiserates with Churchill, and as it gets up to leave he remarks to his former colleague: 'Well, there is one thing at any rate they cannot take from you.  The Fleet was ready.'  Kitchener, in his typical imperious manner, is exactly right: whatever other failings Churchill may have demonstrated while First Lord of Admiralty from 1911 to today, it is indisputable that the Royal Navy was prepared for war when it came last August.  Moreover, of course, Churchill's hour is yet to come.

- As the French 10th Army inches forward in Artois, General d'Urbal has decided to launch an attack by XXI, XXXIII, and IX Corps simultaneously against several points.  After twenty-four hours' artillery bombardment, the infantry advance at midday, but fail to gain any significant ground.

- North of Przemysl the German advance continues today.  A Russian bridgehead west of the San held by XXI Corps at Zagrody is eliminated this afternoon, while to the north the German Guard Corps occupies Laszki.  The speed of the German advance is slower today; though Russian resistance continues, the crucial factor is that the farther east 11th Army goes, the more exposed its northern flank potentially becomes.  As a result, Guard Corps in particular finds itself shedding battalions as it advances to cover the line of the Lubaczowka River.

- Twelve days after the British pre-dreadnought Goliath was torpedoed by the Ottoman destroyer Muavenet, an even greater menance makes itself felt off the Dardanelles.  After weeks at sea and refuelling at Cattaro, the German submarine U21 enters action, torpedoing the British pre-dreadnought Triumph as it lay off Anzac Beach.  As it began to sink, a destroyer comes alongside and hundreds of sailors step from the stern of Triumph onto the deck of the smaller ship.  After twenty minutes the pre-dreadnought sinks, and fifty-three men drown.  The loss of the warship is bad enough, but the psychological impact is worse, as the sinking occurs in broad daylight in full view of both sides.  The Ottoman soldiers in their trenches cheer madly, their cries echoing down the hills into the Entente trenches, where British, French, and ANZAC infantry can only look on in shock.  Admiral de Robeck responds by immediately orders all of his large warships back to Mudros, which could hardly have had a positive impact on morale for the army still trapped in the Gallipoli beachheads.

- The diplomatic agreement between Japan and China, reflecting the latter's acceptance of the Twenty-One Demands.  As a result of the treaty, Japan's hold on southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia is enhanced, Japan receives Germany's economic rights in Shantung while the leasehold is to be settled after the war, the Japanese-controlled Hanyehping Company is established, and China pledges to lease no other power territory at Fukien, opposite Japanese-owned Taiwan.

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