§ Lord EDMUND TALBOT (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It is with great reluctance that I have taken the opportunity, which the Government have been good enough to afford by this Motion, to make a statement in regard to some matters which arise on the recently published Report of the Dardanelles Commission. It would have been far better, in my opinion, to have postponed all controversial discussions as to past events and responsibilities until after the conclusion of the War. Its prosecution ought to occupy all our thoughts and energies, and it would be a national calamity if they were diverted, even for a short time, to contentious discussions of what was or might have been a year or two years ago. But the Report which has just been published, in the circumstances and manner of its publication, and in the use which has been made of it, seems to me, after full consideration of the public interests involved, to render it necessary to say something at once, not in my own interests only, but in that of my late colleagues on the War Council, including distinguished members of the present Government and, above all, one who is no longer able to speak for himself—the lamented Lord Kitchener. I spoke a moment ago of the circumstances and manner of the publication of this Report, which I think are unexampled in our history. The Report deals critically, and in some cases animadverts, upon the conduct of a number of servants of the State—statesmen, sailors, and soldiers. It purports to be founded upon and to give the effect of the testimony of a number of witnesses. In almost every paragraph the evidence is either textually cited or referred to in the margin, with the number of the particular question and answer. Without the means of verifying those references, and reading at length and in its full context the testimony which is vouched, it is impossible 1754 for any reader to form an opinion of any value of his own, either as to the fullness or fairness of the case as presented, or as to the justice of the conclusions which are based upon it.
But when the evidence is asked for, in order that these elementary conditions of fair judgment may be observed, we are told that, in the opinion of the Commissioners, it is contrary to the national interests that it should be published till the conclusion of the War. Then I am bound to ask this question: Why, in the name of common sense and of common justice, was not the same consideration put forward in regard to the Report itself? It will be observed that I am not saying the evidence ought to be published. I am not saying anything of the kind. I can well imagine it contains much that even now might be embarrassing to the conduct of the War. But that, it seems to me, does not justify the publication of the Report without the evidence. The dilemma is complete. If you publish the Report and suppress the evidence you run grave risk of injustice to individuals. If, on the other hand, you publish the Report with the evidence you run grave risk of endangering the national interests. There was only one course by which you could safeguard both national interest and natural justice, and that was to withhold publication altogether until a time when it could be made without compromising either the one or the other. I am not making any attack against the Government. I quite see the difficulty of the position in which they were placed. The result is that any man who approaches the consideration of the whole subject does so under the most serious disabilities, under conditions in fact which make it impossible to secure adequate discussion' or an impartial and comprehensive judgment. In these circumstances it is not my purpose to initiate or to invite a survey of the whole field covered by the Report. My object is simply to deal with two or three specific points in regard to which if I kept silence I think a wrong, and in some cases an unjust, impression might be created.
I wish, in the first place, to say a word or two as to the war organisation which existed when the operations which this Commission was directed to inquire into were begun. I see that they express the opinion that, for the first four months 1755 of the War, the machinery was both clumsy and inefficient. That, of course, is a mere obiter dictum, for the time in question was outside the scope of the Commissioners' Inquiry. Nor am I aware of any evidence which would entitle anyone to come to that conclusion. The first four months of this War presented problems as numerous and as complicated as has ever fallen to the lot of statesmen to deal with. I am quite content to leave the manner in which they were confronted and handled to the judgment of history. But, at the time in question, the time I mean which is actually covered by the reference to the Commission, the War Organisation was in substance as they have described it—the Cabinet, the War Council, which corresponded in its composition almost exactly with the old Committee of Imperial Defence, and the heads of the Executive Departments, the War Office and the Admiralty, with their staffs and expert advisers. The daily conduct of the operations of the War was in the hands of the Ministers responsible for the Army and Navy in constant consultation with the Prime Minister. When serious questions involving new departures of policy or joint strategic operations arose, the War Council, which was a reproduction of the old Committee of Imperial Defence, with expert advisers of the Army and Navy, and sometimes the Foreign Office, was summoned. The proceedings of the War Council were exactly similar to those which prevailed in the old Committee. When a conclusion was reached it was formulated in writing. It was read out either at once or at the end of the meeting by the Chairman, as had always been our practice. The only change which I made when the War began and the War Council sat under War conditions was that for greater certainty and security those conclusions were immediately after the meeting circulated in writing to all the Departments concerned. There was never any excuse, and I say it with full knowledge of all the facts, for vagueness or want of precision, and in the case of a particular conclusion to which the Commissioners refer in their Report—that was, I think, on 13th January—as to which a certain amount of uncertainty is said to have prevailed at the meeting, I myself and that most able and efficient public servant, Sir Maurice Hankey, who acted throughout, and I believe still acts, as Secretary of the Committee, pointed out 1756 to the Commissioners that the conclusion was circulated that very same afternoon at the Admiralty and the War Office.
I will say one word in regard to the position of the experts on this Council, because a great deal is said about it in this Report. The position of the experts was precisely the same as it had always been in the Committee of Imperial Defence. They were there—that was the reason, and the only reason, for their being there—to give the lay members the benefit of their advice. For what other purpose were they summoned? I have sat, mostly as Chairman, for ten years on the Committee of Imperial Defence. We had there as expert advisers—exactly the same position—all the most distinguished soldiers and sailors during that time, including Lord Fisher, Sir Arthur Wilson, and the gallant Field-Marshal Lord Nicholson, who is one of the signatories of this Report. I am borne out, I know—it appears from this Report—by the evidence of all my political and civilian colleagues, including the present Prime Minister, when I say I have never known them show the least reluctance to give their opinion, invited or uninvited. Indeed, it was their duty to do so, and very great benefit has resulted to the best interests of the State from the perfect freedom with which expert opinion has always been welcomed and considered, first in the Committee of Defence and then in the War Council. To suppose that these experts were tongue-tied or paralysed by a nervous regard for the possible opinion of their political superiors is to suppose that they had really abdicated the functions which they were intended to discharge, and that the Committee lost the benefit of the whole of their presence as its expert advisers. As regards the Cabinet, I should like only to say this. It never abdicated in. my time its ultimate authority, but very properly, as I think, it was content normally to delegate the active conduct of the War to the Ministers concerned in the War Council. All important steps were reported to it, and there were times when it took an active part in the conduct of the War. I say nothing about the Admiralty. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill), I dare say, has something to say upon that point.
I pass from the political side of the organisation to deal with a matter about which I feel peculiarly concerned, 1757 namely, the animadversions made by the Commissioners in their Report on the War Office and its administration by Lord Kitchener. As we all know, to our lasting and infinite regret, Lord Kitchener some months, I think, before this Commission was appointed—certainly some months before it began to sit—lost his life in the service of the State, and with him perished also Colonel Fitzgerald, his secretary and confidant, who was more in Lord Kitchener's confidence than anyone else in the world. When the Commission was appointed, and was about to begin its labours, feeling myself to be, in a peculiar sense, the trustee of the memory of Lord Kitchener, I felt somewhat apprehensive whether what I may call his case—I am not using the word in a contentious sense—would be adequately presented in the course of the inquiry. He had gone, and Colonel Fitzgerald had gone. Though I, personally, knew a great deal of what went on, there were many things in connection with the War Office which I did not know. Accordingly, before the Commission sat, or at any rate at the time of its earliest sittings, I sent for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who is the present Attorney-General. I pointed out these facts to him, and I suggested to him that it was desirable, if he could make it consistent with his other duties, that he should appear before the Commission and represent what I may call Lord Kitchener's interests. My right hon. and learned Friend, as might be expected of him, expressed not only his willingness but his eagerness to comply with that request. He had sat in the Cabinet with Lord Kitchener for more than a year, and knew all the circumstances, and he said he was ready, as far as was consistent with his other duties, to lay everything aside in order that he might perform this obligation to his old colleague and friend. I am speaking now on his authority. He accordingly went to the Chairman of the Commission and placed these facts before him, but he was assured there was no necessity for his attendance, and that he might be quite sure that Lord Kitchener's interests would be amply safeguarded. I very much regret it. I am not making any imputation upon the fairness with which these Commissioners have conducted the inquiry.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It referred to the whole inquiry. I dare say it was not brought before the Commission, but I do not know. I am only speaking on my right hon. and learned Friend's authority as to what passed between him and the Chairman. It was to be from the beginning. I want to say, in passing, that I very much regret that his request was not complied with. The Commissioners have presented a picture—or, at least, have suggested a picture—of the position and procedure of Lord Kitchener at the War Office at the time to which their Report refers, which, I venture to think—I hope they will forgive me for saying so—is very much out of drawing. Lord Kitchener by no means was the solitary and taciturn autocrat in the way he has been depicted. When the War broke out I was Secretary of State for War, but I realised at once that it was impossible to combine the two offices which I held at the time of war. The only person—and I should like this to be put on record—whom I ever thought of as my successor was Lord Kitchener, who happened, by a stroke of good fortune, to be at that moment in this country, on the point of returning to Egypt. I mentioned the suggestion to one or two of my colleagues, and I think it right to say that the one who most strongly urged the propriety, and even the necessity of that appointment, was my Noble and learned Friend Lord Haldane, who was then Lord Chancellor. Lord Kitchener's appointment was received with universal acclamation, so much so indeed that it. was represented as having been forced upon a reluctant Cabinet by the overwhelming pressure of an intelligent and prescient Press
Lord Kitchener, as everyone who knew him will agree, was a masterful man. He had been endowed by Providence with a formidable personality. He was by nature rather disposed to keep his own counsel, and no doubt that natural predisposition had been encouraged by the fact that he had been for so long conversant with and immersed in the affairs 1759 of the East; but it is a complete mistake to suggest or to suppose that Lord Kitchener lived in isolation, and did not consult military opinion at the War Office and elsewhere during the conduct of this War. I am speaking of what is in my own knowledge, and I can absolutely deny that that was the case. On the other hand, it was perfectly true that Lord Kitchener acted during all these earlier months of the War as what I might call the Chief of his own Staff. He was a great soldier, with a most varied and illustrious record, and there was no one in this country at the time to compare with him in military authority. It is suggested in this Report that he should have availed himself more freely of the services of his Staff. As a matter of fact, when the War began, the General Staff at the War Office, consisting of almost all our ablest and accomplished officers, were sent to the front. There was hardly one of them left at the War Office. They were dispatched to do a duty which was more urgent in the public interest than that of giving counsel here at home. Their places had to be taken—I will not say filled, because they could not be filled—by officers who had been in retirement, or, at any rate, were relatively of much less experience. I am perfectly certain there was nobody, either in the Army or out of it, during that time with which we are here concerned, who would not have said that the Government were right in doing what they did—namely, in purely military affairs to defer to the authority of Lord Kitchener as, on the whole, the best and highest authority within our power. At a later stage, in the autumn of this very year, 1915, we reconstituted, with Lord Kitchener's complete and loyal concurrence, the General Staff at the War Office, first under Sir Archibald Murray and then under Sir William Robertson, and reconstituted it with generals and officers who had had experience at the front in the War—first-hand experience of the novel conditions under which warfare is now carried on. It was absodutely impossible, at the stage of the War with which this Report deals, for any such Staff to have been brought together; and I do not think that any one of my colleagues who then sat upon the War Council will differ from me when I say 1760 that we were bound in military matters to defer to the judgment of the great soldier who had patriotically undertaken the duties of Secretary of State for War.
I need not point out to the House how many and how varied were the calls upon Lord Kitchener's time and energy. He was responsible for the conduct of the War in its various theatres. He was engaged in raising these New Armies here at home. I suppose upon no man in our history has a heavier burden ever fallen than fell upon him, and nothing in connection with this Report—it may be no imputation upon anybody connected with the Report itself—has filled me with more indignation and disgust than that the publication of the criticisms made in it of Lord Kitchener's conduct and capacity should have been taken advantage of by those who only two years ago were in a posture of almost slavish adulation to belittle his character, and, so far as they can, to defile his memory. Lord Kitchener's memory is in no danger. It lives, and will live, in the gratitude and admiration of the British people and of the whole Empire.
If the House will bear with me for a few minutes longer I will go on to deal with one or two other points. I do not dwell, because it is common ground, upon the political, strategic, and economic importance of the Dardanelles operation. The Commissioners admit, and it is fairly recognised, that if it was a practicable operation it was the best that possibly could be taken. That is a matter which cannot be seriously disputed. The serious question upon which I want to say two or three words is this: whether, admitting its political, its strategic and economic importance, the Government at the time were justified in considering it to be a practicable, I will not say a possible, expedition. Everybody, of course, would have preferred—there is no difference of opinion about that—if it had been possible, a joint naval and military expedition. In the first instance, what was resolved upon and what was carried out was a naval expedition alone. Why was that? It was because Lord Kitchener, who strongly favoured the project, declared and proved to the satisfaction of all his colleagues that he had not available a sufficient number of troops to make the expedition a joint operation. The Commissioners—and that is the reason why I refer to it—in their third 1761 finding blame the War Council for accepting Lord Kitchener's statement, and taking no steps to satisfy themselves by reports or estimates as to what troops were available, and they evidently think that if we had done so, we should have found that Lord Kitchener was wrong, and that we ought to have overruled him. Upon this, in justice both to Lord Kitchener and ourselves, I feel bound to make two observations. In the first place, so far from the Council taking no steps to satisfy themselves, they spent the best part of three whole days, the 7th, 8th, and 13th of January, in surveying in the most comprehensive manner and in the greatest detail all of our available resources in men, and the calls which had to be made upon them. I have refreshed my memory within the last two days by reading the accounts of those meetings, and I can assure the House that I am not in the least exaggerating in the statement which I have made. Sir John French was sent for from France for the purpose of assisting us in making that investigation complete. My next observation is this: Even if we had felt reason to doubt Lord Kitchener's opinion, this was purely a military question upon which it would have been in the highest degree presumptuous for us laymen to have over ruled him.
It became apparent in these circumstances that if the attempt on the Dardanelles was to be made, it must be in the first instance purely, or at any rate mainly, a naval expedition. That was the scheme contemplated on the 13th January at the War Council, which directed the Admiralty to prepare for a naval expedition. The Commissioners say that, in their opinion, there ought to have been a short adjournment to enable the expert advisers of the Government to make a thorough examination of the facts. That is exactly what took place. The decision of the 13th January undoubtedly implied that a prima facie case had been made out. It directed the Admiralty to prepare and explore the ground. We adjourned for a fortnight. We did not come to our final decision until the 28th January, with the very object of gaining in the meantime from the Admiralty and our naval advisers the best possible opinion that they could obtain. The greatest possible trouble and energy and skill were, as I know, exercised by the Admiralty in exploring all the difficulties 1762 and possibilities of the case. The French Admiralty were consulted. They gave their opinion, that it was a prudent and far-seeing operation, and expressed their willingness to co-operate, and when we came to the meeting a fortnight afterwards—on the 28th January—a most important meeting—I say, without any hesitation, that the whole naval expert opinion available to us, whether our own or the French, was unanimously and consentiently in favour of this as a practicable naval operation. There was not one dissentient voice.
Lord Fisher—whose opinion, of course, was of the highest value—it is quite true, expressed to me on the morning of that day, and I know to my right hon. Friend the then First Lord of the Admiralty, an adverse, or at least an unfavourable opinion, but not upon the ground of its merits or demerits from a technical naval point of view, or on the ground that this was an impracticable naval operation. Lord Fisher's opinion and advice, as the Commissioners have found in their Report—I have stated it there, and they express complete concurrence with my opinion—were not founded upon the naval technical merits or demerits of this operation, but on his avowed preference for a wholly different objective in a totally different sphere. I repeat that so far as naval technical opinion is concerend it was, so far as we knew and so far as I know now, absolutely unanimous. Some comment is made by the Commissioners, who in this matter have done, I may say, rather scant justice to Lord Fisher, that at this meeting he did not develop his adverse view. I do not think, looking back upon it now, that what Lord Fisher did was in the least degree unnatural. So far as the objective was concerned he was, as he knew perfectly well, in the opinion he had expressed, in a minority of one. Everybody else was in favour of the other objective, though undoubtedly if the objections taken by Lord Fisher had been objections on naval technical grounds, both I, and I suppose many other people there, would have pressed him about it. Yet, as they were not technical, but really were objections which were quite as much political as they were naval—I mean that it was the transfer of the operation to a totally different sphere of the War—I can quite understand Lord Fisher saying to himself, "It is no good my pressing this; it is no particular part of my duty as a 1763 naval expert to do so," and while indicating clearly, as he did to everybody, that he would have preferred something else, not developing his own views or arguments. I do not think that any reproach can be made to Lord Fisher on that score.
