. 2
( 14)


The detailed design of the Dreadnought was worked out by an
Admiralty Committee of Designs, which the First Lord, the Earl of
Selborne, appointed, on Fisher™s advice, in December 1904. Techno-
logical developments since the turn of the century suggested that a
period of innovation was at hand. Indeed, the stability of design of
battleships since the 1890s had been exceptional. Continuous innova-
tion had been the feature of naval technology from the 1850s to the early
1890s, with steam supplementing and then replacing sail, iron and then
steel replacing wood, gun turrets replacing broadsides, and high free-
board replacing low free-board vessels, so that major warships were
obsolescent about ten years after they were built. In contrast, all twenty-
nine British battleships completed between 1895 and 1904 had a main
armament of four 12-inch guns and a secondary armament of twelve
6-inch quick-¬ring guns. The ˜King Edward™ class supplemented this
arrangement with an intermediate armament of four 9.2-inch guns, but
these guns complicated the task of correcting gunnery ranges by
observing where a salvo entered the water, as it was hard to distinguish
the splashes made by the different sizes of guns. Improvements in
gunnery after 1901 increased the range at which 12-inch guns could be
effective, and the increased range of torpedoes made it desirable for
battleships to engage each other at longer ranges than hitherto con-
templated. Consequently the Committee recommended an all-big-gun
battleship as the best type for Britain™s needs. Even before he became
¬rst sea lord, Fisher had been an advocate of British warships having
superior speed to their foreign rivals, both to get the battle ¬‚eet quickly
to the decisive point and to give British admirals the opportunity to
Manchester Guardian, 27 Jan. 1910, cited in Arthur Marder, From the Dreadnought to
Scapa Flow: The Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904“1919, 5 vols. (Oxford University
Press, 1961“70), vol. I, p. 56.
2 HC Deb., 5s, 1909, c. 936.
The dreadnought era 25

outmanoeuvre the enemy. The development of the steam turbine
engine, which offered a considerable advance on earlier triple expansion
engines, had reached a stage when it was ¬t for use in a large ship. The
Dreadnought dispensed with both intermediate and secondary guns, and
mounted ten 12-inch guns, plus light guns for use against torpedo craft,
and her turbine engines gave her a speed of 21 knots, compared with
19 knots for the ˜King Edwards™.
Fisher was not alone in thinking in terms of ships that would be faster
than battleships but have as big guns. The Japanese decided in the light
of their experience in 1904“5 to build lightly armoured, slightly faster,
versions of pre-dreadnought battleships. These new vessels, the ¬rst of
which were completed in 1907, displaced 13,750 tons and differed from
similarly sized British armoured cruisers in having a main armament of
four 12-inch guns instead of six 9.2-inch guns. About the same time the
well-known Italian naval designer Vittorio Cuniberti designed slightly
smaller ships for the Italian navy with a main armament of two 12-inch
guns. The ˜Invincible™ class of battle-cruisers, completed in 1908, dis-
placed 17,250 tons and had an armament of eight 12-inch guns. They
were also faster than the Japanese and Italian vessels, having a speed of
25 knots, compared with 20.5 to 21 knots. Fisher would have preferred
to make the battle-cruiser the centre-piece of his capital ship pro-
gramme. However, he was unable to persuade the Committee of
Designs or Selborne that submarines and surface torpedo-craft were
capable of taking over the battleship™s coastal-defence function, or that
the battleship could be dispensed with.19 Prior to the inter-war period,
only the Germans and Japanese followed the British example by
building battle-cruisers, whereas all great powers built dreadnought
The Royal Navy continued to set the pace regarding the design of
capital ships. By the time that the ¬rst German dreadnoughts were
coming into service in 1909, the Admiralty had decided to increase the
size of the big naval gun from 12 inches to 13.5 inches, a step that led
Germany to delay work on its dreadnoughts due to be built in 1910, to
give time to study the implications of the new gun for the amount of
armour required. Then, in 1912, Churchill sprang a surprise when he
revealed that the ¬ve new ships to be laid down that year would be

Fisher, ˜Naval necessities™, 21 Oct. 1904, with Selborne™s marginal comment, FISR 8/4,
Churchill College, Cambridge.
The United States laid down six battle-cruisers in 1920“1, but these were cancelled as a
result of the Washington naval treaty, and the ¬rst American battle-cruisers “ large
cruisers in US Navy parlance “ were not completed until late in the Second World War.
France built two battle-cruisers in the 1930s.
26 Arms, economics and British strategy

