§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (EARL KITCHENER)
My Lords, during the latter part of the sittings of Parliament prior to the adjournment for the recess I did not think it necessary to address your Lordships, as current events were fully reported from time to time and no defined military situation presented itself which seemed to call for special comment from me. For the last few months the front held by the Allies in the West has been practically unchanged. This does not mean that there has been any relaxation of active work on the part of the forces in the field, for the continuous local fighting that has taken place all along the line has called for the display of incessant vigilance. Meanwhile our positions have been much strengthened, not only by a careful elaboration of the system of the trench fortifications that already existed, but also by a large increase in the number of heavy guns which have been placed along our lines. The Germans have recently on several occasions used gas and liquid fire, and have bombarded our lines with asphyxiating shells, but these forms of attack, lacking as they now do the element of surprise, have failed in their object and lost much of their offensive value owing to the steps taken by us to counteract the effect of these pernicious methods employed by the enemy.
As the new Armies became trained and ready to take the field considerable reinforcements have been sent out to join Sir John French's command, and your Lordships will be glad to hear his opinion of these troops communicated to me. He writes—The units appear to be thoroughly well officered and commanded. The equipment is in good order and efficient. Several units of artillery have been tested behind the firing line in the trenches, and I hear very good reports of them. Their shooting has been extremely good, and they are quite fit to take their place in the Line.These new Divisions have now had the opportunity of acquiring by experience of actual warfare that portion of the necessary training of a soldier which it was impossible to give them in this country, and which, once acquired, will enable them effectively to take their place in line with the rest of the British Army. With these additional reinforcements, amounting to eleven Divisions, Sir John French has been able to extend his lines and take over from the 811 French approximately seventeen miles of additional front.
Throughout the summer months the French have fully held their own along their extended line of front, and in some places, notably near Arras and in Alsace, they have made substantial progress. In the struggle around Arras in early June they captured the whole of the heights of Notre Dame de Lorette as well as a number of strongly-fortified villages around this high ground, thereby securing an area of great tactical importance in view of future operations. In Alsace a number of dominating eminences have been wrested from the enemy, and have been subsequently held in face of formidable counterattacks. One particularly commanding summit, which overlooks the left bank of the Rhine in this quarter and which had been the scene of continuous encounters for many months, has, after changing hands many times, rested finally in the possession of our Allies. The French trenches along the entire front have been developed and strengthened, and they now everywhere present a network of almost impregnable fortifications. Of this I have been able to satisfy myself during a visit which I was lately able to pay to our Allies at the invitation of General Joffre, when I was profoundly impressed with the high state of efficiency and the morale exhibited by the French Army. It was evident that officers and men recognised that the only possible termination to the war is to inflict on the enemy a thorough defeat, and that their resolution to do this was never firmer or more intense. Our Allies' aircraft have been particularly active. They have carried out numerous effective raids on a large scale, penetrating far into hostile territory.
Turning to the Eastern theatre, the enemy, taking advantage of their central position, since early in June, have been employing a very large proportion of their forces in strenuous efforts to crush our Russian Ally. In the prosecution of these operations, which we have all closely followed, the Germans, in addition to their great numerical superiority, developed vastly preponderating artillery, which enabled them to force the Russians from their defences. The German objective was evidently to destroy the Russian Army as a force in being, and thus to set free large numbers of their troops for action elsewhere, but, as in the case of many other plans arranged by the German Staff during 812 this war, there has been a signal failure to carry out the original intentions.
In the history of this war few episodes will stand out more prominently or more creditably than the masterly manner in which the Russian forces, distributed along a line of some 750 miles, have been handled while facing the violent assaults of an enemy greatly superior, not only in numbers, but especially in guns and munitions. The success of this great rearguard action has been rendered possible by the really splendid fighting qualities of the Russian soldier, who, in every case where actual contact has taken place, has shown himself infinitely superior to his adversary. It is these fighting qualities of the men of the Russian Army which have empowered her able Generals and competent. Staff to carry out the immensely difficult operation of a retirement of the whole line over some 100 to 200 miles, without allowing the enemy to break through at any point, or, by surrounding their forces, to bring about a tactical position which might have involved a surrender of a considerable portion of the Russian Army.
Thus we see the Russian Army remaining to-day intact as a fighting force. It has doubtless suffered severely from the hard fighting to which it has been subjected during recent months, but the German forces have also had to pay a heavy toll for their advance into Russia, and who will venture to say, until the present grips are relaxed, which of the Armies has suffered the more? It must not be forgotten that Russia, with her vast territory, has always been able ultimately to envelop and annihilate the largest invading Armies. In this she is certainly no less capable to-day than she was a century ago.