But so careful were we that there should be no misapprehension about it, that we adjourned the meeting, and it was resumed later in the evening, when Lord Fisher returned with my right hon. Friend, and we were assured that he had expressed his willingness to undertake the operation, if the operation was considered desirable. I venture to assert that, in those circumstances—I have told the House the whole of the facts—we were perfectly justified—after a fortnight's intermediate deliberation and consideration and the non-production of any adverse naval opinion, and the final assent of Lord Fisher to undertake the supervision and conduct of the operation—in saying that this was a feasible and practicable undertaking. Now I pass to the point which was made—I do not want to discuss the general merits of the whole subject; I only want to discuss particular points which were made against people, some of whom cannot defend themselves—namely, the delay after the decision of the 16th of February in sending troops which had become available since the early days of January, partly by the setting free of the 29th Division, which had been earmarked elsewhere, and partly by the repulse of the Turkish attack upon the Canal, which had set free a large part of the garrison of Egypt. The Commissioners, I will not say pass a vote of censure, but they make very strong animadversions upon the conduct of Lord Kitchener in delaying the dispatch of those troops.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am speaking of the Majority Report. I agree. They say, which is a fact, that troops, including the 29th Division, having been ordered to be sent on the 16th February. Lord Kitchener countermanded the order on the 20th. The matter was brought before the War Council on two or three occasions, and was the subject of considerable discussion and controversy. The War Council yielded to Lord Kitchener's views, and it was not until 10th March that he raised his embargo, and the 29th 1764 Division was set free to go. The Commissioners point out that that delay of three weeks in the sending of these troops probably gravely compromised the ultimate success of the land attack. I can speak more freely in this matter myself, because, taking the view that I did, to which I see the Commissioners assent, that time was all-important, I strongly urged Lord Kitchener to send the 29th Division; but I think that it is most unfair to him, in passing any judgment on his conduct in this matter, that the world should not realise what his difficulties were. There was nothing in the way of what is described here as vacillation or hesitation in his conduct. What was it that operated on his mind? There were two main considerations. In the first place, the Russian position in the East, a very bad one at that time, which led Lord Kitchener to apprehend that the Germans might withdraw, and probably would withdraw, considerable bodies of troops from the Eastern to the Western Front, and thereby render the situation in Flanders and in France much more difficult than it was. In the next place—a matter which operated on his mind still more strongly—the situation on the Western Front itself was at that moment very critical, and a strong and urgent pressure—there is no harm in saying it now so long after the event—was brought to bear upon him, not only by the English, but by the French commanders in the field, that the 29th Division should go to France, and that it should not be withdrawn to any other sphere of action.
Lord Kitchener may have been right or wrong, but no one can doubt that those are grave and weighty reasons, and it is perfectly monstrous to suggest that we, the civilian members of the War Council, in view of that veto—that temporary veto—from our great military authority, should have interfered to overrule him, and say, "You must send out the 29th Division, and send it at once." If we had done so, what would have been said of it by those who are now criticising our actions? It is so easy to make war after the event. Nothing is easier in the world; I can do it myself. It is easy to make war after the event—either in the House of Lords or anywhere else—when all the doubts and uncertainties and possible contingencies of an undeveloped future are translated into the rigid lineaments of accomplished facts. What you want in dealing with a situation of this 1765 kind is a little imagination and perspective, and to put yourself into the position—the actual position—of the men who were dealing on the spot, and at the time, with all the. uncertainties of the future in what was going on, and what was likely to happen. To suggest now that Lord Kitchener, having taken that view in regard to the dispatch of the 29th Division, ought to have been overruled, is to make a suggestion which those conversant with the conduct of the War could not support, and, had we acted upon it, Lord Kitchener very likely would have said, "I can no longer be responsible; I must resign," and that would have exposed us to the universal and just condemnation of our fellow citizens.
There is one other point to which I am bound to advert. The Commissioners, I think, in the last paragraph, say this:There was no meeting of the War Council on 19th March and 14th May. Meanwhile important land operations were undertaken … In our opinion the Prime Minister ought to have summoned a meeting of the War Council … and if not summoned the other members of the War Council should have pressed for such a meeting. We think this was a serious omission.I have one or two observations to make about that. In the first place, this Report purports to be confined to the origin and inception of the Dardanelles operations—a period which is defined by the Commissioners themselves several times as having come to an end on the 23rd March. Any criticisms, therefore, of the procedure after that date, would seem primâ facie to be gratuitous and irrelevant. But a fact more important is this, that though I presented myself as a witness before the Commission, and was examined, and in quite a friendly way cross-examined, my attention was never called to this supposed breach of duty. I was not asked for any explanation, none of the Commissioners addressed to me a single question on the subject, or suggested that there was anything of the kind for us to debate. They call it a "serious omission"—I think that was a serious omission. But, more important still, if they had done so—and I venture to think they ought to have done so—my answer would have been a very simple one. The operations which were carried on after the 19th March involved no new departure of any kind in policy. They were the actual and necessary consequence of what had gone before, coupled with the decision of the admiral not to continue the naval attack. From the 23rd March onward the operations were in 1766 the hands of the naval and military authorities on the spot. They were, of course, closely supervised from home, and I myself, during the time referred to by the Commissioners, was in daily and even in hourly communication and consultation with Lord Kitchener, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Foreign Secretary, and other colleagues. But that does not exhaust the matter, because I find, on reference to my record during this time so referred to, that no less than thirteen meetings of the Cabinet were held, at which, of course, Ministerial members of the War Council were always present. At eleven out of the thirteen meetings the operations of the Dardanelles were brought up for report; and at several of the meetings—I have myself a very vivid recollection of the circumstances—these operations were the subject not merely of report, but of long and careful discussion. Indeed, I do not remember at any time, in this stage of the War, when the particular operations were not the subject of more conference and more vigilant consideration than they were during this period which the Commissioners single out as our "serious omission." I think that before a charge of that kind was formulated and published to the world at least those who were concerned might have had the opportunity of meeting it and explaining it, as I have now explained it to the House.
I am not going to endeavour to anticipate the verdict of the Commissioners, and still less the verdict which history will pass as to the causes which ultimately brought about the failure of this operation to attain the main object. But to describe this, as we sometimes see it described, as a tragedy or a catastrophe, is, in my opinion, a complete perversion of the case. It saved the position, absolutely saved the position of Russia in the Caucasus. It prevented for months the defection of Bulgaria to the Central Powers. It kept at least 300,000 Turks—and, with all due deference to the Commission, I am very glad Lord Kitchener's estimate was a moderate one—it kept at least 300,000 Turks immobilised, and, what was more important, it cut off and annihilated the whole flower of the Turkish army. The Turks have never recovered from that blow inflicted upon them, and it is certainly one of the contributory causes to the favourable developments which we have happily witnessed to-day in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and in Persia.
1767 I have endeavoured, in what I have said, to confine myself to what, as it appeared to me, seemed necessary from the point of view of pure justice. I myself deplore, as we must all deplore, recriminations over what, for better or worse, is the irrevocable past. I could not feel it consistent with my duty, however—I pass by, as I have often passed by, charges which I think unfounded and unjust to myself—I could not feel it consistent with my duty and the obligations which I owe to the memory of Lord Kitchener, to have allowed this Report to be published to the world in silence and without comment upon it. As I have said before, I know that his memory does not need any vindication, at my hands, or anybody else's. When the history of the War comes to be written, no figure will stand out more prominently, and this nation which is not an ungrateful nation, and this Empire which is not an ungrateful Empire, will, in all its parts, accord its tribute to the man who, under conditions of unexampled difficulty and danger, rendered a service, or rather a continuous series of services, to his country which probably it was not in the power of anyone else to render. Let us be candid. I am not going to elaborate these matters, at any rate until the War is over. We ought to remember with gratitude those who have served us, rather than turn to criticisms of those whose conduct you think may have fallen short of what might have been expected, and it seems to me that at a time like this it is the future should engage all our energies and all our thoughts.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
I feel the very greatest reluctance, after the speech of the Leader of the Liberal party, to say more than a single word on the subject with which he has dealt. I intervene in the Debate in regard to the Report which was issued, and to say something of the methods which attended its presentation to the House. The course which the Government have pursued, however, in restoring those passages of the Report which had been excised, has removed many of the objections I should have felt it my duty, as a private Member of this House, to raise, and therefore I will confine my remarks to one or two sentences. The very fact that under the pressure of public opinion inside and outside this House the Government have made amends for the alterations they made in the Report of a 1768 Statutory Commission, which they were, by all legal and Parliamentary consideration, bound to present unaltered, unabridged, and unamended to this House-in regard to all these obligations which were upon them, and which they for one reason or another, and I believe with perfectly good and honest intentions, were put on one side, they have made amends, under the pressure of public anxiety inside and outside the House. Therefore, I offer no apology for the brief remarks which I desire to address to the House on this point. We are here not in our individual capacity as more or less prominent men of greater or less ability and capacity to conduct public affairs, but we are here as the representatives of great communities outside this House whose liberties in the past have been obtained by the maintenance of our rights inside this House, and I think it is very essential to point out that those rights were invaded by the procedure of the Government—first of all in the excision of parts of this Report, and next in the proposal, which I gather they have abandoned, to distribute the unabridged Report to three or four of the Members of this House.
I understand that you, Sir, were singled out to be one of the recipients of this Report, but, for one reason or another, I am not careful to inquire into that, you either have not received or have declined to receive such a Report. There were three other Members—leaders of different sections of opinion in this House—who also were selected for that very dubious and invidious distinction. I quite agree that if anyone was to be so selected, the Leader of the Liberal party, the Leader of the Labour party, and the Leader of the Irish party quite rightly have been selected for that position. But, as private Members of this House, they have no right to be selected to receive information which in denied to the rest of the House—official information—because, if they do this, the authentic source of information which all Members of this House ought to possess in common is denied to the greater portion of the House and reserved to a small and metriculous minority, and at once all criticism is poisoned at its source, and is rendered less valuable and less informing—less informing not only to those who make it, but to those who are the subjects of the charges brought against them by a Special Commission, such as has been 1769 created for this purpose. Therefore it diminishes the purpose for which that Special Commission was set up. When the Act creating this Special Commission was brought before the House the composition of the Commission was itself challenged, but when the names of the persons composing it became known the objections which had been entertained to the possibility of that Commission being packed were removed and the House contented itself by adding one or two names of private Members of this House, well known for their personal independence and capacity, and with that addition to those members who had been entrusted with the special duty on behalf of Members of the House of inquiring fully and impartially into the facts, the House was contented with the form and composition of the Commission.
They were, if I may say so, singularly well fitted for the consideration of the very subject which comes up in connection with the excisions of this Report. It was suggested by the Government that indiscreet additions which had been made to the Report ought to be excised because foreign Governments objected, or were supposed to object, or had been invited to object, to them as creating embarrassments, especially in their own domestic spheres. The Commission went fully into this particular aspect of the case. They refused to present Lord Fisher's memorandum to the late Prime Minister or to include it in their Report. They also refused to include the alternative plans of operations to which allusion has been made in the speech to which we have just listened in their Report. They themselves take special notice in the earlier part of their Report of the obligation upon them to be discreet in what they report. The composition of the Commission showed that they were capable of dealing with that aspect of the case, and therefore all I can say is this, that there would seem at first sight to be no reason why in the ease of a Commission so carefully selected as this was from that point of view, why the Government should remove anything from the Report at all. The right hon. Gentleman who leads the House told us when he first warned us of these excisions that they had been made on the urgent request of foreign Governments. He did not tell us—but if he speaks or if anyone speaks from that bench on this point perhaps they will kindly tell us—whether these excisions were the re- 1770 sult of a spontaneous invitation to foreign Governments or whether the suggestion was made by the foreign Govments, whatever they were, that they might embarrass those Governments in their domestic relations.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I can answer that at once. The Foreign Secretary thought it was necessary, before making reference to documents of any foreign Government, that the documents should be submitted to those Governments.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
I think the point I was going to make need not be made. The answer which has been given is perfectly satisfactory as far as I am concerned. There is one other thing I should like to ask my right hon. Friend. The Foreign Office having got certain paragraphs removed from the Report, the War Office and the Admiralty came upon the scene, according to his account, and they too asked that certain portions of the Report should be omitted. I understand, so far as I can judge, that the restored passages of the Report are those which concern the Army and Navy—the War Office and the Admiralty.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
Would it not have been better for the Government to have exercised its own independent judgment first of all, apart from the War Office and the Admiralty, and put in the original of this excised Report? Let me remind my right hon. Friend what happened the other day. A Report was presented to this House which, I am told, was in large measure the Report of a military tribunal, which has attracted universal attention in this House, and I am credibly informed by three or four Members of this House who claim to have seen that Report, that it was not the Report of the military tribunal, but that it was an abridged, altered, revised and edited Report, and though no guilty man was found innocent as a consequence of this abridgment of the Report, a verdict of non-proven was submitted to the House, whereas, I am told, the original Report of the Committee was in fact a verdict of guilty. It may have been done in the interests of the State. I believe it was done with perfectly fair and honest intentions. But the alteration, abridgment and editing of Reports submitted to 1771 this House creates an atmosphere of suspicion which prevents any Government doing either justice to itself or to the persons whom it defends or to the persons whom it accuses. If once it is known that the Government can remove from a Report subject-matter of that Report as it affects individuals, or Governments, or a great public Department, then all confidence and all trust in the integrity of the persons by whom the Report is submitted or to whom it is submitted is removed, and a great evil will come upon the system of examination by private and trustworthy persons whom this House has placed in a position of great confidence, and has shown, up to a few weeks ago, symptoms of placing still greater confidence in them.
There is only one other remark I need make upon this Report. We, as I have said, the bulk of us, are in this House as the representatives of great communities outside, and we ought to be afforded information on the affairs of this Empire in an ample and equal manner, in order that we ourselves may make our criticisms and decide upon the issues before us. But the Government in this and in many other respects have made innovations which have not worked out for the good of this House, and, I believe, have not worked out for the purity of examination and administration. I would ask the Government—and I do not wish to suggest in any way that they should stand in a white sheet for anything that has been done—but I should be very glad if my right hon. Friend, should he speak in this Debate, will repudiate on their behalf a continuance of this practice which, even if it were only done twice, was done twice too often—I ask that he will repudiate any intention to do this, at all events in respect of that Report which must be submitted to the Government so far as regards the further conduct of affairs in the Dardanelles, and any Report that may be made in regard to the conduct of the War in Mesopotamia. It is essential when we judge these questions that we should have the whole facts before us as ascertained and reported upon by the Commissioners ordered by this House to examine and Report to this House. The Report was removed from the purview of the Government and given to this House in order that all the facts might be ascertained and might be reported. Because there has been, though with the best intentions, some departure from the practice which the House 1772 authorised and approved, I, as a private Member of this House, thought it my duty to bring it to the notice of the Government and the House, and I trust we may get the assurance which I have asked for from the Government.
Colonel Sir MARK SYKES
I should not have taken part in this Debate were it not that I have two or three points which I felt, as the matter was to come under discussion, I might usefully put before the House. I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in the point he has raised. I would rather come back to one or two of the points mentioned in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). I should say personally, as a private Member, that I believe there is a feeling of some irritation and vexation as to the publication of the Report. I think people feel that such a Report as this, although made with the very best intentions, could only lead to a loss of confidence. It has nothing whatever to do with getting on with the War, which, after all, is the first business of the nation. It seems to me also that the Report as it stands is unsatisfactory from the point of view of the people of this country as a whole. If people are supposed to have done wrong, I suppose you accuse them and take evidence against them and then someone speaks on their behalf and someone speaks against them, and some day you say they have done it or not. This Report does not seem to run on those lines at all, but gives scraps of evidence here and there. It does not give one a fair picture of the whole thing. It seems to damn with faint blame all along, with a little faint praise here and there. There is no real opportunity for those who are accused or blamed of really speaking fully on these points. Even after the War, when the whole thing could be carefully gone into, we will never get to the whole truth of the matter because of the death of the two principal witnesses. I happened to know those two. who both died nobly at the post of duty, very well privately. I think the House will be interested to know that in Colonel Fitzgerald you had one of the most remarkable men this War has seen. He was a man who relied very little on notes and took very few notes and could carry the whole thing in his head in a most extraordinary way. I think that would be borne out by any hon. Member who had any transactions with him.