˜super-dreadnoughts™, armed with eight 15-inch guns and having a
speed of 25 knots that would enable them to act as a fast wing of the
battle ¬‚eet. At that date the German navy had still not progressed
beyond the 12-inch gun, and its ¬rst 15-inch gun vessels were not laid
down until 1913“14. Moreover, the British super-dreadnoughts, the
˜Queen Elizabeth™ class, were the ¬rst British battleships to use oil
instead of coal, making it possible to refuel more quickly and spend
more time at sea than their German rivals. It is true that German
warships had other qualitative advantages over the British, such as a
system of subdivision and damage control by ¬‚ooding and pumping that
made their ships very dif¬cult to sink. German gunnery also proved to
be superior, especially as regards their opening salvoes. The Admiralty
missed the opportunity presented by the development of a new system
of ¬re control by Arthur Pollen between 1905 and 1912 to steal a march
on the Germans, and, although elements of his system were included in
the one ¬nally adopted, the outcome was less than optimal.21
Nevertheless the Admiralty could not fairly be described as con-
servative in regard to naval technology, especially with regard to tor-
pedoes. Destroyers had evolved as a countermeasure to protect
battleships against attack in coastal waters by torpedo boats at a time
when the Royal Navy™s most likely opponent was France. The earliest
examples in 1894 had displaced 220“300 tons but ten years later the
˜River™ class displaced 527“566 tons. The Committee of Designs
recommended in 1905 that in future surface torpedo-craft should be of
two types: ocean-going destroyers of 600 tons and coastal types of 250
tons. The latter category was built only in 1906“8 but ocean-going
destroyers of 1,000 tons were being completed by 1912. Increased size
enabled them to escort the battle ¬‚eet in the North Sea, and to attack
the enemy ¬‚eet with torpedoes. When the ¬rst submarines “ of an
American design “ were introduced into the Royal Navy in 1902, they
were regarded as defensive weapons, but by 1910 British ¬rms had
produced craft capable of offensive operations off the German coast.
Britain adopted the submarine four years before Germany and had
about twice as many in service as the Germans in 1914. If anything, the
Royal Navy was too willing to invest in untried technology. In 1912 an
Admiralty committee on the design of future submarines recommended
that there should be two types: economy-sized ones suitable for coastal
defence, and a new, larger type with range and surface speed that would
enable it to operate with the ¬‚eet. The concept of the ¬‚eet submarine

Jon Tetsuro Sumida, In Defence of Naval Supremacy: Finance, Technology and British
Naval Policy (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), pp. 71“100, 331“7.
The dreadnought era 27

proved to be ¬‚awed (increased surface speed being achieved at the
expense of underwater performance), and the resources devoted to
develop these vessels would have been better used to build more of the
existing, successful, conventional design for long-range patrol sub-
marines capable of operations off the German coast.22 One weapon that
the Royal Navy did not develop to the same extent as other navies was
the mine, despite the sinking of three battleships that struck mines
during the Russo-Japanese War. The Admiralty preferred to use its
limited funds to build warships rather than to develop a technology
whose bene¬ts and dangers it underestimated.23
Overall, however, the Royal Navy was a technical leader. It could
draw upon the expertise of the world™s leading warship designers and
builders. Britain dominated the naval arms trade before 1914: for
example, British shipyards received export orders for eight dread-
noughts, compared with two placed with American yards and one with a
German ¬rm.24 The Royal Navy also had the advantages of con¬dence
arising from a long tradition of victory and the fact that its ships were
manned by long-service volunteers, whereas the German navy relied
mainly on short-service conscripts.

Army weapons
The Boer War had exposed considerable weaknesses in the army. One
consequence was that the War Of¬ce decided to adopt quick-¬ring
guns: an 18-pounder for the Field Artillery and a 13-pounder for the
Horse Artillery. By 1904 the lighter gun was giving better results in
trials, and it was suggested that it should be used by both arms of the
artillery. Balfour, typically, decided to go into the technical aspects of
the question himself, and in December 1904 he came down in favour of
the heavier gun as the principal weapon for infantry divisions, although
it was not ready for production until mid-1905.25 As a consequence, the
British army™s standard ¬eld gun in 1914 ¬red a heavier shell than the
German 77 mm (15 pounds) or the famous French 75 mm (16 pounds).
Once in opposition, the Conservatives criticised the Liberal government
for providing the army with equipment that was inferior to that of
Nicholas Lambert, ˜British naval policy, 1913“14: ¬nancial limitation and strategic
revolution™, Journal of Modern History, 67 (1995), 595“626.
Peter F. Halvorsen, ˜The Royal Navy and mine warfare, 1868“1914™, Journal of
Strategic Studies, 27 (2004), no. 4, 685“707.
The ¬gure of eight includes a battle-cruiser for Australia but not three battleships built
by a British syndicate in Spain. Both Austria-Hungary and Russia ordered British
turbines and boilers for their dreadnoughts.
Kenneth Young, Arthur James Balfour (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1963), p. 232.
28 Arms, economics and British strategy