As regards the net result, all that the Germans can place to their credit is that, at enormous sacrifice, they have captured certain fortresses. But our recent experience shows that the best fortifications and practically the only ones that can effectively resist the new machinery of war, are those which can be quickly dug deep in the soil. Such trenches to-day form better defences than most of the carefully fortified places of which engineers until lately were so proud. The Germans appear almost to have shot their bolt. Their advance into Russia, which at one 813 time was carried out at an average daily rate of approximately five miles, has now diminished to less than one mile a day, and we see the forces which they boastingly described as defeated and broken troops flying before them still doggedly and pluckily fighting along the whole line, and in some places, indeed, turning on the jaded invaders of their territory and inflicting heavy losses upon them. The Russian Army far from falling out of the fighting lists, as Germany fondly hoped would be the case, is still a powerful and undefeated unit, and the determination and confidence of the troops, fortified by an increasing supply of munitions, have only risen in proportion to the strain which has been imposed upon them.
In this momentous hour of stress his Imperial Majesty the Tsar has taken executive command of his Armies in the field. The enthusiasm created by this step will serve to concentrate all the energies of his officers and men on driving back the invaders, and preventing them from reaching any vital portion of the Empire. To sum up, we may fairly say that while the Germans have prevailed by sheer weight of guns and at immense cost to themselves in forcing back the Russian front, nothing but barren territory and evacuated fortresses have been gained; thus their strategy has clearly failed, and the victories they claim may only prove, as military history has so often demonstrated, to be defeats in disguise.
Towards the end of May Italy ranged herself alongside the Allies and commenced active hostilities. By a series of rapid and brilliant infantry operations their Army advanced and occupied positions beyond their frontiers, thus obtaining control of all the principal passes in the Carnic Alps and on the Trentino frontier. The geographical and strategical advantages previously possessed by the enemy were thus neutralised and the main Italian advance on many very strong positions could be carried out on their Eastern front extending along the whole valley of the Isonzo as far as the sea. The great difficulties caused by heavy floods and inundations were overcome by successful bridging operations of an extensive nature. The occupation of Monte Nero in this theatre was a most brilliant achievement, carried out by the Alpine troops with their well-known skill and daring. The achievements of the Italian Artillery have 814 been truly remarkable, and the manner in which heavy pieces have been hauled into almost inaccessible positions on lofty mountain peaks and in spite of great difficulties evokes universal admiration. Under the inspiring leadership of their King, assisted by General Cadorna, the Italian Army now occupies strategic positions of first-rate importance; the gallant conduct of the Infantry of the line in action impressed upon their enemies the great military value of the Italian Army, while the bold feats of the Alpine troops and the Bersaglieri when scaling the rugged mountain sides were a marvellous example of successful enterprise.
On the Gallipoli Peninsula operations were carried on during June against the Turkish position. Several Turkish trenches were captured and our own lines were appreciably advanced and our positions consolidated. Considerable reinforcements having arrived, a surprise landing on a large scale at Suvla Bay was successfully accomplished on August 6 without any serious opposition. At the same time an attack was launched by the Australian and New Zealand Corps from the Anzac position and a strong offensive was delivered from Cape Helles in the direction of Krithia. In this latter action the French troops played a prominent part and showed to high advantage their usual gallantry and fine fighting qualities. The attack from Anzac, after a series of hotly-contested actions, was carried to the summit of Sari Bair and Chunuk Bair, which are the dominating positions in this area.
The arrival of the transports and the disembarkation of the troops in Suvla Bay were designed to enable the troops to support this attack. Unfortunately, however, the advance from Suvla was not developed quickly enough, and the movement forward was brought to a standstill after an advance of about two and a-half miles. The result was that the troops from Anzac were unable to retain their position on the crest of the hills, and, after being repeatedly counterattacked, they were ordered to withdraw to positions lower down. These positions, however, have been effectively consolidated, and now, joining with the line occupied by the Suvla Bay force, form a connected front of more than twelve miles. From the latter position a further attack on the Turkish entrenchments was delivered on the 21st, but after several hours of sharp 815 fighting it was not found possible to gain the summit of the hills occupied by the enemy, and, the intervening space being unsuitable for defence, the troops were withdrawn to their original position. Since then comparative quiet has prevailed and a much-needed rest has been given to our troops. In the course of these operations the gallantry and resourcefulness of the Australian and New Zealand troops have frequently formed a subject for eulogy in Sir Ian Hamilton's reports. General Birdwood and his staff have greatly distinguished themselves both in planning and conducting the operations of the Australian and New Zealand Corps, whose activities have been marked by constant success. Their determination to overcome apparently insuperable difficulties has been no less admirable than their courage in hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy.