1773 This Report, though it does not profoundly censure Lord Kitchener, has certainly been the cause for other censures. The people of this country, no matter what is said, will always remember fundamental things, and the fundamental things about Lord Kitchener are these, that when the crash came he took the responsibility of taking charge, and it wanted a big man to do that and he saw two essentials which I believe no other expert did, namely, that it was going to be a war of years and a matter of millions and not thousands of British soldiers. He saw those two things clearly at the beginning and for that reason our land war did not sink into disaster. I feel that the House will excuse me if I bring in one personal point. It is suggested somehow in this Report, and the ex-Prime Minister perhaps gave the same impression, that Lord Kitchener was a kind of taciturn man. The only time that the Dardanelles operation ever arose in conversation between myself and Lord Kitchener was under the following circumstance. It was some time ago, but some time afterwards I wrote it down and kept a record of it. I was sent for by Lord Kitchener to see him about some quite other business. I was talking about that other business. He gave me his views, and suddenly said this, which I put down as best I could remember it:My head aches very badly to-night. I have not slept for three nights, because I have had a picture before my eyes the whole time of those poor men being drowned and massacred on the beaches at Gallipoli. What a relief it is to me to know that they are safely off.He showed me a telegram, and that was the first news I had of the evacuation. I only want to mention that because at a crisis of his career—for anybody like him must have known it was a crisis for him—he was not thinking of his reputation or of his place in history, but, like a good soldier, was thinking of his men. I believe it was subconscious knowledge of this trait in his character that caused men to cry in the streets when they heard the news of his death. There are two points to which I wish to refer, and which, I think, are of very great importance in the Report itself, because they seem to suggest to me that the Report has been got together in a rather hasty manner. On page 40, paragraph 118, there occurs the following:We have already mentioned (paragraph 76) that the loss of prestige in abandoning the expedition, which at one time caused great anxiety, was in reality inappreciable.1774 Going back to paragraph 76 there is the following:It may confidentally be asserted that anyone conversant with Eastern affairs would have predicted in January, 19l5, that if a serious attack on the Dardanelles was made, and if it failed the result would be to give a shattering blow to British prestige and influence throughout the East. As a matter of fact the attack failed, but so far as at present can be judged the political consequences, although a serious check to British arms was shortly afterwards experienced in Mesopotamia, have been so slight as to be almost inappreciable.I submit to the House that perhaps people may be entitled to write like that fifty years hence, but you cannot suddenly judge as to whether your prestige has gone or not. I do not know upon what that is based. I do know this, with some fair knowledge of the East, that nobody who lived in the Orient at that time would have felt the same after the evacuation as before. I think that if we examined what was going on in Persia immediately after the evacuation it will be found that there was a certain loss of prestige. I do not suppose that German agents in Persia failed to take advantage of it. I do not suppose that the Amir's position was made easier. This I do know with certainty, that the anti-war party from the day of the evacuation in Turkey was dumb, dead and gone, and the Committee of Union and Progress was firmly placed in the saddle for another long stretch, and hopes for Armenia and hopes for the Syrians were wiped out. Because India was loyal, because Egypt was well garrisoned, because the magnificent Civil Service in India and Egypt bore a double burden and did not break down, that is no reason for saying that we lost no prestige. It would be a very great pity to imagine that these sort of adventures can be embarked upon and dropped and let go with a loss of no prestige. I feel so seriously on this point that I certainly would not have referred to it, but I think personally our prestige went from a hundred to zero. I think that by the capture of Bagdad we have gained back 75 per cent. of it, but only 75 per cent. of it.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Sir F. Cawley)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman referring to the Expedition to the Dardanelles or the evacuation?
Sir M. SYKES
Perhaps in the course of the next ten years or so the Commissioners will have time to make a full investigation of the whole matter, but it will take ten years to find out the truth of the matter It is possible that I misread the actual meaning of the Report. But there is another point which seems to me far more serious and as to which I propose to read three extracts from the Report. I skip certain portions as they do not seem to matter. In paragraph 118 the following occurs:The attempt to force the Dardanelles and to reach Constantinople failed. It would, however, be an exaggeration to say that the expedition, considered as a whole, was a complete failure. Such was by no means the case. The enterprise was originally undertaken in order to create a diversion in favour of the Russians. In this respect it may he said to have been very fairly successful.But only "fairly successful." Further on in that paragraph there is the statement from the late Prime Minister's evidence that Lord Kitchenersaid to me (Mr. Asquith) a hundred times it contained and immobilised nearly 300,000 Turkish soldiers for the best part of nine months.The Commissioners' comment on that paragraph 118 is:We are generally in agreement with the views expressed by Mr. Asquith and Lord Grey, but we regard Lord Kitchener's estimate of the number of Turkish troops immobilised for nearly nine months as conjectural.Lastly, the conclusion is:We think that although the main object was not achieved, certain important political advantages, upon the nature of which we have already dealt (paragraph 118), were secured by the Dardanelles Expedition. Whether those advantages were worth the loss of life and treasure is, and must be. a matter of opinion.I submit, in the first place, as to the doubt as to whether the lives were wasted or not that it is only after the most profound and most careful investigation that any man ought to commit himself to express an opinion like that.
Sir M. SYKES
I submit, seeing that this is a matter of opinion, that it really must bring the most painful thoughts into the minds of any person who has lost anyone there near and dear to them. I hope that something may be said from a far more authoritative source than myself on this question. I should like first to suggest that the Commission really has no right 1776 to say this is a matter of opinion when it shows that it has not made full investigation. It admits that when it says that Lord Kitchener's figure of 300,000 is conjectural. To Lord Kitchener it may have been conjectural, but unless you have all the information of the archives of the English General Staff, the Russian General Staff, and the French General Staff, you have no right to say it is conjectural until you have been right to the bottom of the whole question and examined it thoroughly. If it would take too long to find out whether that number of troops was immobilised, let them say so, but do not throw doubts and talk about a thing being conjectural until you have been right to the bottom of the matter from one end to the other. I think it is not difficult to prove, without going into the archives of the General Staff or compiling all the intelligence to see, that something very like that number was actually in the Dardanelles.
First let us examine the mental attitude of the enemy. What does the adequate defence of Constantinople mean under the circumstances of the Dardanelles Expedition? It means a surplus number of contact troops to make defence certain, enough troops to safeguard Smyrna and the Asiatic shore, enough troops to guard against an extra landing at Midia, because so long as the expedition was in progress and likely to be a success Bulgaria was always likely to come in, and therefore it must have contained additional troops on the Bulgarian frontier. It is admitted that so long as the expedition was likely to be a success there was always the danger of revolution in Constantinople, so that you have to add to that the extra internal troops. Then you have to add casualties and I am sure it will be found that Lord Kitchener's 300,000 is a calculated under-estimation of the actual number. If it was not, where were these Turkish troops? Take the situation at this present moment. There are Turks in the Dobrudja, there are Turks at Salonika, there are Turks in the Caucasus, there are Turks in Sinai, there are Turks in Arabia, there are Turks in Persia, there are Turks in Mesopotamia; and add to that two and a half years of casualties, two and a half years of losses by epidemics, such as typhoid, typhus, and small-pox, all of which have ravaged the Turkish Army, and two and a half years of road losses. I hope I am not being too practical with the House if 1777 I mention this question of Turkish road losses, the losses of Turkish troops when moving from one place to another. I have a diary of a Turkish officer who started from Constantinople and was on the move for about four and a half months. He started from Constantinople with a battalion 1,400 strong. He got to the other point about four and a half months later, "after losing only 250 men in action, with only 350 men left in the battalion." One has to remember that the Turkish Army is one that, by reason of the difficulties of the country, so long as it is on the move is dwindling at a much faster rate and suffering much greater losses than armies which have the advantages possessed by Armies in Europe.
But where were these troops in 1915? The Turks, with their offensive ideas, are not the sort of people to keep 300,000 men at home. They were not in the Caucasus or on the other fronts. Where were they, then? The Turkish idea was offensive. Their one purpose in going into the War was offensive, and I am certain that when history comes to be really examined on this point you will find that far more than 300,000 men were immobilised by the Dardanelles Expedition, and that is one military achievement. But there is another military achievement, and it is this—I think it was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith)—that the nucleus of the Turkish Army was practically destroyed at the Dardanelles, and that is equivalent to the destruction for us of our Expeditionary Force, or the destruction for Germany of his Prussian Guard and his best Brandenburgh troops, and more than that for the Turks, because the Turks' 150,000 nucleus troops they always kept in the vicinity of Constantinople, and they had to look to them for the technical skill and the discipline which they were to infuse into their large levies from the country, who were slow to train, because they were illiterate peasants and diverse in language. The leaven, the thing that was to make the Turkish Army into a first-rate European fighting machine, was practically destroyed at the Dardanelles. It was arrested in its work of leavening the whole, and it was very severely crippled and damaged, and for that reason the Turkish Army in this great War has never quite got up to the European standard. The Turkish Army, the leaven having been shattered at Gal- 1778 lipoli—far be it from me to under-estimate the strength of it to-day; it is a fine fighting force and a formidable fighting force—is not the perfect German-made machine which it would have been if that technically trained staff had not been destroyed at the Dardanelles.
The other achievements of the Dardanelles Expedition one might go through quite quickly. I will not take Lord Kitchener's 300,000. The Commission says that that is conjectural. At least, 150,000 is not conjectural, and supposing the Turks in 1915 had had only 150,000 men contained at the Dardanelles whom they might have launched elsewhere, and supposing they had sent them to the Caucasus, what would have been the result? I think it is pretty easy to say. The actual contact between the Turks and the Russians in the Caucasus in the early part of 1915 was practically a draw. If 150,000 extra Turks had gone to the Caucasus it would have doubled the Turkish forces, and if it was a draw at equal forces, certainly it would have been a clear and easy victory for the Turks at double forces. And you must remember that the Russians could not have sent reinforcements to the Caucasus, because the Russians did not depend on drafts of men; they were short of rifles, and where there are no rifles you cannot reinforce an army by drafts of men with sticks. The loss of the Caucasus was prevented, and, so far from it being a doubtful success, that was a great success.
What a disaster it would have been if the Russians had been driven out of the Caucasus by an army two to one stronger than it was! It would have meant the loss of Baku and the oil wells; it would have meant 300,000 recruits, for the Turkish Army, because the Turks in the Caucasus, who began to rise when the Turks came, would naturally have all been recruited by force once the Turks obtained control; it would have meant the certain loss of Teheran, and with Teheran and the Caucasus in Turkish hands, there would have been no question of our having little parties of men trying to catch German agents in Persia; it would have meant that the route across Persia and the route to India and Afghanistan would be open, not to invasion, but to a constant supply of all arms, of gold, and of agents-provocateur, who would have given us the very greatest difficulty and trouble, and immobilised far more troops perhaps eventually than were immobilised at the Dardanelles. But that was one alternative. The 150,000 Turks 1779 could have taken another alternative. Supposing the 150,000 Turks had been available, there was nothing to keep the Bulgarians from coming in on the Turkish and German side. Supposing you added 150,000 to the Bulgarian Army in June, 1915, just as the Russians were retiring from Przemysl, that would give a decisive force of 650,000 men thrown on the German side at a decisive moment. Take the longest view of all and the last alternative. Supposing the German General Staff and the Turkish Staff had foreseen the turn that this War would take, and presuming there had been no Dardanelles Expedition, and that the Turks had kept the nucleus of 150,000 trained men, and said, "We are out-and-out Western Fronters; we are not going to commit ourselves to anything in the Caucasus, or Mesopotamia, or Egypt, but we will be on a rigid defence and husband our resources." Supposing they had taken that long view, then I say that without the Dardanelles Expedition to have broken the nucleus, Turkey would have a surplus probably of between 600,000 and 700,000 men, carefully husbanded through the War and brought up to absolute European standard, a decisive force ready to cast at any point.
I submit that those are points and considerations which, if the Commission is going on, it might consider in the future, but they want very careful investigation, and, personally, I do not urge the Commission going on at all. When I see this list of people, thirty or forty in number, in high positions, whose every ounce of energy and time ought to be devoted to the War and to their office work, being called up before the Commission to give evidence, I say it is a waste of time. It may be that that is a question for the Government and the House to decide, and I will not go into it; but if anything is going to be said of an authoritative nature from the Front Bench to-day, I would suggest that there are two points which might be made, and they are not matters which would give rise to any party dissension, and I think the House would be absolutely unanimous upon them. I think it should be stated, firstly, that the whole House absolutely repudiates the attacks which the very gentle censures of this Report have been made the vehicle of—the abominable attacks on Lord Kitchener's memory. One does not want to use strong language about it, because 1780 passion runs high, and the thing is mean enough as it stands, but, if possible, I think a very definite expression of opinion ought to be given by this House in regard to Lord Kitchener's memory. The other point is that if it could be possible it would be well for someone of high position and of weight and authority to say that those men who died at Gallipoli not only died deaths of heroes, but that no men purchased greater advantages for the cause for which they were nghting than they, and, if it is possible for human blood to be appraised in terms of value, that those men's blood was shed perhaps to-better advantage than any others. If that could be made clear, I think an act not only of policy but of charity would be done for those numberless relatives in England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, of men who perished there.
Sir GEORGE REID: I should like if I might to express my great approval of the speech which the hon. Baronet the Member for Hull has just addressed to this House. In regard to his remarks on the question of the prestige of the Empire, I think that that question is often overlooked. The whole of this gigantic fabric of Empire rests upon the prestige of the administrative powers possessed by our race, and whilst I have no criticism to offer with reference to inquiries which may be productive of good in the management of the Imperial powers, I view with grave anxiety the publication of Reports such as this, which reflect, I believe unfairly, upon the powers of the greatest figures in the history of this country. The effect of such Reports is, I think, greatly to be regretted. There was no earthly call for the production of this interim Report. I have yet to be told that the Government called for it; I do not believe the Government did. I think that the Report, as the late Prime Minister has said, deals entirely with things which are past, and I regret to say that it deals in a way with affairs of the past which, after very careful perusal of it, I cannot at all appreciate.
The references I am going to make are based entirely upon the evidence which is reproduced in the Report. I cannot go, and do not wish to go, outside that evidence. In the first place, I wash, if I may say so, to represent the strong feeling which prevails in the Dominions of this Empire against excursions into controversial matters which are not connected with the War. Nothing offends Colonial 1781 sentiment more, after the Colonies nave sent their boys by thousands and tens of thousands to give their lives for the Empire, than to see, as if this awful conflagration was not enough, new fires started in this House upon controversial questions. There is plenty of time for that.
This interim Report is an unfortunate example of the kind of thing to which I have referred. I confess that my anxiety was as to the findings of this Royal Commission in reference to the Secretary of State for War, who, as the late Prime Minister has said, is unable to make any explanation or give any evidence, and Colonel Fitzgerald too, a man that I knew for many years. I desire to say that the hon. Baronet (Sir Mark Sykes) has never done a more simple act of justice than what he has said concerning one than whom there was no more efficient military confidant. Both Lord Kitchener and Colonel Fitzgerald have gone. None other of the great living actors in this transaction have gone. I was very anxious to see from this interim Report what were the findings of the Commission. I should have thought that an interim Report would not have committed itself to findings, but that the findings would have formed part of the final Report. I take up these findings and I discover very soon this, which—with great respect to the Commission—I think displays an astounding ignorance of elementary facts in connection with the War Office. On page 13 of the Report we read:As regards administrative methods, we think it is much to be regretted that the principles of the devolution of authority and responsibility upon which the War Office system was based were ignored by Lord Kitchener.The principles upon which the War Office system has been based come to this: That a civilian has been Secretary of State for War, and, of course, in a position of that sort the authority of the Secretary of State must devolve because he has no expert knowledge. How can a civilian Secretary of State for War govern the military operations of the State without reference to his subordinates? But when the greatest military organiser that our race had ever produced becomes Secretary of State for War, an entirely new set of things comes into existence. The authority of this nation has never, in the War Office, been placed in better hands than when Lord Kitchener so cheerfully took office. We know the miserable failures and mismanagements of the Boer 1782 War. We, out in Australia, remember that when we offered to send the best of our horsemen to South Africa, with horses, we were told that "mounted infantry was not required." That was the sort of system which prevailed in the War Office at the time when a comparatively small war was engaging the attention of the Empire. The moment Lord Kitchener went into that office he became the military authority, as well as the Secretary of State. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) points out in this Report, when the Admiralty officials came to deal with the War Office, they found all the officers with whom they were accustomed to transact business had gone, and properly gone, to the front. This Commission blames Lord Kitchener for that which it would be well if it prevailed more in public positions—for overworking himself! Thank God we have some men who will overwork themselves in positions of public trust. The fact is that the greater personal authority and interference of Lord Kitchener, so far as the work of the War Office was concerned, was not worse, but better for the public interest.