continental nations, but in 1912 Colonel J. E. B. Seely, the under-
secretary of war, felt able to state that Britain™s quick-¬ring guns were
superior to all others, except perhaps the French. He also claimed that
the British army™s latest howitzer was the best in existence, but in doing
so he overlooked the fact that the German army was more liberally
supplied with heavy guns than the British.26 Indeed, artillery capable of
levelling earthworks was a neglected feature of the Edwardian army
because the General Staff doubted whether siege artillery would play a
major part in any future European war and preferred lighter, shrapnel-
¬ring guns suitable for use against men in the open. The shortage of
high-explosive shells that the army was to experience in 1914“15 was
thus partly a result of military doctrine. The 18- and 13-pounder guns
were designed for mobile warfare, but their ability to ¬re between 3,600
and 5,400 shells in an hour far exceeded what could be sustained by
horse-drawn wagons. The army made considerable progress in
mechanising its transport in the ten years before 1914, but motor
vehicles were not yet suf¬ciently advanced to be effective except on
macadamised roads. Consequently gunners were instructed to conserve
ammunition by limiting themselves to short bursts of accurate ¬re, and
reserves of ammunition were quite inadequate for the heavy bombard-
ments that were typical of the First World War.27
The allocation of two heavy machine guns to each battalion was
likewise to prove to be woefully inadequate in the light of wartime
experience, but was the same as in the German army in 1914. The main
British shortcoming was a lack of clear tactical ideas about how to use
machine guns, re¬‚ecting prolonged disputes between the artillery on the
one hand, and the cavalry and infantry on the other, as to who should
control the guns. Reliance on heavy machine guns was thought to be
likely to hamper the infantry™s manoeuvrability. As with quick-¬ring
¬eld guns, army manuals stressed the need to conserve ammunition by
restricting their use to repelling mass attacks.28 The British army was
not alone in underestimating the effects of modern ¬repower and
overestimating the importance of the bayonet and other forms of cold
steel. The cavalry, who were still equipped with lances or sabres as well
as ri¬‚es, seem old-fashioned to the modern eye, but no more so than

35 HC Deb., 5s, 1912, cc. 51“2.
David French, ˜The military background to the ˜˜shell crisis™™ of May 1915™, Journal of
Strategic Studies, 2 (1979), no. 2, 192“205; Graham R. Winton, ˜The British Army,
mechanisation and a new transport system™, Journal of the Society for Army Historical
Research, 78 (2000), 197“212.
T. H. E. Travers, ˜The offensive and the problem of innovation in British military
thought 1870“1915™, Journal of Contemporary History, 13 (1978), 531“53.
The dreadnought era 29

their German equivalents, who were similarly armed. Compared with
the French, who took the ¬eld in uniforms closely resembling those of
1870, with cavalry in breast plates and infantry in red trousers, British
soldiers, in their sober khaki, were very modern in appearance. More-
over, experience in the Boer War had led Lord Roberts, the commander
in chief of the British army, to conclude that the ri¬‚e would be the
cavalryman™s principal weapon, and despite resistance from tradition-
alists, the British cavalry was trained to ¬ght on foot as well as on
horseback, and could provide mobile ¬repower, whereas most con-
tinental European training emphasised charging with lance or sabre.29
The biggest changes to the army related to its organisation. Britain
alone among the combatants in 1914 had no form of compulsory
military service. The advantages of volunteers, who served for longer
periods than conscripts could have been required to do, were more time
for training and for service in the Empire. On the other hand, volunteers
had to be paid more than conscripts and were fewer in number, so
consequently the army had no large reserves for an extended campaign.
Roberts resigned from the CID in November 1905 to become president
of the National Service League, which agitated for some form of com-
pulsory service for home defence (thereby releasing the Regular Army
for service overseas). The Conservative leadership, however, resisted
taking up the cause of conscription, seeing it as an electoral liability.
Senior army of¬cers were divided on the question.30 Haldane™s solution
to the problem of home defence and reserves was to reorganise the old
part-time Volunteers and Militia into what in 1907 became the Terri-
torial Army. The Terrritorials differed from their Victorian predecessors
in being organised into divisions composed of all arms, infantry, cavalry,
artillery and engineers, but, like them, they lacked the training to enable
them to take the ¬eld at the outbreak of a war. The size of the force that
could be sent to France was also limited by the deployment of about half
of the Regular Army™s ¬eld units in the Empire (mainly India). Hal-
dane™s greatest achievement was to organise the Regular Army at home
into the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), comprising six Regular
infantry divisions, each of nearly 19,000 of¬cers and men, and one
cavalry division of nearly 10,000 of¬cers and men, ready for service in
Europe.31 The BEF was small compared with the conscript armies that

Marquess of Anglesey, A History of the British Cavalry, 8 vols. (London: Leo Cooper,
1973“97), vol. IV: 1899“1913 (1986), pp. 390“423.
Hew Strachan, The Politics of the British Army (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997),
pp. 109“11.
Spiers, Haldane, pp. 80“91.
30 Arms, economics and British strategy

France and Germany put in the ¬eld (90 and 98.5 divisions respec-
tively), but it was an elite force.

Before the twentieth century an account of armaments would have been
restricted to those required for sea and land forces. However, develop-
ments with airships and aeroplanes in the Edwardian period caught the
public imagination, with the prospect of future wars being waged in a
third dimension. In Germany, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin had
begun experiments with large, rigid airships in 1900, and by 1906 had
achieved suf¬cient success for the German government to purchase one,
which was declared to be the nucleus of the world™s ¬rst aerial war ¬‚eet.
In 1908 H. G. Wells published The War in the Air, a graphic, if ¬ctional,
account of an intercontinental war conducted by airships, which were
described as capable of destroying cities by bombing. Meanwhile, in the
United States, Orville and Wilbur Wright had ¬‚own the world™s ¬rst
powered, heavier-than-air machine in December 1903, and were mak-
ing efforts to sell their secret to the military authorities of Britain, France
and Germany, as well as the United States. Captive observation bal-
loons had been employed by the British army since the 1880s, but had
the disadvantage that troops on the reverse slopes of hills of moderate
height and steepness remained concealed unless a balloon rose to such a
height that the observer™s view was liable to be obstructed by cloud.
Powered aircraft would be greatly superior to balloons for reconnais-
sance purposes. The army hoped that aeroplanes would be able to ¬‚y
over the enemy™s rear areas, reporting troop movements; the navy hoped
that airships and aeroplanes would be able to search great areas of sea
very rapidly. Newspapers were more inclined to comment on the loss of
Britain™s insular security.
In October 1908 the CID set up a sub-committee to report on any
˜reasonably probable™ dangers presented by ˜aerial navigation™ in the
near future; on the naval or military advantages of airships and aero-
planes; and on the amount of money that should be spent for experi-
mental purposes. These questions were considered to be important
enough to deserve the attention of ministers “ Lloyd George, Haldane
and McKenna “ as well as senior army and navy of¬cers. The committee
appears to have been more impressed by airships than by aeroplanes.
The former had greater range and carrying capacity, and it was known
that Germany and France were considering their use for dropping
bombs. In contrast the Wrights™ aeroplane had ¬‚own for periods of only
just over two hours at a time, and the committee had been ˜unable to
The dreadnought era 31