It is not easy to appreciate at their full value the enormous difficulties which have attended the operations in the Dardanelles or the fine temper with which our troops have met them. There is now abundant evidence of a process of demoralisation having set in among the German-led-or rather German-driven—Turks, due, no doubt, to their extremely heavy losses, and to the progressive failure of their resources. It is only fair to acknowledge that, judged from a humane point of view, the methods of warfare pursued by the Turks are vastly superior to those which have disgraced their German masters. Throughout, the co-operation of the Fleet has been intensely valuable and the concerted action between the sister Services has been in every way, and in the highest degree, satisfactory.
In Mesopotamia the troops on the Euphrates having been reinforced, the Turks were attacked and expelled from their entrenched positions barring the way to Nasirieh. A second position to which they retired was also carried. The enemy's resistance there terminated, and Nasirieh was occupied by our troops. In these operations the enemy lost the whole of their artillery besides large quantities of stores, munitions, and other war material. A few days later a reconnaissance showed that the Euphrates was free of the enemy for a distance of nearly sixty miles. Since this victory there has been no further fighting on the Euphrates, Tigris, or Karun rivers. Climatic conditions in this theatre of war have rendered the operations 816 extremely arduous. The heat has been intense; swamps and marshes have rendered the country almost impassable; and the highly successful issue of the expedition is due to the consummate gallantry and dogged determination of the officers and men of the force engaged.
General Botha has carried the operations in South Africa to a decisive and victorious end. After the seizure of Windhoek a flying force was concentrated on Karibib to clear the country on both sides of the railway, and, if possible, to surround the Germans who had fallen back to Otavi. This force occupied Otavi on July 1, and meanwhile, General Britz, who had marched with a force by a long detour through Otio, reached the eastern extremity of Lake Etosha, and the enemy, finding themselves completely enveloped and their retreat cut off both east and west, bad no alternative but to surrender. On the 9th of July 204 German officers and 3,293 men fell into General Botha's hands—a fitting conclusion to a brief and brilliant campaign.
In East Africa on June 23 a successful attack was made on the German port of Bukoba on Lake Victoria Nyanza, when the fort, wireless installation, and shipping were destroyed and on the 6th and 11th July attacks were carried out by the Navy on the "Königsberg" which had taken refuge up a creek, with the result that she was completely wrecked. Several raids took place on the Uganda Railway, but the damage done has been trifling. Our patrols have shown considerable enterprise in carrying out reconnaissances all along the frontier, and various successful encounters have been reported.
As I have informed your Lordships, some of the new Armies we have prepared and equipped for the war are already in the field, and others will quickly follow them on service abroad. The response of the country to calls for recruits to form these Armies has been little short of marvellous, but it must be borne in mind that the provision of men to maintain the forces in the field depends in great degree on a large and continuous supply of recruits. The provision to keep up their strength during 1916 has caused us anxious thought which has been accentuated and rendered more pressing by the recent falling off in the numbers coming forward to enlist, although every effort has been made to 817 obtain our requirements under the present system. I am sure we all fully realise that the strength of the Armies we are sending out to fight must be fully maintained to the very end. To fulfil this purpose we shall require a large addition to the numbers of recruits joining, and the problem of how to secure an adequate supply of men, and thus to ensure the field force being kept up to full strength, is engaging our close attention, and will, I hope, very soon receive a practical solution.
The returns of the Registration Act which will be shortly available will, no doubt, give us a basis on which to calculate the resources of the country, and to determine the numbers that will be available for the Army after providing for the necessary services of the country, as well as those of our munition works. Whatever decision may be arrived at in the full light of the facts before us must un- 818 doubtedly be founded on the military requirements for the prosecution of the war and the protection of our shores, and will be the result of an impartial inquiry as to how we can most worthily fulfil our national obligations. Although there has been a falling off in the number of recruits, I do not draw from this fact any conclusion unfavourable to the resolution and spirit of the country; on the contrary, I think now—as I have always thought—that the manner in which all classes have responded to the call of patriotism is magnificent, and I do not for one instant doubt that whatever sacrifices may prove to be necessary to bring this gigantic war to a successful conclusion will be cheerfully undertaken by our people.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before Five o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.