There is another matter to which I should like to refer in respect of these findings. It is, however, only fair to say that the Commission in several passages in the Report makes a most laboured effort—which has to some extent excited my admiration—to say pleasant things about that great military administrator. But in their findings, which is the thing that goes out to the public, and the thing which everybody hears or reads about, there is not one word referring to Lord Kitchener which gives the slightest acknowledgment of the strain under which he worked. Take the findings at the end of the Report:We are of opinion that Lord Kitchener did not sufficiently avail himself of the services of his General Staff, with the result that more work was undertaken by him than was possible for one man to do, and confusion and want of efficiency resulted.One would have thought there were a dozen Lord Kitchener's in the War Office, and that he could safely transfer his personal responsibility to some of his distinguished subordinates. But the fact was this: Lord Kitchener's best men had gone to the front. Lord Kitchener put his heart and soul into this terrible crisis. Now he is to be blamed because he did so. It is found as a cause of offence against him that instead of making the most of his 1783 subordinates in the War Office, the greatest military administrator and organiser we have ever had in the Empire in this awful crisis himself did the things which a civilian Secretary of War would have had to refer to his subordinates. He is censured for that!
Now as to the Dardanelles Expedition. In this matter this Report again, I must say, is singularly unfair in its conclusions on Lord Kitchener. This was to be a naval attack. It was so decided. We must all remember that. It was not until 26th March—three days after the time stated in this Report, and there are several little slips here which can easily be seen—when a military attack with the support of the Fleet was decided upon. Lord Kitchener is said in this Report to have conclusively abandoned the idea of a naval operation. Two telegrams are cited for that proposition. They show that Lord Kitchener did nothing of the kind. In one of these telegrams Lord Kitchener said:If the naval attack has not succeeded by that time.That is stated to be conclusive proof that he had abandoned the naval plan of attack. That is rather a conclusion, I submit, -which seems wide of the mark. The fact was that Lord Kitchener relied upon the naval attack. When General Hamilton was instructed on 13th March, Lord Kitchener told him that there was no idea of a military attack at that time. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Roch) brought that out most clearly in the question when he asked at one of the sittings of the Commission. The answer to the hon. Member for Pembroke was this—this was on 13th March—thatLord Kitchener never thought of a military attack, but a day or two after he was able to release those troops.The Commission say that the fact that these troops were delayed gravely compromised the success of that expedition. What are the facts? The facts are that the attack was not made until 25th April, and then the 29th Division had got there days and days before in spite of the delay. It seems to me a thousand pities that, although doubtless the Commission had no desire to do anything but justice to Lord Kitchener, that they practically put on him the blame for the failure of this expedition. In previous phrases they speak of his anxiety about the safety of the Western Front. In their findings this is the language they use in reference to that. On page 42 they say: 1784On 20th February Lord Kitchener decided that the 29th Division, part of the troops which by the decision of 16th February were to have been sent to the East, should not be sent at that time.Let me stop there for a moment. On another page they say it wasowing to his anxiety about the safety of our Western Front.Why could they not have said that in their findings? Why could they not have said that it was owing to this anxiety of Lord Kitchener that this decision was arrived at? The public get the censure and not the explanation, which is given by the Commission itself in another place. We read:Colonel Fitzgerald, by his order, instructed the Director of Naval Transports that the transports for that division and the rest of the Expeditionary Force would not be required. This was done without informing the First Lord and the dispatch of troops was thus delayed for three weeks. This delay gravely compromised the probability of the success of the original attack made by the land forces, and materially increased the difficulties encountered in the final attack some months later.The fact is that the first attack was not made on 25th April, and that all the troops got there at least a fortnight or three weeks before the attack was made. The Australian troops had arrived in Egypt, and required military training, and all these things have to be taken into account. So far as I can represent the feeling in the outlying Dominions of the Empire, I want to say that a thousand such Reports and a thousand such Commissions will never besmirch the fair fame of that man, who, in the greatest difficulty and danger of this Empire, produced those splendid Armies which are now, we trust, approaching a glorious victory.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Colonel Sir M. WILSON
I have listened with great interest to the speeches this afternoon. Those speeches are more particularly interesting to soldiers like myself who have had the privilege of serving in the Dardanelles campaign. While I dwell upon one or two points I would claim the indulgence of the House. I would like to emphasise the fact that there has always existed a school of thought which had been strongly opposed to any offensive operation of any sort except on the Western Front. Operations in France have, very naturally, always enjoyed the larger share of interest and prestige, and from its earliest inception the Dardanelles Campaign has met with a lot of adverse criticism. Its failure has reaped a proportionately large harvest of blame. But was it such a 1785 failure? These results, at least, were achieved. First, as we have been already told, the Turkish concentration of 200,000 men on the Peninsula which our Expeditionary Force held up was the flower of their Army. It was officered by some of the finest experts that Germany could provide. The Turkish resources of men, food, munitions, and transport were strained to a great extent by the difficult operations on this front. During this time the Turks were unable to threaten Egypt seriously, and the pressure on our Russian Allies in the Caucasus was appreciably lessened. How near we got to victory on the landing at Suvla Bay is common knowledge. The element of chance must always play a far greater part in war than strategists and politicians will ever allow. Such points are well known to military experts and recognised even by those who have most loudly criticised this Expedition. I believe that, viewed by the truer perspective of later years, the Dardanelles Campaign, although it failed to fulfil the grand ambition of those who initiated it, accomplished more than we can now appreciate. And here I should like to pay a tribute to the imperishable glory of the Australian units, our comrades in arms, whose valour has written for them at their first trial in Europe a shining page of history. Grave mistakes were made, misjudgments and blunders, for which we have paid a heavy toll of blood and treasure, but I should like to protest against the kind of criticism which has been levelled against those distinguished leaders responsible for the conduct of the campaign. They have been attacked in a spirit that is entirely foreign to our. national character, and which, to my mind, can serve no useful end. More, I venture to say that those who mourn the fallen, those—and there are many of them—for whom this Campaign has changed "the aspect of the earth and the imagery of Heaven," can feel nothing but regret at the controversial and bitter spirit which has usurped the place of just criticism.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not intend to approach in any controversial spirit anything that is said by the Commissioners in the conclusions of their Report, nor any expression of opinion which they have submitted. Although I do not wholly agree with their conclusions, I say quite frankly, in so far as the Admiralty is concerned, I welcome them as, at any rate, an instalment of fairplay. They have swept away 1786 directly, or by implication, many serious and reckless charges which have passed current broadcast throughout the land during the long months of the last two years. They have reduced these charges within the limits of modest and sober criticism, and, further, by laying before the nation the general outlines of the story—a long, tangled, complicated story—they have limited the responsibilities which have been thrown on me and under which I have greatly suffered. The burden I have hitherto borne alone, for although my right hon. Friend, with his customary chivalry and loyalty, early in 1915 took upon himself the main responsibility for the Dardanelles operations, the current of public opinion and the weight of popular displeasure, were mainly directed upon me, who was at that time responsible for the Admiralty. The burden that I have hitherto borne alone is now shared with the most eminent men which this country has produced within the lifetime of a whole generation in Parliament, in the Army, or the Fleet.
Therefore, from a personal point of view, putting aside altogether the question of whether it is wise to publish this. Report or not, putting aside for the moment the question of the non-publication of the evidence, I am bound to say that I welcome the publication of the Report. If the Commission had confined themselves to conclusions and to expressions of opinion I think it would hardly have been necessary for me to intervene at all in the Debate, except perhaps to urge some general considerations upon the House. But the method which the Commission have chosen is to build up a narrative—a very interesting and very exhaustive, although not in all respects a complete narrative—by a great number of clippings and snippings from documents, and by single sentences from the evidence of witnesses, and these have been pieced together with the greatest patience and the greatest skill to form a connected narrative. I know how earnestly the Commission have desired to be fair and just to everyone, but it is a fact that this method which they chose is in conflict with all the accepted principles in regard to documents and evidence, because it is the fundamental principle that if a document is quoted, if an extract from a document is taken, one should know what the context is, and if one answer of a witness is cited, that answer can only be judged in relation to 1787 the whole of his evidence. I should like the House to observe that these interesting quotations, which are taken from the evidence of witnesses, have in some cases—I might almost say in many cases-attracted more attention and been made the foundation of more comment or criticism in the public Press than the carefully weighed and considered conclusions of the Commissioners. I cannot see that there was any reasonable halting ground between the Commission confining themselves to conclusions and expressions of their opinion, pure and simple, and the general publication of the evidence.
I should like to give the House one or two examples of the detriment to personal and public interest which arises from this course. Would the House kindly look to the top of page 26, paragraph 83? The Commission are there describing my relations with Lord Fisher at a certain period. They say:Shortly after the meeting of 13th January, Lord Fisher's attitude underwent some change the real divergence between his views and those of Mr. Churchill became more apparent than heretofore. The latter thus describes what occurred.And then they proceed to quote a passage which is taken textually from my narrative which I supplied to the Commissioners. This passage in my narrative refers, not to what occurred after 13th January, but to what occurred after 23rd March, when the naval operation was broken off altogether, and it has been wrested violently from its context and from its proper place in the sequence of the story, ante-dated nine weeks, and in its present place in the Report it does not represent the truth or anything like the truth. Would the House very kindly look to the opinion expressed by Commodore de Bartolomé, in paragraph 62? Commodore de Bartolomé's opinion was expressed before the Commission in the following terms:My impression was always that the naval members would much sooner have had a combined operation, and that they only agreed to a purely naval operation on the understanding that we could always draw back—that there should be no question of what is known as forcing the Dardanelles.That is the only account taken of Commodore de Bartolomé's opinion. Of course it is an absolute travesty of his opinion. It bears no relation whatever to his main opinion on this question. He was strongly in favour of the exact method of attack which we adopted, and he testified on oath to that opinion. But the point to 1788 which I am particularly drawing the attention of the House is the use of the word"forcing"—that there should be no question of what is known as forcing the Dardanelles.The moment I saw this in the Report I was convinced that a mistake had been made, and that what the Commodore meant was "rushing," because the House has realised by this time that there was the gradual method of forcing by reduction, as opposed to the old method of rushing, and I was certain that what the Commodore meant here, although he is correctly quoted, was not forcing but rushing. The very next answer which he gave was:When I say forcing, I mean a delibetate rush.That is entirely omitted, and the whole sense of this passage, and the whole opinion of this very important and very competent officer is completely misrepresented, though unintentionally misrepresented.
I wish to urge upon the House another point connected with this argument. I could bring a number of other particular points to the attention of the House which would further illustrate it, but I do not wish to take up the time or trespass upon the indulgence of hon. Members with matters of detail. The serious point to which I wish to draw attention is one of principle. The foundation of the advice which I offered to the War Council on behalf of the Admiralty, and on which my right hon. Friend and his colleagues took their decision, was not the opinions of experts. It was based on the plans of experts, and on their readiness to carry out those plans. I trust the House will appreciate the all-important distinction between the two. A mere opinion that a thing can be done, or perhaps can be done, or perhaps cannot be done, is an expert opinion, but it is not comparable to a definite, detailed, reasoned plan. If an engineer expresses the opinion: "A river might be dammed. It would be a very difficult business, but perhaps it might be done. I do not say it could not be done, "that is an expert opinion. But if he puts a detailed, elaborate plan with specifications, and if that plan is of a nature which when shown to other engineers commands their assent and professional agreement, I say you are on an altogether different plane from that which you are if you are dealing with questions of opinion.
1789 I am going to take the House as shortly as I can through the catena of plans on which the decision of the Government was based, and let me say this matter is of public and not personal importance, because the foundation of the orders which reach the Fleet is of high importance. Anyone reading this Report, and looking at Admiral Carden's telegram of 11th January, in which he unfolded his plan, would suppose that he had confined himself to a few general expressions of what was possible. "The operations possible," he says, "are," and then follow A, B, C and D. I am not at all complaining of the course which the Commissioners have taken but that extract gives no fair idea of his telegram. His telegram was a reasoned, detailed, intricate naval plan, occupying, I suppose, about a page of one of these official publications. Admiral Garden, of course, was invited to say whether he felt that his hand had been forced or that he had been unduly pressed by my telegram to him. He resisted every suggestion of that kind. He was asked whether he felt that the First Lord was sending him an order. He said, "I took it to be an inquiry." He was asked whether the First Lord wished it to be done. He said, "I thought that he wished it to be done if it could possibly be done." He was asked whether his judgment was unfettered. He said, "Yes, he felt that his judgment was unfettered." Those are very important points, and, when the suggestion is that this officer's judgment was influenced by the form of my telegram where I referred to the high authorities, I feel it is a material fact, and that in common justice it should have been included that he said that his judgment was unfettered.
Admiral Garden's detailed plan was next remitted by me to the War Staff and to Sir Henry Jackson for their consideration, and, after careful examination of it, they both expressed their concurrence in it. Sir Henry Jackson, in his memorandum of 15th January, four days after the Garden plan had been received, wrote a full and reasoned criticism and comment on the plan. It occupied, again, about a page, and it began with the words, "Concur generally in his plans," which words are printed by the Commission. Then followed the very important words, "Our previous appreciations differed only in small details," which the majority of the Commission omit, though that defect is happily supplied by my hon. Friend the 1790 Member for Pembrokeshire. This was not a formal concurrence; it was a detailed, critical, reasoned concurrence. Following this, and following on the decision of the War Council with which the Prime Minister has dealt, the Chief of the Staff of the Admiralty prepared the war orders for the Fleet. These occupy about three and a half pages of a publication of this size, and of course went into every minute professional detail connected with the operations. The Chief of the Staff is a very important officer. He is in a position where he is almost in the Council. He is certainly not in a position where he is a simple, irresponsible executor of decisions taken above him. Admiral Oliver was appointed by me on Lord Fisher's advice in November, 1914, and under every change which has taken place in the Admiralty he has continued to retain what I believe is a growing measure of confidence of all with whom he works. Admiral Oliver says about these orders, "I made these orders. I believed in them. I considered that they were sound. I considered that they offered a reasonable, practical chance of success. I was working in the closest contact with Sir Henry Jackson. I saw his work. I saw that it was done with the utmost exactitude." He was asked the direct question, "Do you consider that Sir Henry Jackson was for it or not?" Admiral Oliver says, "I think he was for it." And then all we are told about Admiral Oliver, the Chief of the Staff, who has given his evidence and made his plans, is that Admiral Oliver, nevertheless, acquiesced. I say that is an abuse of language.
Finally, we come to Sir Henry Jackson's memorandum of 15th February. There never was an operation which was less rushed or less hurried in its preparations than this one. Sir Henry Jackson's memorandum of 15th February occupies four pages of this class of publication. He had taken nearly six weeks to prepare it. He had begun it in the early days of January, before the Garden telegram had been received, and it is to the beginning part of this memorandum that this sentence, "Our early appreciation differed only in small details," referred. This memorandum comprises a minute examination of every gun and every fort in the Dardanelles, and it shows how each fort can be attacked in succession. It examines the calibre, range, and are of training of every piece of ordnance with 1791 which our ships would be brought into contact; it points out all the places of dead water where ships could lie out of range of particular guns to fire at particular forts; and it makes elaborate suggestions where cross observation ships should lie. The Commission have published the guarding sentence at the end of this long memorandum which Sir Henry Jackson added about the importance of having troops at hand, of having strong landing forces to support the action of the Fleet, of having the transports ready to enter the Straits the moment it was seen that the forts were going to fall, and so on. But apart from this guarding sentence, which if anything is a little out of the general tenor of the memorandum, no one would get any idea—I am not making a reproach against the Commission; I am showing the difficulty under which I lie—of the careful, thorough, elaborate plans which Admiral Jackson made. We sent this memorandum of Sir Henry Jackson's out to the Admiral to be taken as a guide and not as a ruling, but it was, in fact, substantially the method of attack which was adopted, and every condition which he prescribed in the guarding sentence which will be found on page 55 as to the troops, and so forth, was in fact carried out and carried out to his satisfaction, because on the 11th March, after the operation had begun and when we had already reduced the outer forts and were making some progress up the Straits, Sir Henry Jackson, who had been furnishing the war group at the Admiralty with his daily appreciation of the progress of the operations, minuted to me and to the First Sea Lord as follows:Admiral Garden's report of the 10th instant on the progress of operations in the Dardanelles shows he has made good progress, but that his operations are now greatly retarded by concealed 'batteries of howitzers, etc…These points have all been foreseen, and a small military force supplied to deal with them, but the Vice-Admiral was instructed not to risk this force on shore in positions where they cannot be covered by ships' guns without further reference to the Admiralty. The position has considerably changed recently. There are now ample military forces ready, and J. suggest that the time has arrived to make use of them.Up to the 11th of March that was his opinion of these operations, which had been in progress ever since 19th February. Sir Henry Jackson said to the Commission that he accepted responsibility for this memorandum and this staff paper which he prepared. If this House will kindly turn to paragraph 60, where Sir Henry Jackson's 1792 part in these affairs is dealt with, they will see how very little representative of the account which I have given is the published account of the Commission. We see in the forefront Sir Henry JacksonDid not consider that an attempt made by the Fleet alone to get through the Dardanelles was a feasible operation. 'He thought that' it would be a mad thing to do!'I expect that last expression has been quoted more widely than any of the sober conclusions of the Commission. It has run from one end of the country to the other, and it is extremely important, not only for me, but for the late Government and the present Government, because, remember that the dignified and proper method by which you conduct your affairs is a matter of high public consequence. It is of great importance to know to what precise operation Sir Henry Jackson's expression, "a mad thing," refers. It is quite clear that it does not refer to the Carden plan, because he had written concurring generally in his plan of previous appreciation differing only in small details. It is quite clear that it does not refer to the Admiralty War Orders founded on the Carden plan, or that it does not refer to Sir Henry Jackson's own memorandum, every condition of which was fulfilled. I am of opinion that if the examination had been more-precise, and the question had been posed with proper exactness and precision, it would have emerged that what Sir Henry Jackson called "a mad thing" was an. attempt to rush the Straits without having these strong landing parties available and transports ready to enter them when the batteries were seen to be silent, and without making a serious and sustained effort to sweep the mine-field, and destroy the primary guns before running past.