obtain any trustworthy evidence to show whether great improvements
may be expected in the immediate future, or whether the limit of
practical utility may have already been nearly attained™. In fairness to the
committee, it should be noted that it reported in January 1909, six
months before Louis Bleriot made his pioneering ¬‚ight across the
English Channel. Another consideration guiding the committee was
their belief that airship development would be dependent on govern-
ment funding, whereas aeroplanes appeared to offer an attractive ¬eld
for private enterprise, given likely demand ˜for sport and recreation™.
Accordingly, the committee recommended that the navy estimates
should include £35,000 for building a rigid airship for scouting and
˜possibly for destructive purposes™; that the army estimates should
include £10,000 for continuing experiments with ˜navigable balloons™
(small, non-rigid airships) to replace captive balloons; but that the
experiments that the army had been making with aeroplanes since 1906
should be discontinued.32
In the event, the navy™s airship, the May¬‚y, was damaged by a gust of
wind during trials in 1911 and the Admiralty was so discouraged that it
was not until 1914 that it ordered eight rigid airships. At the outbreak of
war the navy had only seven small, non-rigid airships, of which four were
too unreliable for operations at sea. In contrast, Germany™s Zeppelins
were to prove ef¬cient scouts. The performance of aeroplanes was
limited by the lack of powerful engines. One solution, adopted by the
Short company in 1911, was to ¬t an aeroplane with two engines, but no
orders were placed for twin-engined aircraft before the war (although
both Italy and Russia had developed multi-engined bombers by 1914).
In February 1911 the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers was formed,
with one company of aeroplanes and one of airships. In April 1912 the
Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was created, with naval and military wings,
and a central ¬‚ying school to provide pilots for both services.33 By
January 1913 the CID was taking the Zeppelin threat seriously enough
to enquire what weapons were available against it. At that date the War
Of¬ce and the Admiralty were each experimenting with different high-
angle guns, but none were in service for anti-aircraft defence.34 Lack of
inter-service co-operation was also evident at the same meeting with
˜Report of the Aerial Navigation Committee™, 28 Jan. 1909, Cabinet Of¬ce records,
series 16, volume 7 (CAB 16/7), TNA. For the context of the committee™s
deliberations, including British reactions to the Wright brothers™ experiments, see
Alfred Gollin, No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902“1909 (Stanford
University Press, 1984).
For an account of these early developments see Hugh Driver, The Birth of Military
Aviation: Britain, 1903“1914 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1997).
CID minutes, 7 Jan. 1913, CAB 2/3, TNA.
32 Arms, economics and British strategy

regard to the development of aeroplanes: Churchill, as ¬rst lord,
believed that the requirements of the navy and army were divergent,
with the navy being primarily interested in sea-planes, whereas Seely,
now secretary of state for war, disagreed, suggesting that the machine of
the future would probably be interchangeable, able to land on land or
water.35 The RFC™s military wing had a policy of standardising pro-
duction of a single type, the B.E.2C, a product of the government-
owned Royal Aircraft Factory (although small numbers of machines of
different designs were also ordered from private ¬rms), whereas the
naval wing had a policy of relying entirely on the designs of private ¬rms.
Given these differences, and the usual friction between the services, it is
not surprising that the Admiralty decided to break away from the RFC
to form the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) on 1 July 1914.
At the outbreak of war, the combined ¬rst-line strengths of the RFC
and RNAS totalled 113 aeroplanes, in comparison with France™s 120
aeroplanes ready to take the ¬eld and Germany™s 232. Given that the
aeroplanes of the three powers had limited range and carrying capacity,
and were regarded as suitable only for reconnaissance, the RFC™s ¬rst-
line strength of sixty-three aeroplanes was large in relation to the BEF,
which, as noted above, was less than a tenth of the size of the German or
French armies.36 Moreover, the RFC was already preparing for air
combat. The naval wing of the RFC had conducted trials in April 1914
on how best to use aircraft to repel an air attack. A true ¬ghting
machine, the Vickers F.B.5, which could mount a machine gun, had
been ordered for the naval wing in December 1913 and the contract was
subsequently taken over by the War Of¬ce. The navy had also con-
ducted successful experiments in launching aeroplanes from warships in
1912 and 1913, and as a result had ordered the world™s ¬rst ship to be
completed as an aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, which was ¬tted with
cranes to lift seaplanes on to and out of the water. The evidence is that,
after a slow start, the British armed forces were taking war in the air
seriously by 1914.

