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How we planned the Great War (13)


One of the most important elements in preparing for a world war was the necessity of getting the rest of the Empire to embrace the grand strategy against Germany. Hankey's strategy involved a full utilisation of the Empire in the War and this meant the innovation of informing the Dominion governments of the War Plan (that was still being kept from the British Cabinet). 

This was accomplished during the Imperial Conferences of 1907 and 1909 when military cooperation between London and the White Dominions was discussed and finally in 1911 when the Colonies were "taken into our entire confidence in such questions". (Supreme Command, p. 128) 

The Colonies were vital to economic warfare on Germany since they supplied an amount of Germany's supplies and were well placed to capture its commerce and its small overseas territories. Hankey had an Empire state of mind. His parents were Australian and his wife was a South African. 

To get the White Dominions involved in the War Plans became his objective in order to produce the 'War Organization of the British Empire'. He wanted the establishment of Colonial intelligence services to track German commerce and shipping so that the Navy, and that of the Dominions, could destroy its overseas trade. Hankey's ideas were fully outlined to the Colonial representatives by Asquith, Grey and McKenna at the 1911 Imperial Conference.
Edward Grey also made a very significant speech to the leaders of the Dominions that produced in them the desire to go back to their Colonies and prepare for military operations to be undertaken against Germany in Africa and the Pacific on the Declaration of War. 

Hankey significantly notes that in Grey's speech to the Imperial Conference "we find the underlying cause of our intervention in the Great Wars of 1914 and 1939." (p.129) 

The gist of Grey's speech is the Balance of Power: He said that Britain would always wish to involve itself in a war with a European Power or group of Powers who had the ambition of a "Napoleonic policy". By this he meant that a preventative war would be waged against any Power that England believed was attempting to unite Europe so that Britain no longer had any allies on the Continent to use in its traditional Balance of Power policy. The development of what Grey called "one great combination in Europe, outside which we should be left without a friend" was a situation which he was not about to allow develop without war. 

He also gave a good Liberal argument for acting in an aggressive preventative way: If the situation were to occur without British intervention to prevent it England would have to pay for ships not to a Two Power Standard but a Five Power Standard to "keep the command of the sea." (Britain in taking Grey’s gamble subsequently lost the command of the sea and dramatically increased its balance of payments deficit by ten-fold, crippling it financially for the action required to police the world it had gained after it had won its Great War.) 

But in 1911 everyone in the room understood that Grey was talking about a war on Germany. 

Hankey related what the Prime Minister did next:

"Asquith then gave a detailed account of the Committee's main inquiries, including a lurid description of the War Book, which had only been begun a few weeks before" and asked the Colonies to take "similar steps" in preparation for war. (p. 131) 

Hanley saw this moment as of the "greatest importance" when the Empire "was taken into the fullest confidence on foreign, naval and military policy. They had been offered a seat on the body which in practice exercised the Supreme Command in the work of defensive preparations." (p.132) 

Hankey noted that “In all the Dominions defence preparations were made before the war to correspond, mutatis mutandis, with our own.” (Government Control in War, p.28)

Of course, when Hankey said "defence preparations" he meant preparations for war. In the Imperial lexicon attack was the best and only form of defence and prevention was superior to cure. 

Hankey then described the Liberal Imperialist war plan revealed to the White Dominions; 

"The Continental Inquiries had indicated that the small but efficient force we could send to France... would be by no means negligible when thrown into the scale of nearly balanced forces, and that, psychologically, it's influence would be very great in proportion to its size. Various other Inquiries had emphasised how great would be the influence of sea-power in exhausting our enemy's resources by blockade and shutting off his supplies." (The Supreme Command, p.137)