If that is so, it is no reflection whatever upon the Admiralty, because we never attempted anything in that nature. Nothing of the kind was ever approved either by the Admiralty or the War Council. The House will see that the total omission—I do not say it is not necessary to omit them—of these elaborate detailed plans will speak for themselves, which are entirely the work of professionel men, and the evidence accepting responsibility for them and affirming their soundness which was given by all the naval officers concerned, constitutes a serious injustice and hard- 1793 ship both to individuals and to the Government, and all the more is this so when, instead of these sordid written expressions of opinion before the event, we have a bevy of unpremeditated expressions uttered long afterwards when all this business is involved in prejudice and failure, and some of which apply to operations which were not the operations which we undertook. The Chief of the Staff then prepared a shorter variant of the Admiralty War Orders on the Carden plan, which was submitted to the French Minister of Marine and the French Government. The French Government took some considerable time to examine these, and they expressed an opinion—which would not have seen the light of day but for the Minority Report of my hon. Friend—in which they pronounced them to be prudent et prévoyant. It would not be right to quote further the detailed terms of their reasoned acceptance and approval.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have not quoted further than "prudent et prévoyant." The French are the most competent artillerists in the world, and is it to be conceived that they would have committed themselves in these terms which, as the Chief of the Staff has stated, are without precedent and parallel in the whole course of the War in respect to any operations discussed between these two admiralties if they had thought these plans contained gross defects and were not a reasonable and practical basis for us to proceed upon. I have dealt with the plans. There are two ways of testing expert opinions one is by plans; can they put it into a plan? The other real test is, are they willing to carry them out and to put them into operation? Those are the real tests, and not where men are hesitating or halfhearted, or cordial or enthusiastic, to be ascertained by consultation, by examination long after the result is known. Now I come to the agreement of the experts to carry out the plan. Consultation implies divergence of opinion, and decision implies that those divergencies have been sunk in a common agreement. When agreement has been reached everyone who is party to it is bound by it, and previous misgivings and differences of opinion are blotted out and ought not to be referred to. In every walk of life, in every sphere of human activity, this is the invariable 1794 rule, and it is the only safe and honest rule. Take our Cabinet Government. What would be said of Ministers, of individual Ministers, after the Cabinet had agreed upon a course of action, who went about explaining that they had deep misgivings, and that they had not been in agreement with it at all? They would get very little sympathy from the House.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
If this is true of the ordinary affairs of peace, how much more sternly should this principle be applied to the harsh, terrible, momentous decisions of war! When an enterprise is resolved on, the result of which no man can predict, the success of which no man can guarantee, which if it succeeds will bring credit to all concerned, and if it fails will bring misfortune and blame to all concerned, it is of the highest importance, it is imperative, that men should be strictly held to their agreement and whether they be politicians, whether they be officers of the Navy or Army, they must feel that by their word they are bound. Let the House understand that I am not endeavouring in my argument to relieve myself of any part of my responsibility. I take the whole responsibility for the advice tendered to the War Council. I am not trying to pass that responsibility on to the naval authorities. I have never tried to shelter myself behind them or behind Lord Kitchener in regard to naval operations, but I am determined to show, firstly, the great precision and thoroughness with which all our action was taken; and, secondly, that no one has a right to say that naval expert opinion was not marshalled, arrayed, and massed behind the Admiralty action. I say that the methods pursued by this inquiry of trying to ascertain whether the experts were enthusiastic or cordial towards an enterprise long after it had failed and become involved in prejudice—when a search is being made for culprits such methods are pernicious in the last degree to the efficient and resolute conduct of the War, and they render mutual confidence and common action impossible. Precise plans, not vague opinions, and definite agreement to carry out those plans, afford the only foundation for naval and military action.
The agreement of Admirals Carden and Jackson with the course which we took is involved in the plan which they spon- 1795 taneously prepared and which we specifically adopted. When I spoke before I said that Sir Arthur Wilson's opinion was that we should attack the outer forts, and that our future progress would depend upon the degree of the Turkish resistance. Sir Arthur was asked, "Was this a fair account of your view?" and he said, "Yes; I think it expresses my opinion fairly well." Admiral Oliver stated that the whole War group was agreed to begin the attack on the outer forts and consider from the results derived from it how much further it could be pressed. Admiral de Robeck, who comes into the story at a later stage, a brand new admiral, not involved in any way, with a free hand and a clean slate, after being given the command, is asked by me specifically, pointedly, directly, "Are you in full agreement with the Admiralty telegrams and Admiral Car-den's replies thereto; and do you consider that, after separate and independent judgment, that they are wise and practicable? If not, do not hesitate to say so." To which he replied, "He was in full agreement, and that the Admiralty telegrams expressed his intentions exactly, and that he would attack at the first favourable opportunity." He did attack, and I say after the attack is over no man has a right to ask him what his inner feelings were, whether he had doubts or misgivings or other questions of that character.
This War is a very grim business, and it must at every stage be "Aye" or "No," and there is no room for these nice shades of opinion. Most important of all—I am dealing with the agreements of the experts—is Lord Fisher. Paragraph 92 of the Report is the only paragraph in the narrative in which I am criticised at all. I am not at all complaining of the treatment the Commission has accorded me. In paragraph 92 we are told that I urged Lord Fisher to give "a silent, but manifestly very reluctant, assent to the undertaking." No, Sir; I did nothing of the sort. I urged him to undertake the operation, but what was the good of a silent assent of the First Sea Lord to me. He had to do the job. He had to order the Fleets to steam and the guns to fire. He had to organise and arrange them and reinforce and sustain them in the operation. The phrase, if I may say so, betrays a complete misapprehension as to what are the duties and functions of the First Sea 1796 Lord. The First Sea Lord moves the Fleet. No one else moves it. Suppose that I had failed to persuade Lord Fisher at this intermediate private meeting between the two meetings of the War Council on 28th January. Suppose I had failed to persuade him to undertake the operation? There would have been no need for him to altercate, or to resign or even to argue. There was no need for him to speak in the Council, although he was quite free to do so, unless he wished, because nothing that was said in the Council could alter his complete and absolute discretionary power to undertake or not to undertake an operation of this character, and unless he agreed to undertake it it could not possibly go forward. If Lord Fisher had said to me, "I am very sorry, First Lord; I cannot do it, or I will not do it, for this reason or for no reason at all." I should have gone back to the Prime Minister and the War Council and said to them, "We cannot carry out your wishes in regard to the bombardment of the Dardanelles as the First Sea Lord does not agree to undertake the operation, and the Admiralty can do nothing to help you in the Mediterranean at this time." Then it would be for the War Council themselves or the Prime Minister to settle whether they would have a new Board of Admiralty or abandon the project altogether. But Lord Fisher did not decline. He agreed. After balancing and weighing-all the circumstances and plans in every direction—the margin of the Grand Fleet, the hopes of the undertaking, the whole of the objections which there were, the new possibilities of the more powerful guns, and all the other calculable and incalculable factors—Lord Fisher definitely consented to undertake the operations, and he and I and the Chief of the Staff—the First Lord, the First Sea Lord, and the Chief of Staff—it is not possible to have a more perfect authority in fact or in form—went over together to the War Council and announced that we would undertake the charge which they so earnestly desired us to undertake. When Lord Fisher was asked by the Commission:Was not Mr. Churchill quite right when he said that yon definitely agreed to undertake it?he said:Absolutely right. I undertook it unreservedly at. that time—or words to that effect. Lord Fisher kept his word. I am not making any criticism. 1797 or attack. I am showing you the sequence of these affairs. Lord Fisher kept to his word. He exerted himself to the utmost to carry out this operation. At one time, as he told the Commission, he even applied to go out himself and take the responsibility for the naval attack when it reached its critical phase. He told the Commission that of his own accord. It was not until the Admiral on the spot changed his mind, and not until the new situation arose, when the Commander on the spot was no longer willing to go forward with the operation, that Lord Fisher said he would not press him, and that our differences for the first time began. I want to know whether this account I have given—I am very grateful to the House for their attention- is not a perfectly simple, plain, straightforward series of transactions, and whether it does not constitute unshakeable ground of expert authority and agreement for the action which the Admiralty took? I say that you have no right to go behind these solemn agreements and definite plans and to search for those doubts and misgivings which arise in every breast when these great hazards of war are decided. No one who has not had to take these decisions can know how serious and painful are the stresses which search in every man's heart when he knows that an order is going to be given as a result of which great ships may be lost, great interests may be permanently ruined and hundreds or even thousands of men may be sent to their last account. After all, what is the public advantage in leaving the sure ground of definite plans and agreements and coming to all these odd expressions of opinion, and questions of the degree of emotional enthusiasm with which the experts give their views?
The process pursued by the Commission and the impression given by their narrative constitute, if true, a most humiliating reflection on the chiefs of the great services, upon which our safety depends from day to day. Here are at least six of the most important Admirals and Admirals of the Fleet in the Royal Navy, three of whom have held the position of First Sea Lord, covering in the aggregate, I suppose, nearly ten years. One of them is the Chief of Staff to-day. Both of the others have held important commands afloat. Some of them are men with reputations for strength of personality, and whose reputation for having strong and formidable personalities is almost world-wide. We are invited to believe that here is a 1798 plan to which they were all averse, which was full of errors, tactical errors, which the Commission could easily find out. Yet not one of those Admirals, not one of these great officers we are invited to believe, had the gumption to put his finger on a defect in the plan, and not one of them had the manhood to stand up and say to the First Lord, "I, for one, will have nothing to do with it." If that were true, it would constitute a most humiliating reflection. Further, we are asked to believe that they carried their subservience to such a point that not merely did they say "We will acquiesce, we will stand aside, we make no protest," but that they actually carried their subservience to such a point as to repress their views in these long, technical, elaborate Staff plans which were the basis for our action. Is it not much more reasonable, is it not much more natural, is it not much more agreeable to our interests and to the probabilities, to believe that these officers were all of them, in different days, greatly attracted to the plan, to believe that they had solid hopes that it would succeed, that they thought the proposals were technically sound, that they were willing and anxious to make exertions for the common cause, and that they were willing and anxious to make exertions for the common cause, and that they realised the difficulties in which we stood at that time? That is a much better conclusion for all the authorities concerned and for the interest of this country.
I elaborate these details to the House, first of all, to defend myself against the false impression spread abroad by building up a story out of these little clippings and snippets from documents and evidence, which do not represent the documents and which do not represent the evidence. I am defending myself, but I am defending other interests besides my own. I am defending the Government of which I was a member. I am defending the chief under whom I served, and who had acted on the advice which I had tendered. I am defending the authority and dignity of the Admiralty, because, believe me, you could do it no greater injury than to weaken the confidence of the officers and men of the Fleet in. the orders they get from the Admiralty by favouring the impression that those orders had been made in a reckless, careless, amateur, and a haphazard way.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The right hon. Gentleman has constantly spoken of the Admiralty. It is on record that the Second, Third, and Fourth Sea Lords were never consulted about all these operations.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I will deal with that point. It is a very good moment to deal with it, although I had intended to do so later on. The Board of Admiralty was never in my time, nor, I believe, in my successor's time, consulted about war operations. The whole of the Board was never consulted about war operations. I do not believe it was consulted in any great Wars in the past. It is no more consulted than the Army Council is consulted about war operations. War operations are in the province of the First Sea Lord, with the Staff acting under him, just in the same way as military operations are in the province of the Chief of the General Imperial Staff, with the General Imperial Staff acting under him. It is pure ignorance to suppose otherwise. I am very much surprised that it should be supposed, because I should have thought that everyone in these warlike days knew the difference between "G" and "Q" sides, and knew the rigid distinction which is made between the administrative functions which are discharged by members of the Army Council and members of the Board of Admiralty and the operations and functions which are conducted by the heads of some Departments alone. What substance is there in the suggestion that the members of the War Council on the 28th were not aware that Lord Fisher's opinion was adverse, and were not aware of the grounds of his opinion being adverse? I say that his view was well known to all the principal persons there. I knew it, at any rate. There can be no dispute on that. My right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister knew it, for he had been discussing it with Lord Fisher just before the Council. Lord Kitchener knew it, because he undertook the business of persuading Lord Fisher. The Commission in their Report indicate that the three men who were responsible for managing the War at that time were the Prime Minister, Lord Kitchener, and myself. If that be so, the three people on whom the great responsibility is laid were all properly seised of Lord Fisher's views. That is not all. Mr. Balfour—I beg the House's pardon, I mean the present Secretary of State for 1800 Foreign Affairs—knew his opinion, and said that he knew it was adverse, and that he understood the reason. The present Prime Minister said in his evidence that he knew Lord Fisher had an objection, but that he thought he knew what the objection was and that he thought the objection had subsequently been met. Sir Edward Grey said he got to know between the 13th and the 28th that Lord Fisher held views of his own. The present Prime Minister received from Lord Fisher a copy of this memorandum the next day—he said it in evidence—after the Council was over and that it made no special impression on him, because it scarcely related in any way to the possible merits of the operation. Lord Fisher himself, far from complaining that his views had not been put before the Council, when asked in evidenceDo you think they knew?said—Of course they knew. Do you think that all these men would have sat there silent if they did not know my opinion?All this evidence is blotted out, in so far as in this Report we are left with the vague statement that it was an obligation on the First Sea Lord and on the Prime Minister to see that the views of Lord Fisher and the experts were put before the Council. Lord Fisher and the First Lord knew where they stood. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) knows that that is the case. When I look back on all the number of persons who were informed about this naval operation, who were consulted upon it, and who agreed to it in writing—because, carried away by my sanguine temperament, I always insisted upon obtaining written assents—I wonder, when I look back on that, how it was we ever made progress at all. Many more important things have been decided with a less full marshalling of authorities. Why, Sir, when the Fleet was sent to its War station on the 29th July, 1914, I submitted that proposal to the Prime Minister alone, and he told no one else. I think the House will be laying down an altogether injurious rule for the conduct of the War if it sought to hamper responsibility in great matters by over insistence upon the number of persons to be consulted.
The most formidable criticism against the naval attack which is contained in the Commission's Report is that it compromised the chances of a joint attack later. That is the most formidable criticism which I felt on reading the able conclu- 1801 sions. That criticism is valid only on the assumption that if there had been no naval plan there would have been a joint attack later; and that assumption is not, in my opinion, true. Let us see what would have happened if the Garden plan had been remitted to the joint consideration of the Admiralty War Staff and the Imperial General Staff. It is suggested that in that case you would have had a perfect plan for a joint amphibious attack, and this would have followed in due course, and we should have won a complete victory. I know perfectly well what would have happened. The first stage of this expert consultation would have been that the Garden plan would have been discarded in favour of a joint operation. They would have said, "A joint operation is a better way to do it than a purely naval operation." They would all be agreed upon that. There was nothing new in that. The next stage would have been to consider how many troops were needed for a military operation, and they would have set to work to make elaborate and generous calculations as to the force which would be required. I cannot conceive that it would have been less than between 100,000 and 150,000 men, with large supplies of high explosive ammunition and artillery. Then you would hare come to the third stage, which is that all the military experts unanimously would have said that the men were not available, and the ammunition could not be spared from the French front. All would have come to that decision. If the question had been put a little later on, at the advent of the spring offensive, the answer would have been still more emphatic, and General Headquarters would have sent their representatives clattering over to reinforce this opinion, and to protest against a dangerous diversion of our forces, and no doubt General Joffre would have been called in aid to write the strongest letters of protest, and offer the brightest prospects of success if only all the troops were concentrated on the Western front. And so after ten days of this sort of discussion you would have come back again to the very place where the War Council started, namely, that there was at that time no force which was available except a naval force, and that there was no operation which was practicable except what was mainly a naval operation, and that operation was a speculative one, but that never- 1802 theless the need was urgent, and if nothing was to be done the public interest would be gravely damaged. That is the inevitable course which events would have followed. I should like to point out how the Commission deals with expert advice. We know of people who in religion are so happily circumstanced that they are able to decide exactly what is true and what is false in dogma. The Commission does not lay down the principle that we should not overrule the expert. On the contrary, they blame the Prime Minister and the Government for not overruling the military experts. On the other hand, they criticise me not for overruling, but for over-persuading the experts. The principle which the Commission lays down about the experts is one of great value. It is that you must always overrule an expert when he is wrong. The Commission believes that there was a considerable Army available. It believes there was ammunition available. It clearly indicates that it should have been sent early in the year to the East. I agree with them. I agreed with them at the time. I held these views most strongly, and expressed them in definite, written memoranda, but the military authorities did not agree. They would most strenuously have resisted, and were only compelled to part with the troops with the very greatest duress and stress of events.