The economy and ¬nance
The size of the armed forces that Britain could maintain was determined
by the growth of her economy, and therefore of the chancellor of the
exchequer™s revenue, relative to the growth in the cost of armaments.
Britain™s lead as the ¬rst industrial nation was being eroded from the
1870s, and average annual growth rates in GDP and labour productivity

35 36
Ibid. Edgerton, England and the Aeroplane, p. 10.
The dreadnought era 33

between the Boer and First World Wars were only about half the levels
of the 1856“99 or inter-war periods.37 There is evidence of a loss of
competitiveness in what had been leading sectors, in particular coal, iron
and steel and textiles, and a failure to establish a lead in new industrial
sectors, such as chemicals and electrical engineering. Nevertheless,
Britain™s GDP in 1913 was still greater in total than that of any country
except the United States and Germany, both of which had larger
populations (USA: 97 million; Germany: 67 million; UK: 46 million),
and Britain™s GDP per capita was higher than that of any other Eur-
opean country.38 Her share of world manufactured exports in 1913 was
30.2 per cent, compared with Germany™s 26.6 per cent.39 Moreover, the
wealth accumulated from Britain™s early lead in industrialisation had
enabled her to invest more capital overseas than any other country.
While calculation of overseas investment is not a precise science, it has
been estimated that in 1914 about 44 per cent of the world™s foreign
long-term capital assets were in British hands, compared with 19.9 per
cent for France and 12.8 per cent for Germany. Britain™s overseas
investments produced a stream of income that, on the eve of the war,
was equivalent to 9.2 per cent of GDP.40 Germany™s GDP in 1913 was
only 5.5 per cent more than Britain™s,41 and this difference is cancelled
out if one adds overseas income to GDP, to give GNP.
The in¬‚ow of income from overseas investments helped to pay for
imports of food, raw materials and manufactures, while enabling Britain
to reinvest large sums abroad. The City of London was the world™s
leading ¬nancial centre and Britain had the world™s largest merchant
navy. Income from ¬nancial services and shipping are treated in the
balance of payments as ˜invisible™ exports, and in 1911“13 they
amounted, on average, to £181.6 million, compared with £596.9 mil-
lion for exports (including re-exports) of goods. The net income from
overseas investments, £778.5 million, was greater than either of the
other items on the income side of the balance of payments. The balance
of payments was so far from being a worry to the Bank of England or the
Treasury that no attempt was made to compile of¬cial data. However,
the annual average balance of payments surplus on current account has

R. C. O. Matthews, C. H. Feinstein and J. C. Odling-Smee, British Economic Growth
1856“1973 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 23, 31.
Angus Maddison, Phases of Capitalist Development (Oxford University Press, 1982),
pp. 161, 184“5, 212.
Alfred Maizels, Growth and Trade (Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 189.
Sidney Pollard, Britain™s Prime and Britain™s Decline: The British Economy 1870“1914
(London: Edward Arnold, 1989), pp. 61“3.
Maddison, Phases of Capitalist Development, p. 161.
34 Arms, economics and British strategy

been estimated at over £200 million in 1911“13.42 The Treasury was
indifferent to the fact that Britain™s gold reserves were small in com-
parison with most other major countries as it was possible for the Bank of
England to attract gold by selling securities or by increasing its discount
rate (Bank rate).43 The Treasury™s con¬dence was not shared by every-
one: the Secretary of the CID, Sir George Clarke, suggested in 1905 that
Britain should have a two- or three-power standard in gold reserves to
deal with international and domestic ¬nancial panics at the outbreak of a
war.44 In the event, the Treasury and the Bank of England were forced to
extemporise emergency measures to cope with ¬nancial panic in August
1914. Even so, the strength of Britain™s external ¬nancial position proved
to be a major factor in sustaining Britain™s war effort.
If Britain was so wealthy before 1914, why did she not spend more
than she did on defence? It is worth pointing out that international
comparisons of defence expenditure are dif¬cult. Calculations for years
before the Second World War based on percentages of national income
are anachronistic, in that politicians and administrators did not use
national income data before the 1940s. To complicate matters further,
various de¬nitions of national income are used by historians: GDP,
GNP, and net national product (NNP), which is GNP less a deduction
for estimated capital consumption. On data used by Avner Offer,
defence expenditure, as a percentage of national income (of unknown
de¬nition), was broadly similar in Britain and Germany from 1870 to
1914, apart from the years of the Franco-Prussian and Boer Wars,
averaging 2.95 per cent in the case of Britain and 2.86 per cent in the
case of Germany. John Hobson originally calculated the average per-
centages of NNP spent on defence in the period 1870“1913 as 3.1 for
Britain and 3.2 for Germany, but he revised his estimate for Germany to
3.8 in the light of new data which included items like strategic railways
that had been included in the civil budget.45 Table 1.1 shows that
British defence expenditure rose year by year after 1908/9, but that the
percentage of national income devoted to defence was no higher in