Will the House allow me to deal with the case of the naval attack. The Commission say that their Report closes on 23rd March. They then proceed to dwell upon the terrible loss of life and treasure which the Dardanelles operations involved. Terrible loss of life and vast expenditure of treasure were incurred in the military operations which began after the 20th April, but, so far as the naval operations were concerned—and they are alone within the purview of this interim Report—there was very little loss of life and hardly any loss of treasure. The French lost the "Bouvet" with her crew, but, so far as we were concerned, only two British battleships were sunk. They belonged to a class which, as the Report now shows, were already being scrapped. They were already having their guns pulled out of them and put into the monitors, and they were retrieved from the scrap heap in order to discharge this important duty at the Dardanelles. So you may estimate their value from that fact. All these old ships, of which we had from twenty to twenty-five, were valueless except for 1803 bombarding purposes. All must have been thrown out of commission by the immense inrush of new construction of the greatest power which we had provided for, and which was already coming to hand. Yet here, in the Dardanelles, these old vessels under sentence of death might change the history of the world and by shortening the duration of the War save millions of lives. Surely it would have been better for them to be employed in fighting for the greatest prize ever offered the Royal Navy, instead of rusting ingloriously upon the mud bank and the scrap heap. So much for the materiel which was lost. I say it was valueless according to the standard of modern naval warfare.
As to the loss of life, God forbid that I should underrate that, but everything is relative, and, compared with the losses of a military attack, compared with losses which have been incurred elsewhere, compared with the prize which would have been won, the loss of life was singularly small. My hon. Friend (Mr. Roch), in his admirably lucid account, mentions the terrible fire directed upon the trawlers which were sweeping the mine-fields. I daresay it was very terrible, but out of 500 or 600 men employed on three successive nights, only seventy or eighty casualties were incurred. On the Western Front they would use another epithet for that. The Report speaks of the bombardment of 18th March as if it were a great disaster. How many men does the House suppose were lost in this great disaster? Sixty-one British officers and men were killed, wounded and missing in this formidable operation. Up to the end of the naval attack, up to the period when this Report comes to its end, only 350 casualties among officers and men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, including losses on shore and in the minefields, had been incurred. That is less than a battalion will lose on the Western Front in half an hour in their assembly trenches, or moving up to the attack. It is only about a third of what is test on the Western Front on an ordinary day when nothing is going on. We must cultivate and observe a sense of proportion in these terrible matters. I may be accused of being reckless or sanguine, but I shall plead that if I am it is because the sense of proportion with which I have judged this War from the very beginning, is different in important respects from the accepted standard.
1804 I have told the House what was lost. What was gained—not might have been gained, but was gained—by the naval attack, which is all that is before the House now, and which is all that this Report deals with at present? The Commission says we were committed to a demonstration by Lord Kitchener's telegram to the Grand Duke on 1st January. We were committed to a demonstration in the Mediterranean. Lord Kitchener was of opinion that such a demonstration could only be effective at the Dardanelles. There is no doubt he was right. There was universal agreement that if a demonstration had to be made it should be an attack upon the outer forts of the Dardanelles. Their reduction would constitute for the time being a perfect demonstration, though if we went no further the effect of the demonstration would stop. If that demonstration was effective it meant that troops would be directed to the spot. In so far as it was effective troops would be directed to the spot, otherwise there would be no relief for the Grand Duke. Therefore it was clear that if we made this demonstration we were spoiling the place for a future joint operation, and yet we were committed to a demonstration. What would have been said, I should like to know, if when the outer forts collapsed, as they did collapse, and it looked as if the Turkish resistance was going to break down altogether, as many good judges thought, we had been found with no plans to go any further, no ammunition to carry on the bombardment, no ships to push on up the Straits, with no mine-sweeping apparatus—if we had been content simply with the empty bombardment of the outer forts and had never looked ahead to take advantage of their collapse? Should we not have been blamed for having thrown away all the chances of future operations in the Dardanelles for the purpose of a futile bombardment of the outer forts? I say that if you were to have a demonstration at the Dardanelles and to bombard the outer forts you were bound to make preparations to exploit to the full any success which might come into your hands. Every authority was agreed to bombard the outer forts. When they had fallen every authority, without exception, was agreed to press on further until more serious resistance was encountered.
Let us see what was gained by this demonstration. Was ever any demonstration in the whole history of war more 1805 potent? The relief to the Grand Duke was instantaneous. Within a fortnight the Turks were moving back to defend their capital and to strengthen the front of Adrianople against Bulgaria. The whole attitude of Bulgaria was altered in our favour. The imminent and terrible danger in which Serbia stood was averted by the naval operations for the time being. As for Greece, she had almost joined us. And let me point out what a difference three Greek divisions would have made to the subsequent military operations. Lastly, there is Italy. The War Council's decision of 13th January was twofold in its character as far as it affected the Admiralty. There was the decision about the Dardanelles, and there was another request for us to consider the possibilities of action in the Adriatic. The naval attack on the Dardanelles served, and was meant to serve, both these purposes, and was so presented to the Prime Minister in a minute by the First Sea Lord and myself. We believed that it would attract to itself the attention of every Power in the Mediterranean, and that followed at once. During the progress of the naval attack those negotiations began which finally, in the hands of the then Prime Minister, who dealt for all the Allies in that matter, culminated in Italy's entrance into the War at the moment when her entrance was most needed and most favourable, and before she could be discouraged by the defeats of the Russians in Galicia which began a few weeks later. These were the results of failure. Judge, then, what might have been the consequences of success. It is a torment to dwell upon them, and to think how near was the naval attack to success. Was there ever really a reasonably fair chance of its succeeding if it had been persevered in and pushed on? Much turns on this from the point of view of the final judgment which history will form of this transaction: indeed, everything turns on it. One of the factors which we always had in mind in deciding upon this attack was the possibility of the Turkish defence not being up to the level of the defence of our other enemies; of their guns being ill served, their ammunition being insufficient or defective, and their defence not being properly organised. Were we wrong? It was not possible for me to lay all the information I possessed on this subject before the Commission. It was 1806 not possible for the Commission to print in their Report all the information which they received, and it was not possible for the Government to publish all the information which is furnished in the Commission's Report. You, therefore, have a three-fold sieve of this matter, at the end of which emerges a dark, vague, and criptic sentence to the effect that there was information that the forts were running short of ammunition, which information was subsequently found to be well grounded. We have to be content with that, and quite right; but one day the truth will be known about this, and we shall know exactly how many rounds there were in the forts at Chanak and at Kilia Bahr on the night of the conclusion of the engagement of the 18th. We shall know how far they had exhausted their stock of improvised floating mines, and we shall know how much of their permanent mine field had been deranged and swept away by our operations. Surely it is prudent, it would be prudent, to wait before passing final judgment on the action of those who were responsible for these operations, until these all-important facts can be ascertained with historical certainty.
I am much obliged to the House for having listened to me with so much attention, and I have only one further word to say before I sit down. In these great times everyone has his responsibility for what is going on. Not only the people who are in favour of an operation, but those who are opposed to it have their responsibility. The responsibility for the failure at the Dardanelles and the subsequent military operations do not rest wholly with those who advocated them. Very strong currents of opinion in this country were opposed throughout to these operations. The great authority of the military chiefs in France was undoubtedly adverse, and from there a steady stream of adverse opinions came. I suppose that something similar must have emanated from the Grand Fleet, who naturally feared a diversion of their forces. Very powerful parties in the House of Commons and in Parliament, and enormous influences in the Press were working continuously to discourage, to terminate, and to wind up these operations at the Dardanelles. Against that powerful undertow nothing could make headway. As the House remembers, a Government was shattered in the process of these operations, and we received an incursion of Unionist statesmen, many of whom 1807 were profoundly and fundamentally opposed to these operations, and only some of them were subsequently and laboriously converted to them. My recollection, looking back on this story, is that it was one long struggle from the beginning to the end—one long, agonising, wearying struggle to get every ship, every soldier, every gun, and every round of ammunition for the Dardanelles.
The light of victory was shining clearly before us, and the path was clearly illuminated, yet we could not get the strength, the power, and the driving force to follow it. We could not get the strength and the resources which were needed to carry it through. It will always be in-creditable to future ages that every man in this country did not rally to an enterprise which carried with it such immense possibilities, and which required such limited resources to carry it into effect. It will always be incredible that for the sake of a dozen old ships and half a dozen extra divisions, more or less, and a few hundred thousand rounds of high explosive shells we failed to gain a prize specially adapted to our Oriental interests and our amphibious power, and which by cutting Turkey out of the War, and uniting in one federation the States of the Balkan Peninsula, would have brought us within measurable distance of lasting success. When this matter is passed in final review before the tribunal of history, I have no fear where the sympathies of those who come after us will lie. Your Commission may condemn the men who tried to force the Dardanelles, but your children will keep their condemnation for all who did not rally to their aid.
§ The Lord ADVOCATE (Mr. Clyde)
I should not have intervened were it not for the fact that I was one of the group of Commissioners who were appointed by Act of Parliament to make inquiry into this expedition and whose Report is the subject of Debate. Particularly for the reason that I am speaking as a Commissioner and in no other capacity it is no intention of mine to attempt in any shape or form to make an answer to the complaints with regard to the Report which have been made by the right hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) or by the right hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). Indeed, so far as the first of those two right hon. Gentlemen is concerned, the House has, I dare say, guessed 1808 that I had heard the vigorous, able, and. persistent speech which he has delivered this afternoon already before the Commissioners. There is not a point to which he has referred relative to the facts on which judgment depends, not one single fact to which he has referred which was not fully and- amply before the Commission. Accordingly, if I were answering—which I am not and could not—what he has said, my answer would be, "you will find my opinion, as well as that of others who considered all these things, in the conclusions of this Report" It must be remembered that while the case presented may seem to be very convincing, and may be in itself a very powerful case—which that of the right hon. Member for Dundee is and was—it does not at all follow that when the whole facts and circumstances of all the cases are laid before the tribunal which is to judge that the actual determination reached should be in favour of any one of the cases presented. It is true, and the right hon. Gentleman does not complain of that.
§ Mr. CLYDE
The conclusions are an. effective part of the Report. It is quite true that the right hon. Member for Dundee differed from most hon. Members who have spoken, and particularly the ex-Prime Minister, in saying that he welcomed the Report. There are some parts of the Report to which he objects. I think I do him no great injustice when I say that he objects to those parts of the Report which he finds do not support, or fully support, the case he thinks himself entitled to make, but, of course, it is another thing with those parts of the Report which happen to harmonise with the view of the case which he thinks is true and which he thinks ought to prevail. The ex-Prime Minister took a different view, I dare say, because the Report contains, as it undoubtedly does contain, some perfectly definite criticisms on him. That brings me to what is really the gravamen of the things that have been said about the Report of which it is either right or proper that I should take notice as a Commissioner. The complaint that is made about the Report is not merely that it has been published, but complaint is made about the circumstances and the manner of the publication. We were told by the ex-Prime Minister that to publish the Report with- 1809 out the evidence was unfair to some men, and to publish the Report with the evidence would have been unfair to the larger and more important interests of the country and the Empire. I notice in that connection—and it is this that emboldens me to deal with it—that he said he made no attack in that connection upon the Government. Then I suppose the criticism is mainly upon the Commissioners. Let us take it so.
It ought to be remembered that this Commission is almost unprecedented in character. It is not a Royal Commission, and it is not a Committee of this House. It is a Commission appointed specially by an Act of Parliament. When the Commissioners began to sit and we were all a little in difficulty about our true procedure in regard to evidence, I tried to find some precedent, but I failed. I do not know whether there is one. The only one that was anything like it was the Parnell Commission, but Parliament did not attach to the proceedings of that Commission the condition that this House attached to ours. The Parnell Commission took all its evidence in public, and so far as I am aware was not restrained in that respect. We were told, and in terms. In other words, we were enjoined, "having regard to the interest of the public and of naval, military, and diplomatic considerations, to allow, or refuse to allow, the public or any portion of the public, to be present during any proceedings of the Commissioners, provided that a full and complete Report in shorthand shall be kept of all evidence taken, whether in public or in private." While I am quoting from the Act of Parliament, I beg the House to remember that we were also enjoined to "Report, as soon as may be, to Parliament." It is all very well to complain that we made a Report, although we knew if we did that we could not take the evidence in public, and that the great bulk of it was such that its publication in any form could not be thought of at all.
§ Mr. CLYDE
Yes, the evidence. It is true to say that we made our Report, notwithstanding. The answer to that is that we did what the Act of Parliament told us to do, and we did it under the only conditions under which you would allow us to do it, and that was that we were to take care that wherever there was any 1810 interests that could be prejudiced, of the kind mentioned in the Statute, we were to exclude the public from the evidence. The meaning cannot be that, having excluded the public from the evidence, we were then to publish it. That applies to the bulk of the evidence. An enormous mass of the evidence which the Commissioners had to collect and consider was not verbal at all, but in the form of documents many of them of the utmost secrecy indeed so secret that complete and unlimited access to them was not given to all members of the Commission, although for practical purposes I do not suggest that anything was kept back. The publication of those documents was not only impossible then, but it is impossible now, and I would like to say to those who complain about evidence not being published, that, so far as my comparatively inadequate means of judgment enable me to form an opinion, there are. a great many of them that will never be published in any circumstances at all. I do not doubt among other things that it was that very circumstance that led this House to tell the Commission, "you have got to make a Report, but though you must keep a shorthand note of everything you must remember that there is a great deal in the way of evidence which you will be unable to publish." So much for written material.
There was also a great deal of verbal evidence given, and it is true that if you could chess-board a man's evidence it might well be that the white squares which you could publish would be greater in number than the black squares you could not. But, as everybody knows, you cannot treat evidence like that. First you do not exactly know what a man is going to say when he comes into the witness-chair, but you do know that it may be at one point, and it may be at almost every point, his evidence will touch or may touch things which it is necessary to keep quite as much private as the document to which I made reference a moment ago. More than that, even if it be true that there are more white squares than black squares in a particular man's evidence, I am afraid we should be told that it was very wrong to publish the bits we did if we did not publish all of it. We are criticised for using what the right hon. Gentleman called snippets in this Report, and therefore the complaint that the evidence is not published along with the Report is a complaint which I respectfully say does not lie in the mouths of those who were, 1811 as the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Prime Minister was, to a large extent personally responsible in connection with the Act of Parliament which established and the directions which were given.
You may say to us, "You ought not to have reported until the War was over." If that was meant in the Act of Parliament, you ought to have told us that. You did not tell us that. You told us that we were to report as soon as may be. In order to make sure that that was done, you expressly said that those Reports which were to be laid before the Houses of Parliament were not necessarily to be final Reports, which in a thing of this kind might take a long time, but were to include interim Reports. It was because of the enormous mass of the thing. Remember we had to collect and read and do our best to digest an enormous amount of written evidence, and we had to listen to and consider the evidence of a very large number of witnesses; and, so far as I am concerned, I admit that I should have been totally incapable of carrying that material in my mind and being able to discuss it afresh if the thing had been postponed until such time as the evidence with regard to the whole of the operations had been obtained. We were told, "You are to get the Report into shape," and, having done that, what excuse should we have had if the Report had not been sent in? Just consider these things. It is known that the Commission has, in point of fact, applied its mind to a certain section of the subject of this Inquiry and has got it into the shape of an interim Report. Do you suppose that we could have kept it back? It would have been asked by this House, "Why, after all this time has elapsed and all this trouble has been taken and all these witnesses examined, has no Report been made to the House, when the Commission were told to report as soon as may be what their opinions were?"
No, if there is to be any criticism about presenting a Report without evidence that criticism recoils on the right hon. Gentleman who made it. Apparently this House does not now want the Report. It would be a great facility if, at any rate, this House would indicate to the Commissioners—I am no longer in a position to sit as a Commissioner now—if that be their view, that they now want no more either of Reports or of evidence. But to blame us, to say that it was wrong of us to take this step, that inevitably led to 1812 the publication, or that we were wrong in the manner or circumstances of it, comes ill from those who are responsible for compelling us to do this very difficult piece of work, precisely under the conditions of whose effect the right hon. Gentleman makes complaint. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee made another objection with which if I may say so, with much respect, I have great sympathy. He said, "the form of your Report is objectionable in this respect, that it treats the narrative part very largely," indeed, I think he might have said as far as we could, "by way of quotations from witnesses." Even apart from narrative, where it becomes more crucial still, instead of giving our own account of what we thought their views were we were trying to express these by selecting passages which seemed to us to do so. That was a very great difficulty, but the point is, that, although opinions may well differ as to whether we took the wisest way or not, we should be equally exposed to the same kind of complaint if we simply expressed the thing in our own words.
§ Mr. CLYDE
The right hon. Gentleman thinks not. I rather think that we should, in the absence of the evidence. There are two ways in which the thing can be done. One is to put it your own way and say exactly what you think somebody else's opinion was. That is all right if you could refer to his evidence and check it. Another way is not to say yourself what you think he said but to make from the things he said the best selection you can, as indicating what you think was the true drift of the statement of his opinions. It is dangerous, I acknowledge, but you have to choose between the two ways, and, knowing that we could not produce the evidence, in these circumstances we preferred the second way.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I would much rather have had an opinion of the Commission on the evidence of the witnesses, when they had studied the evidence as a whole, than to have merely samples from which the public may draw erroneous deductions.
§ Mr. CLYDE
I cannot say a word about the evidence, but I am not aware of any passage quoted from the evidence intended to express or indicate what the witnesses' opinions of any of these things were which has not been selected so as, as far as possible, to present what we thought 1813 the opinions were. After all, it stands to reason. It was not our business to select passages suited to one view or another. They did represent what we thought these peoples opinions were. We may be quite wrong about that. That is another matter. I quite agree that that method of presenting the result of evidence lends itself to criticism, of which I do not in the least complain. The right hon. Gentleman makes this point when he says, "if you had selected another set of passages you might have altered or you would have altered," as he would say, "the shape of that man's evidence." That may be, but the thing was done in the form in which it was done because, on the whole, we thought that that was the better course, and not at all because it is a course that would commend itself to anybody if we had the means of publishing the evidence and letting everybody judge whether our views were right or wrong.
I may add a general remark. It touches a point of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) made a strong matter. He went so far as to say, with regard to there having been no meeting of the War Council after 19th March until a date in May, that that finding of the Commission took him by surprise. I am sure it did, if he says so. Again, I cannot refer to the evidence, but I do not think that it ought to have done anything of the kind. All the same, I understand quite well how misapprehension of the kind may arise. In my own profession when you litigate a case there is a definite proposition or set of propositions put forward by one side, and a definite set of propositions on the other, or, if you like, there is a charge or a series of charges made against somebody, and it is the business of the Court to say whether these charges are well founded or not. But when you come to an open inquiry like this, at which charges may be made—and in the case of the right hon. 'Gentleman the Member for Dundee charges in the nature of public criticism were made—then so far as the Commission inquiring into it is concerned the first thing which it should do is to purge its mind of the idea of charges against anybody. If you begin to examine your witnesses from the point of view of bringing a set of charges against him you start from a prejudiced point of view, and you have in an open inquiry to be as judicious and as gentle and considerate as you can 1814 in your examination of witnesses. It is not conducted on professional principles at all. You have, as far as you can, to elicit the material and to allow the question on which you are going to be critical, and to express an opinion so to speak, to evolve itself from the mass of information. Therefore, it may be that somebody is taken by surprise, although not only was there no intention of taking by surprise, but I think that if we could have the material we should be in a better position to make up our minds as to whether there was really any ground whatever for the complaint which the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I have considered that twice over, and the statement which I made is perfectly accurate.
§ Mr. CLYDE
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will realise that it is quite impossible for us to settle the controversy without the production of the evidence, and that is out of the question. I entirely accept the fact that the right hon. Gentleman's mind was taken by surprise, but he cannot ask me to admit that he ought in fact to have been taken by surprise. But there that controversy, like many others, must lie, until and unless the whole of the evidence ever comes to be published and put before this House, or some other tribunal, to judge. The right hon. Gentleman will not consider me discourteous if I do not propose to say anything about the other points which he raised, about their being vagueness or want of decision in the War Council, about the experts not expressing their opinion, or his comments upon what he called a picture, which he described as out of drawing. I do not propose to say anything about those points. Why? it may be asked. I can make no answer without the evidence.
§ Mr. CLYDE
I have already dealt with that question. It would be quite easy, of course, to raise possibly even controversial matters with regard to these points on the mere terms of the Report. After all, the Report represents what we think, but with regard to such questions as to whether there was vagueness or want of decision as to the experts not having the opportunity to express their opinion, I do not propose to express any view. After all, what the Report says is that these experts did not express their 1815 opinions, and that it was not their business to do so unless they were called upon; but nobody seems to be able to tell us why on earth they were there if they were not to express their opinion.
§ Mr. CLYDE
It seems to me immaterial whether they did or did not, but let there be no mistake about this—what we say about the experts' opinions, and the way in which the experts' opinions were used or indicated, represents exactly what, in my opinion, is the fair and accurate result of the evidence which was submitted. Lastly, it is easy to make an appeal which is irresistible, from one point of view, with regard to any criticism whatever of Lord Kitchener, but I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, who made so much of this point, whether we were to remain silent about Lord Kitchener? If we were not to remain silent about Lord Kitchener, were we not to say exactly what we thought was the result of the evidence? Again, you may say that we are wrong, but it is very easy and cheap to say that we are wrong, when we have no means of bringing each other to book, without the evidence. The real point, and the only point, was that which was raised at the beginning of the Debate with regard to the presentation and publication of the Report without the whole of the evidence along with it, and for that neither the Government nor the Commission has any responsibility. That was the inevitable result of the Act of Parliament of which the right hon. Gentleman himself was largely the author, and the inclusion in that Act of Parliament, almost at the last minute, by a sudden change of front of the Dardanelles as well as Mesopotamia.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
If I may have the attention of the Leader of the House for one moment or of some member of the Government, I should like to put to him a request. We have heard at great length the very best defence that can be put forward for the Members of the War Council who have dealt with the events of the Dardanelles. Will it be possible for those experts, whose conduct has been impugned or reflected upon by the right hon. Member for Dundee, to put forward their defence whether they are on the Active List or not, in the newspaper Press? Will they be free to do so?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It is obvious if they are not permitted to put forward their defence with that freedom which civilians can exercise, they are at a disadvantage, and the position is hardly fair to distinguished officers. I ventured to interrupt the right hon. Member for Dundee on a very important point. Throughout his speech he spoke as if Lord Fisher had not agreed on the matter, it would have come before the War Council, and it might have been necessary for the War Council to change the Board of Admiralty. My point was this, that the Board of Admiralty, so far as the war operations were concerned, had ceased to exist, and the right hon. Gentleman had recognised that the procedure was wrong, because, in answer to a Minute from the Second, Third and Fourth Sea Lords pointing out their position, he stated on the 22nd May that:It would appear desirable that in future the war situation should be reviewed each week by the naval members of the Board under the presidency of the First Lord.In other words, he had conceded the position that they had been working on a wrong basis. The Member for Monmouth stated in evidence to the Commission that if he had found it necessary to consult anybody outside the Board he would have changed the Board. Then, when we come to the evidence of the late Prime Minister, he stated that the members of the War Council "were entitled to assume" that any view laid forward then by the First Lord of the Admiralty "was the considered opinion of the Board of Admiralty as a whole." It was evident from that, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee had failed to acquaint the then Prime Minister of the organic change which he had made in the Board, or in the authority of the Board of Admiralty. When we turn to the memorandum which the Junior Sea Lords and all the Sea Lords, except the First Sea Lord, submitted to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, on 22nd November, I find that they condemn the action of my right hon. Friend in very strong terms. They said:On 22nd November, 1915, the Junior Sea Lords addressed collectively a minute to the present First Lord (Mr. Arthur Balfour) in which they said. The principle on which the Order in Council is based 1817 that the supremacy of the First Lord is complete and unassailable has been pushed too far and has tended to imperil, and at some future time may again tend to imperil, national safety..... The present time may not be the proper one for effecting drastic changes, but of this we are certain, it is the proper and opportune moment to again call the attention of the First Sea Lord to these matters and to express our conviction that had the naval members of the Board been regularly and collectively consulted on large questions of war policy during the progress of the present naval campaign, some at least of the events which the Empire does at this moment deplore so bitterly would not have happened, and that until the authority and responsibility of the Sea Lords is enlarged and defined, there will be no adequate assurance that similar disasters will not recur in the future.I do not desire to pursue controversies which would be proper in peace time in connection with this Report of the Commission. My first intention had been to do so; but, having heard the speeches, I think the temper of the House is against continuing the controversy; but that must be on the understanding that the whole question will come up for discussion and review in this House after the War is over, because otherwise there is no way in which this House can fix the responsibility of statesmen, and place the relations of statesmen, soldiers, and sailors on their proper basis. I myself protested strongly against the holding of this Commission during the War, because I foresaw the difficulties in which we would be placed. I said that it would be a great waste of the time of officers, who were constantly employed, that the result would be to cause cliques among the officers defending their reputations, and that there would also be possible difficulties with Foreign Powers. I further pointed out that it would not be possible to publish the evidence in the same way as could be done were the Commission held in peace time. One is in this vicious circle, that although one desires to make criticisms, those criticisms would only lead to want of national unity. But there is one point on which I must make a protest and that is in connection with the late Prime Minister's speech. He was chairman of the Defence Committee for seven or eight years, and he had every opportunity of putting the relations of soldiers and sailors and statesmen on their proper basis. In fact he sent the right hon. Member for Dundee to the Admiralty in 1912 to prepare the Navy for war. To a large extent he chose the experts. He also came to this House and proposed a Bill which appointed the judges who have pronounced against him; he now finds fault with the Report of those judges, and 1818 I do not think such a procedure will commend itself to the House or to the country.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
I rise for the purpose of saying a few words with a specific object. I think proceedings of this kind should not be allowed to pass without protest. In my opinion this Debate should never have taken place. The House should not have departed from its dignity by discussing a Report of this character presented to us after it has been edited by Government authority. I have done my best to investigate into, this matter, and I can say, without fear of contradiction, that never, in the whole history of Parliament, was there such a procedure as this. Never in the whole history of Parliament has any Government undertaken to give the House of Commons only such parts of a Report as they think proper to give. This Commission was created by Statute. It was not only empowered, but it was directed by Statute to present its Report to Parliament, and it did present its Report, but instead of that Report reaching the House of Commons the Government first of all considered how far the House of Commons should be allowed to see it. Again I say whether a Report be an interim report or a final report I have never, in my long experience, known a Report which has not been presented along with the evidence on which it is based. I have never known a Report which has in any form come before this House for discussion without the evidence on which it was founded.
I really could pity the Lord Advocate in his difficulties in endeavouring to justify the procedure of the Government in regard to this matter, because the whole procedure is totally unlike any previous procedure. It reminds me of the case of a well-known gentleman of legal experience who came into this House as Attorney-General and, having listened to an ordinary discussion, observed, when asked by one of his colleagues what he thought of it, "I never saw such a thing as gentlemen making speeches or statements without an affidavit to support them." This is a discussion taken part in by certain gentlemen who support their views by certain extracts to be found in the margin of the Report and hon. Members who have been listening to them are not given the questions, and therefore 1819 have no means of forming an opinion themselves. I want to know, first of all, why this Report was published at this time, and next I would like to be informed why it was not laid in its entirety before Parliament, and why, too, it was not supported by the evidence? The whole procedure is an utter subversion of every principle of constitutional Government. It is an utter contempt of this House, which is the grand inquest of the nation, and it is as nearly as possible paralleled by the suppositious ease of a grand jury having found a true Bill and a prisoner being forthwith tried on the bill of indictment without any evidence being adduced to support it.
When the Report had been produced, when we had been refused an opportunity of seeing the evidence, and copies of the expurgated parts of the Report, certain Gentlemen who are themselves affected, and properly affected, by references which they conceive do a wrong to the memory of Lord Kitchener, insisted that the Report, as presented, should be amended, and then the astonishing thing occurred that we were furnished with certain notes. I asked what was the meaning of those notes. Were they extracts from paragraphs previously suppressed? I was told that they were partly, and that partly they were condensations. They were, in fact, simply the ideas which the Government chose to offer us. I want to know who authorised that. The essence of the constitutional relationship of Members of the House of Commons one to another is that of absolute equality in reference to all privileges. I am not complaining personally, because if I had the Report in full I would not read it. But I agree, after hearing the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee(Mr.Churchill) and of the ex-Prime Minister, that it would be an improper thing to present a Report confidentially to certain Members of this House. Leaders of parties in this House have no Parliamentary status. If the Report had been presented to Mr. Speaker in his private capacity, everything might have been right. But I do not think Mr. Speaker as the representative of the House—and I say this with great respect—I would enlarge rather than reduce his powers—and as the mouthpiece of the House in his official capacity should be furnished with any information which is not conveyed to the humblest Member. These are my objections to the Report and 1820 the way in which it has been treated. With regard to the censures passed upon Lord Kitchener, I must say I do not think that the person who passed the chief condemnation comes cut at great advantage, while certainly the ex-Prime Minister has shown a great genius of friendship. It appears to me on the whole the Debate proves that Parliament is, under the present system, losing its power, becoming steadily degraded, and is wanting in proper self-respect. Its functions, in fact, are being steadily paralysed under the present Government.
§ Mr. BILLING
I rise principally for the purpose of congratulating this Commission on its courage. They had a very difficult job, and they have shown admirable courage in their Report. I know nothing; about the Dardanelles question. I know nothing at all about the evidence which has been withheld, but I do suggest, in view of the fact that the Government responsible for the appointment of the Commission has fallen, that the publication of the Report might have been left until such time as it could have been given the fullest publicity. There is a feeling in the country that its publication was so timed as to be of great significance and advantage to the Conservative party. I regret that such a rumour should be prevalent. The other point I wish to raise is that this afternoon the late Prime Minister and myself are shown to have at least one thing in common. We have both risen from our seats in this House to defend ourselves against the findings of a Committee, and the only difference between us is that while the Prime Minister appointed his own judges, I had to be satisfied with the judges appointed for me by-others. I do not think any further comment on that is necessary. I only wish I had possessed that Parliamentary ability which was evidenced by the late Prime Minister this afternoon when I was making my case against the Committee, and pointing out my objections to its findings. Had we in connection with the Air Service had the happiness of having on our Committee such gentlemen as were chosen for this Commission, I think the future of the Air Service would have been assured. As it is I think we shall find it necessary to have another form of inquiry, and I only trust if we do have one that the Air Service will be fortunate enough to have such a Committee as was appointed to deal with the Dardanelles question.
§ Colonel AUBREY HERBERT
I think until we had the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) every speaker who had taken part in this Debate was unanimous in regretting the publication at the present moment of the findings of this Commission. But it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and those who call the right hon. Gentleman their friend may congratulate him not only on having had an opportunity of defending himself, but upon the characteristic ability with which he did so. When the Lord Advocate was standing at the Table just now he stated that the late Prime Minister was responsible for this Commission. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman was so technically, but as a matter of fact there are a great many other people who share that responsibility, and I am clear in my memory how this business arose. It started in one of the Committee Rooms upstairs. I was just back from Mesopotamia, and we were extremely anxious to do something for the men there. I remember that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull were extremely anxious to leave the Dardanelles alone, and to concentrate our efforts in doing all that was possible to help the men who were at that moment suffering from every sort of deficiency in Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, when that question was brought down to this House, a number of Gentlemen with ulterior motives would not treat it with the simplicity we had suggested. I think we must all regret the publication at the present moment. There is only one argument in favour of it used by Gentlemen who say that it illustrates our national frankness. I think they should really say "stupidity," because this Report does at the present moment everything that you least desire. It illuminates weaknesses which are now, I hope, past, and it shows the sort of sub-war we had in the past between Departments Again, it has produced the kind of discussion we heard this afternoon, when I think a lot of information highly undesirable is given to the world. I suppose we are all agreed that an inquiry may have been essential, but I cannot see why, under those circumstances, another Act should not have been passed to have delayed or have entirely forbidden the publication of this bowdlerised Report. Who is helped by it? Is this going to create greater confidence in this country or raise our prestige 1822 abroad? Is it going to help either our great dead or those who now hold very responsible positions in this Government? Is it going to strengthen the position of the Government? And, after all, the position really of this Government is that it is a sort of Siamese twin with the last Government by a different father, and also cannot get away from the responsibility. No one, so far as I know, has wanted this Report. The Australians certainly did not want it.