Pollard, Britain™s Prime, p. 109.
˜Treasury memorandum on the gold reserves, 22 May 1914™, reprinted in R. S. Sayers,
The Bank of England 1891“1944, 3 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1976), vol. of
appendices, pp. 3“30.
French, British Economic and Strategic Planning, p. 17.
Avner Offer, ˜The British Empire, 1870“1914: a waste of money?™, Economic History
Review, 46 (1993), 215“38, at 224“5; John M. Hobson, ˜The military-extraction gap
and the wary titan: the ¬scal-sociology of British defence policy 1870“1913™, Journal of
European Economic History, 22 (1993), 461“506, at 479; John M. Hobson, The Wealth of
States: A Comparative Sociology of International Economic and Political Change (Cam-
bridge University Press, 1997), pp. 67“8, 171, 202.
The dreadnought era 35

Table 1.1. Defence expenditure as percentage of GDP, 1904/5“1913/14

Percentage of
Financial Total defence GDP adjusted
year expenditure (£m) to ¬nancial year

1904/5 72.2 4.4
1905/6 66.0 3.8
1906/7 62.2 3.4
1907/8 59.2 3.2
1908/9 58.2 3.3
1909/10 59.0 3.2
1910/11 63.0 3.3
1911/12 67.8 3.4
1912/13 70.5 3.4
1913/14 72.5 3.4

Source: Mitchell, British Historical Statistics, pp. 589, 591, 829.

1913/14 than in 1906/7. The explanation for this apparent paradox lies
in the fact that national income rose as rapidly in the recovery after a
recession of 1907“8 as defence expenditure did. Britain could have
spent more than she did; certainly the balance of payments was not a
constraint, as it was to be from the 1930s to the end of the period
covered by this book.
Restraint on defence expenditure was imposed by the conventions of
political economy accepted by ministers and administrators of the day.
Government expenditure on non-productive activities like defence was
believed to divert money from private enterprise, the source of
increasing wealth (and taxable capacity) of the community. This belief
was not restricted to the Treasury: Grey, while foreign secretary,
described expenditure on armaments as ˜unproductive™ although ˜of
course, a form of insurance™.46 Governments had to assess risk, but they
did so in the belief that too high a premium in the form of taxation
would have an adverse effect on the economy. The chancellor of the
exchequer was expected to balance his budget at as low a level of
expenditure (and therefore of taxation) as was compatible with the
policies of the government. Wars could be ¬nanced by borrowing, but
the consequence was to increase the charge to future budgets of interest
on, and repayments of, the national debt. Balanced budgets, with some
reduction of the national debt, in peace maintained con¬dence in British
public ¬nance, and thus made it possible for British governments to
borrow at lower interest rates, in peace or war, than would otherwise

French, British Economic and Strategic Planning, p. 15.
36 Arms, economics and British strategy

have been the case. Conversely, borrowing by government was believed
to tend to raise interest rates in the country as a whole, to the detriment
of trade and industry. The convention of balanced budgets ensured that
normally an attempt by a minister to increase the expenditure of his
department by a substantial amount would either reduce the funds
available to other ministers, or lead to an increase in taxation. Conse-
quently, the chancellor could usually ¬nd support among his Cabinet
colleagues when he resisted a minister™s demands. The Admiralty and
the War Of¬ce tried to get round the discipline of the balanced budget
by charging non-recurrent expenditure, such as dockyards or forti¬ca-
tions, to loans raised under successive Naval and Military Works Acts,
but the Treasury maintained accountability by insisting that any such
loan, except in wartime, must be kept apart from the rest of the national
debt, with the interest on, and annual repayments of, the loan charged
to the department concerned. In 1906 Asquith, in his budget speech,
declared that this practice would stop, as it encouraged ˜crude, pre-
cipitate and wasteful™ expenditure.47 Unfortunately for the Admiralty,
this change in budgetary practice came at a time when new dockyards
and defended bases were required in Scotland as a result of the need to
match Germany in the North Sea.
The system of public ¬nance meant that the level of defence expen-
diture was determined by how much revenue could be raised by taxa-
tion. Taxes could either be direct, as with income tax or death duties, or
indirect, as with excise duties on items of expenditure, such as tobacco
or alcohol, or, more controversially, customs duties on imports. Britain
had adopted free trade in the middle of the nineteenth century, but
Joseph Chamberlain resigned from Balfour™s government in 1903 to
campaign for ˜tariff reform™, by which he intended to ˜broaden the basis
of taxation™ by raising more revenue from customs duties; to protect
British industry from foreign competition; and to strengthen links with
the self-governing colonies of the Empire by a system of imperial pre-
ference whereby goods traded within the Empire would be liable to
lower customs duties than foreign goods. Eventually Chamberlain™s
campaign split his party, and Balfour resigned in December 1905. The
issue of free trade or protection was a gift to the Liberals, who won the
1906 election largely because they could portray the Conservatives as
the party of dear bread (˜broadening the basis of taxation™ and imperial