Let me, if I may, give one personal experience to the House. It has been my fortune and my honour to be in many places in this War where the spirit and endurance of men have been tried. I never saw them respond to it better than they did in the Dardanelles, where I happened to be with the New Zealanders on the 25th of April. Everybody knows what happened there in the way of fighting prior to and at the time of the Suvla Bay landing. In all that we had very great losses. At Suvla one used to see at night the cemetery, almost like a living thing, creeping up towards the hospital, and the wounded overflowing from the hospitals almost down towards the cemetery. Everybody was very tired, and I used to hear at night discussion by the men around me. I lived in an old Turkish fort with sixty New Zealanders, the remains of a. battalion. At night they used to argue as to whether the Dardanelles Expedition had been a mistake, or had not been a. mistake, and in the end their main comment was this: "It does not matter whether it has or has not been a mistake; in a war on this gigantic scale you must have also mistakes on a gigantic scale. Our decision was to come and fight for freedom, and it is relatively unimportant if we are killed in the Dardanelles or in France. There, I think, was a magnificent spirit, and that is the spirit that answers the cry for the publication of this Report. What I think this Report might have done, and so far as I see does not do, is this—it might have remarked on the fact that this was one of the most unselfish expeditions that have ever occurred in history, and if it was a mistake it was a mistake that had the most selfless and most gallant backing that has ever been given. As the late Prime Minister said, and it is perfectly true, though as I do not want to put words into his mouth, I say it myself, it is absolutely true that the Dardanelles saved Tiflis for the Russians, and removed peril 1823 from Cairo, and did a very great deal towards the taking of Bagdad. There have been many criticisms upon those responsible, the majority of them levelled at the late Prime Minister. It is not for me, who have not sufficient knowledge either to criticise or to defend. I do not know if at the time he was omniscient or omnipotent, but what I do imagine is this, that there is also another side, and to those Gentlemen who put the Dardanelles Expedition on the debit side I would say there is also a credit side in connection with going into the War and with having our Expeditionary Force, which made a very great difference to our Allies.
§ Mr. KING
The hon. Member for South Somerset (Colonel Herbert) has played such a distinguished part in this War, and always brings to our Debates such a unique experience and such freshness, that one cannot listen to him without great respect and consideration. But I cannot agree with him at all. I believe many Members will fail to agree with him when be says that this Report ought not to have been published. I believe that in time of war, especially when our hopes have been deferred and our plans have been subverted, and when the whole aspect, and, in a measure, the objects of the War have changed, there is nothing so stimulating, if necessary, as to look the full truth fairly in the face. About fifteen months ago I listened to a speech which made an immense impression upon me at the time, perhaps more than any other speech I have listened to during the War, and in that speech the speaker said, "Truth all round is the most fortifying thing in the world." He proceeded to deal with the Dardanelles Expedition, and he was the first man of public eminence who demanded that the expedition should be given up. I refer to Lord Milner. This afternoon, as I have observed in the House what hon. Members on the Front Bench, as well as the Back Bench, have been characterised by is this, that they do not want to face the truth. The truth is unpleasant, the truth is humiliating. It breaks some of our old idols, and therefore they say, "Let us not know the truth until after the War, and then there will be time enough." I do not know whether it is that I am constitutionally different from hon. Members, but I believe in great difficulty and great danger, and in times of 1824 great darkness ahead, such as the present, the truth all round is the most fortifying thing in the world.
That is why I welcome the Report of the Commission. In doing so I should like to call to the memory of the House one man, a great and important man, whose name as far as I know has not been mentioned in the course of this afternoon. I mean Lord Cromer, who has only just passed away. The form in which this Report is is due to him more than to anyone else, and as I understand it the fact that it is published now is due to Lord Cromer more than to anybody else. I am given to understand, when the Royal Commission discussed whether they should defer the first Report until they could present it with the final full Report or should publish this Report now, it was the authority and strong determination of Lord Cromer that decided that the Report should be published now. In view of the extraordinary ability and experience of Lord Cromer, a man who has played a great part in diplomacy, a man who knew the Turkish Empire and the East as few other statesmen, a man who had all the ideas before him and dealt with them for a generation in Egypt—the ideas which are fermenting and forming opinions and policy in the East—the fact that he decided that this Report should be published, and not in the form in which we have it, but with the excised parts, which he himself put in, is a very remarkable one which ought not to be forgotten. I do not pass judgment upon him, and I certainly do not pass judgment upon the Report, but I do say that this Report as it was presented to the House in full had the authority of Lord Cromer, a fact which to my mind ought to be faced. There are just two points to which I propose to refer in the Report which I think ought to be more emphasised. The first is the fact that, as far as I can make out, the staff work of both the Army and Navy authorities, in view of the expedition, were lamentably exiguous; in fact, they hardly existed at all. I take the passage in the Report of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Roch), page 59, paragraph 52:The War Council never had before them detailed staff estimates of men. munitions, and materials, or definite plans showing: them what military operations were possible. The War Council also underestimated without any real investigation the strength of the Turkish opposition.I have read through this Report carefully twice, and one thing that has struck me in connection with it is the fact that there 1825 appears to have been practically no preparatory Staff work, and certainly not before the War, though there is evidence that in 1906 the idea had been present to the War Office that an expedition to the Dardanelles might be necessary in certain circumstances. On several occasions I have called the attention of the House to what I consider to be the inadequate position and achievements of the Higher Command, and I do not intend to go into that now, but the evidence of this Report as to the lack of proper Staff preparation is very remarkable. As far as I can make out, there is very little reference to it at all; but on page 32, in paragraph 100, there is a reference to the fact that a French officer who had formerly been military attaché at Constantinople thought thata military expedition is essential for opening the Dardanelles passage to the Allied fleet, and it would be extremely hazardous to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula.".We and our Allies the French, and the Russians, too, for that matter, have maintained for years and years past military attaches at Constantinople. We have also had for years before the War a Naval Mission there, and the British Ambassador there always has a yacht under the command of a British naval officer. All these facts offered an opportunity of studying a question like this beforehand, but apparently all these opportunities were neglected, because, as far as we can make out, not one of these officers or officials was called in or asked for a report, and the very people who ought to have been preparing our staff for such an emergency were either not preparing them or were not called in to give any help when the emergency arose. That is lamentable. In my opinion, one of the reasons why we do not win this War more quickly and more decisively and at less cost of blood and treasure is that our Staff work here and elsewhere is most lamentably deficient.
I wish to call attention to one more point in connection with that Report, and that is that the diplomatic and political importance of the Dardanelles Expedition have not been adequately drawn out here. There must be a great many more facts in connection with this expedition and its inception and origin than we had given to us in the first Report, but probably we shall have them given to us in the final Report. Let it not be forgotten, however, that in January, 1915, just as this 1826 expedition was in inception, the announcement was made in the "Times" repeatedly for a whole week, from 13th January, 1915, onwards, that Roumania would shortly enter into the War, and we actually advanced Roumania £5,000,000 at that time. There is also the extremely striking fact, which has just been given to us in the supplement to the first Report, that at the time of the inception of this expedition the British Minister in Athens telegraphed that M. Venizelos proposed to offer the co-operation of a Greek Army Corps, and that King Constantine of Greece himself had been sounded and was favourable to participation. I and several other hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) called attention in this House over a year ago to the fact that Greece did offer to participate in the Dardanelles Expedition. The conditions imposed by the Allies as to her participation prevented her co-operation. That, of course, at the present time is a matter upon which we cannot pass judgment. I draw, however, from these facts this conclusion: that not only was the military preparation inadequate, not only were the steps by which the expedition was really begun badly conceived and badly carried out, but that the diplomatic story is probably and, an unfortunate story, too. If we had had the united military forces of Roumania and Greece, which we very nearly did achieve, and probably also Bulgaria uniting with our land forces at the time the naval attack was undertaken, we should have probably seen the whole of this expedition a great success instead of a great tragedy, and we should now probably have been able to congratulate ourselves on the conclusion of the War and of victory for our arms far more glorious, and achieved at a far less cost, than the victory for which we still hope.
As to the speeches to which we have listened I must say that brilliant as was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee—and no speaker to whom I have ever listened in this House seemed to me to have a greater knowledge of his subject, or greater ability in treating it—I was not convinced by it. To my mind, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee comes very poorly out of this Commission's Report. I very much hope that he may have 1827 a great political future, but I hope he is not coming into office again during this War. His record is too bad for that. I hope this country may sec the War concluded before the right hon. Gentleman again takes office. I should like to remind him that his judgment on matters of the War, especially in connection with the Dardanelles Expedition, have been very unfortunate. When he left office in May, 1915, he immediately went to Dundee and delivered a speech there in June. He spoke on the Dardanelles Expedition at a time when its success was still possible, but very problematical. These are the words he used on that occasion:The army of Sir Ian Hamilton and the fleet of Admiral De Robeck are separated only by a. few miles from a victory such as this War has not yet seen. When I speak of victory I am not referring to those victories which crowd the daily placards of the newspapers: I am speaking of a victory in the sense of brilliant and formidable facts shaping the destinies of nations and shortening the duration of the War.That was the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman when he had the facts, which ought to have led him to be much more temperate and less sanguine in his view. In my opinion again and again' the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman has been lamentably lacking. Though I have listened to him with very great pleasure to-night, I really do believe that his excursions into military affairs have not been fortunate, and I trust we shall not see him in office again.
§ Captain TRYON
These questions of personal responsibility, I think, have played too large a part in this Debate to-day, and I would rather wish to turn to something which, I hope, may in a small way be helpful in regard to the future. There are in this Report two definite proposals of a constructive nature. They are not criticisms. I cannot help thinking that all these questions of personal responsibility in the past are rather of less importance than questions of national organisation in the future for the conduct of the War. The first constructive proposal is that the Chief of Staff and the First Sea Lord should be appointed members of the War Committee. The second constructive proposal is that joint naval and military operations should in future be thoroughly considered by a joint naval and military staff. I think there can hardly be any more important thing put forward for the nation and the Empire than this last proposal. In 1759, a year of 1828 great victories to our arms in almost every continent, a curious pamphlet was published which contained these words:The Fleet and the Army, acting in concert, seem to be the natural bulwark of these realmsI do not think that the conduct of these Dardanelles operations by the Government at home can be held to be an example of what was recognised more than 150 years ago to be important to this country—that of the Fleet and the Army acting in concert. I believe that the matter to be considered is not the past, but the future. For the future we want to consider the constitutional machinery for conducting naval and military operations. What is the machinery at present as described in this Report? I am only quoting things which have already been published. Firstly, we have for the conduct of the War a large Cabinet, at that time consisting of twenty-two. from many of whom matters of great importance were kept back—it was said for the sake of greater secrecy—so that the actual Cabinet mainly responsible did not know, so far as many of its members were concerned, the decisions and plans which were actually in operation. That is the head of the machinery. The next piece of machinery was the Committee of Imperial Defence, whose functions, it is said in this Report, were laid down for the requirements of peace. One would have thought that the Committee, when it had to deal with war, would have found that it needed greater powers. We also have another mysterious body, to which I shall allude in a minute.
How did this machinery affect the War? I believe this constitutional machinery was a great impediment to the success of our arms. In January, 1915, there came the request from the Russian War Office to our War Office, through the Foreign Office, asking for a diversion in favour of Russia. Apparently the War Office, in connection with this operation—which necessarily involved great naval questions, such as the safe conduct of the troops, the number of transports available, to how many ships could be spared from other operations to co-operate—came to a decision without any reference to higher bodies, and an answer was therefore sent to the Russian Government. So there we have another body attempting to conduct operations apart, to some extent, from the other bodies I have already mentioned. The next thing happened on 13th January, when the War Office told the 1829 Navy to prepare to take to the Peninsular naval forces and to attack a large piece of land and hold it in the absence of troops. The next thing that happened was that the Fleet was committed to action by the Admiralty, and the plan was developed with the idea of sending the Fleet into the Sea of Marmora, without apparently any military force being available to hold the peninsula in its rear and secure its retreat.
In all these cases I desire to criticise, not the operation of the naval and military officers, but the working of the constitutional machinery to arrive at conclusions, because now we come to this new body, which is a most remarkable constitutional development. The Committee of Imperial Defence had in the meantime developed into a War Council which took some of these decisions. We find in the Report that on the 16th February—and this is a point which has not been developed in this Debate so far—some Cabinet Ministers, meeting informally, decided to -send the troops out. That is a most extraordinary proceeding. Here is a body constituted, we do not know how, but an extraordinary body collected together, and suddenly, at an informal meeting, committing the naval and military forces of the Crown to this great expedition. Finally, we come to the definite action of Lord Fisher, who, in spite of what the ex-Prime Minister told us, did definitely oppose this particular expedition. The ex-Prime Minister, in his speech, stated that Lord Fisher opposed this Dardanelles Expedition, not for its own sake or for its own faults, but because he wanted something else done in another direction. That statement of the ex-Prime Minister is not accurate. Lord Fisher wrote to him a letter on the date I have given, in which he objected to this very Dardanelles Expedition on four definite grounds: First, that it would scatter our naval strength. That has nothing to do with an alternative expedition, but was a definite objection to this particular measure. Secondly, that it was using a fleet for some purpose other than that of forcing a decision at sea. Thirdly, that it would weaken the Fleet; and, fourthly, that it would lose men who were badly wanted elsewhere.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I understood that the statement made by the ex-Prime Minister was that Lord Fisher never objected to the attack on the forts on the ground that it was impracticable. He 1830 objected on other grounds, but he never raised the objection that the scheme as put forward was impracticable on its merits, and it was that expert opinion which they did not receive from Lord Fisher.
§ Captain TRYON
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member, but the real point is the overruling of expert naval opinion. Lord Fisher definitely stated that this policy of attack on the Dardanelles was opposed to what he conceived to be the British naval policy, and that was handed in in a letter to the Prime Minister. Therefore, the statement that the naval experts did not raise any objection seems to me to be entirely devoid of foundation. I would turn to where I began and they are the only two points I wish to emphasise. I do think that with the War still going on, with the future to be looked at, and with the possibility of combined operations of the two forces of the Crown, the Navy and the Army, it is essential that there should be, as is suggested in this memorandum, a definite representation both of the Navy and of the Army, in the form probably of the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Staff, or whatever body may be entrusted with the task of forming a decision upon strategical questions. With regard to this expedition, we have heard to-day a great deal of protestation from those who are responsible. They have put forward in their own defence a great deal about the naval and military experts, behind whom, I think, they are rather inclined to shelter themselves. When the country looks back on this episode in its history, it will remember, not the statesmanship of those who spoke from the opposite benches this afternoon, but the bravery of the Australian troops, the Irish troops, and of all those troops who took part in that expedition. There is nothing more touching and more striking in this whole expedition than this fact. Here in England and out in Australia are white people, all of one race and of one Empire. Another Power was striking at the Suez Canal, and threatening the communications which join those two races. Against that danger the Australians who fell on the Gallipoli Peninsula were fighting. They were fighting to maintain their union, their communications with the Mother Country, and with all the troops who fought was an imperishable tradition of British gallantry. The children of the future, to whom the First Lord of that day referred, 1831 will, we hope, rather recall the gallantry of all those troops, Australians, Irish, English and the rest, rather than the statesmanship, or lack of statesmanship, which made their task so difficult.
I would only say one thing more, and it is perhaps rather an anti-climax after the serious discussion. But I think the House will not treat with anything but amusement the reproach of the former First Lord of the Admiralty against those who failed to join in the expedition. People do not join a particular expedition; they join the Forces of the Crown. From the way the right hon. Member spoke, one might imagine that there were posters, "Come and join our Expedition to the Dardanelles, and follow the wisdom of all the leaders we have heard this afternoon." People join the Forces of the Crown to fight where they are sent and they do not join to show their approval of any particular expedition. What we are eititled to ask For and to get is that while we should rather pass by at the moment the personal question of responsibility, we should seek from this great national episode some hope of better constructed operations in the future, and a co-operation of our Army and Navy under one wise guidance, which will combine the wisdom of both Services for the prosecution of the War.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.