Parliamentary Debates, 4th series, 1906, vol. 156, col. 290. For political economy and
public ¬nance, see G. C. Peden, ˜From cheap government to ef¬cient government: the
political economy of public expenditure in the United Kingdom, 1832“1914™, in
Donald Winch and Patrick O™Brien (eds.), The Political Economy of British Historical
Experience, 1688“1914 (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 351“78.
The dreadnought era 37

preference would both require duties on grain). The Liberals looked
instead to direct taxation to raise extra revenue. In 1909 Lloyd George™s
budget increased the standard rate of income tax from 1s (5p) in the
pound to 1s 2d (5.8p); imposed an additional supertax of 6d (2.5p) on
the small number of people (11,500) with annual incomes over £5,000;
increased death duties on large estates; and, most controversially of all,
introduced a 20 per cent duty on unearned increments in land values
(payable when land was sold or inherited). The land values duty was
seen as an attack on property and provoked the House of Lords to reject
the 1909 budget, leading to a constitutional crisis that was only ended
by the Parliament Act of 1911, which abolished the Lords™ powers over
¬nance bills. In retrospect Edwardian tax levels do not seem very
onerous. However, in 1904 the Joint Permanent Secretary of the
Treasury, Sir Edward Hamilton, had advised the Chancellor, Austen
Chamberlain, that the ˜normal™ rate of income tax should in future be
11d (4.6p) to 1s (5p), with higher rates, of up to 2s (10p), held in
reserve to ¬nance a future war.48 It was fortunate for the Liberals that
revenue bene¬ted from recovery from the recession in 1907“8. Tax
revenue increased from £125.5 million in 1908/9 to £163 million in
1913/14, making it possible to ¬nance both naval expansion and social
reform within balanced budgets. In contrast, the German federal gov-
ernment, relying as it did on tariffs and other indirect taxes, which could
not be raised without fuelling popular discontent with militarism, found
itself unable to ¬nance armed forces in line with its manpower and
industrial strength.49
Budgetary pressures on Admiralty expenditure were greatest from
1905 to 1908. In April 1904 Austen Chamberlain warned the Cabinet
that ˜the time has come when we must frankly admit that the ¬nancial
resources of the United Kingdom are inadequate to do all that we
should desire to do in the matter of Imperial defence™. Even the First
Lord of the Admiralty, Selborne, believed that the naval estimates could
not go on increasing every year, and it was agreed that, after an increase
of £1 million in 1904/5, there should be a large, if unspeci¬ed, decrease
in 1905/6.50 Fisher™s response to this challenge was to have 154 obsolete
ships removed from the effective list. The Liberals were committed to
further retrenchment, and reduced naval expenditure year by year until

Martin Daunton, Trusting Leviathan: The Politics of Taxation in Britain, 1799“1914
(Cambridge University Press, 2001), esp. p. 320.
Niall Ferguson, ˜Public ¬nance and national security: the domestic origins of the First
World War revisited™, Past and Present, 142 (1994), 141“68.
Sumida, In Defence, pp. 24“5.
38 Arms, economics and British strategy

Table 1.2. Distribution of defence expenditure by departments, 1904/5“1913/14

Navy Army
Financial year £m £m percentage £m percentage

1904/5 72.2 35.5 49.2 36.7 50.8
1905/6 66.0 36.8 55.8 29.2 44.2
1906/7 62.2 33.3 53.5 28.9 46.5
1907/8 59.2 31.4 53.0 27.8 47.0
1908/9 58.2 31.1 53.4 27.1 46.6
1909/10 59.0 32.2 54.6 26.8 45.4
1910/11 63.0 35.8 56.8 27.2 43.2
1911/12 67.8 40.4 59.6 27.4 40.4
1912/13 70.5 42.9 60.9 27.6 39.1
1913/14 72.5 44.4 61.2 28.1 38.8

Source: Mitchell, British Historical Statistics, pp. 589, 591.

1908/9, and army expenditure, which had been declining in the after-
math of the Boer War, until 1909/10 (see table 1.2).
In opposition, the Conservatives criticised the Liberals for not
spending enough on the armed services, but it was German naval
expansion that forced the government to alter the pattern of the defence
estimates. As table 1.2 shows, the navy took an increasing share of the
available funds. In December 1908 the Admiralty proposed that six
dreadnought battleships should be laid down in 1909/10 “ two of them
in February 1910, close to the end of the ¬nancial year. Ministers in
favour of economy, including Churchill, then president of the Board of
Trade, argued that four dreadnoughts would be suf¬cient. After lengthy
debate the Cabinet agreed that four should be laid down in 1909/10,
and four more in April 1910, at the beginning of the ¬nancial year 1910/
11. Fisher, not content with this compromise, covertly encouraged the
Conservatives and the press to campaign on the slogan: ˜we want eight
and we won™t wait™, and the Cabinet had to agree to all eight vessels
being included in the 1909/10 programme. Germany™s capacity to build
naval guns, and therefore to complete dreadnoughts, was unknown to
British naval intelligence, and the Admiralty naturally sought to make
sure of a margin of safety.51 In the event, as table 1.3 shows, the dif-
ference in capital ships between the British and German ¬‚eets was at its
narrowest in 1911 and widened thereafter. Moreover, Britain had an

Phillips Payson O™Brien, British and American Naval Power: Politics and Policy, 1900“
1936 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998), pp. 73“94.
The dreadnought era 39
Table 1.3. Cumulative totals of dreadnought battleships and battle-cruisers completed at end of
each year, 1906“16 a

United States Austria-
UK Germany of America Japan France Italy Hungary Russia

1906 1
1907 1
1908 4
1909 8 2
1910 10 4 4
1911 14 8 6
1912 22 12 8 2 1
1913 27 17 8 3 2 1 2
1914 19 10 4 4 3 3 4
1915 22 10 7 6 5 4 6
1916 43 25 14 7 7 6 4 6

Notes: a War losses not deducted from cumulative totals.
Not including two taken over from Turkey at outbreak of war.
Not including one taken over from Chile and completed in 1915.
Source: Randall Gray (ed.), Conway™s All the World™s Fighting Ships 1906“1921 (London:
Conway Maritime Press, 1985).

overwhelming superiority in pre-dreadnoughts (in 1914 the Royal Navy
retained forty effective pre-dreadnoughts compared with Germany™s
twenty). Once Churchill became ¬rst lord of the Admiralty in October
1911, the year of the second Moroccan crisis, he became a fervent
advocate of naval expansion, and the estimates for 1912/13, 1913/14
and 1914/15 all led to lengthy arguments between him and the Chan-
cellor of the Exchequer, his political ally, Lloyd George. Although
Churchill made some concessions, Treasury of¬cials believed that they
had lost ¬nancial control over the Admiralty, and that the level of naval
expenditure was in effect determined by the ability of industry to meet
There is evidence that the increasing demand represented by
Admiralty orders forced up prices. Treasury ¬gures showed that the
battleship Queen Elizabeth, laid down in October 1912, and costing
£2,431,872, would have cost £2,112,000 had it been built at ˜Iron
Duke™ prices (the Iron Duke had been laid down in January 1912). The
accounts of shipyards on the Clyde show that the pro¬tability of work
for the Admiralty was actually lower in 1909“14 than in 1899“1909,
suggesting that higher prices re¬‚ected the cost of inputs rather than

Peden, Treasury and British Public Policy, pp. 52“5.
40 Arms, economics and British strategy

pro¬teering.53 Nevertheless, Britain, having the largest shipbuilding
industry in the world and well-established ¬rms capable of building gun
turrets and other equipment for warships, was able to keep ahead of
Germany in the naval race. Table 1.3 shows the extent of British naval
superiority over all of the other naval powers.
In contrast, War Of¬ce suppliers were kept short of orders. The Boer
War had led private manufacturers, like Armstrong and Vickers, to
increase capacity, although not quickly enough to cope with the rush of
orders. In 1900 a committee chaired by the Joint Permanent Secretary
of the Treasury, Sir Francis Mowatt, had recommended that industrial
capacity for future wars should be maintained by placing orders to keep
private ¬rms reasonably active in peace, while also having a margin of
ready capacity in the royal ordnance factories. However, by the time that
the Government Factories and Workshops Committee met under
another Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, Sir George Murray, in
1906“7 to examine ˜the economy of production in time of peace and the
power of expansion in time of war™ the spirit of retrenchment had
re-established itself. Murray and his committee forgot the lessons of the
Boer War and recommended not only that the size of the state sector
should be reduced, but also that the private ¬rms should be kept short of
orders so that the royal ordnance factories could be kept as fully
employed as possible. The consequence of the government™s acceptance
of the Murray Committee™s recommendations was that the army™s
sources of supply for munitions were too limited for intensive ¬ghting in
a campaign against the German army.54 Political opposition to con-
scription limited the size of the army, but there was scope for additional
expenditure on creating industrial capacity for war-time production of
munitions for allies as well as the BEF, without placing a strain on the
economy. The absence of any provision for what in the 1930s were
called shadow factories was a re¬‚ection of government decisions on

Strategy: planning for war
Once the threats to Britain™s overseas territories and interests had been
dealt with through the Anglo-Japanese alliance and the ententes with

˜Cost of certain capital ships™, Dec. 1913, Treasury records, series 1, box 11598, ¬le
25942 (T 1/11598/25942), TNA; Hugh Peebles, Warshipbulding on the Clyde: Naval
Orders and the Prosperity of the Clyde Shipbuilding Industry, 1899“1939 (Edinburgh: John
Donald, 1987), p. 158.
Clive Trebilcock, ˜War and the failure of industrial mobilisation™, in J. M. Winter (ed.),
War and Economic Development (Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 139“64.
The dreadnought era 41

France and Russia, the principal questions for strategists were: how
could the United Kingdom and its trade routes best be protected? How
could pressure best be brought to bear on Germany in war? How could
European allies best be supported? Strategy was shaped by a number of
in¬‚uences. There were the facts of geography, particularly Britain™s
insular position and dependence on imports of food and raw materials.
There was the evolution of armaments, which, as we shall see, in¬‚u-
enced naval planning. There were economic and ¬nancial factors which
set limits to the range of possibilities. There was also the experience of
earlier wars in which Britain™s naval preponderance had made possible a
different strategy from that of continental powers. The naval historians
Mahan and Corbett both argued that Britain had made best use of her
circumstances by capturing colonies, by carrying out amphibious
operations against the enemy™s coastline, and by using wealth from trade
to subsidise allies, rather than by sending large armies of her own to the
European continent. Corbett, however, was more aware than Mahan of
the limitations of this approach to warfare. He pointed out in The
Campaign of Trafalgar (1910) that command of the sea had left Napo-
leon master of Europe, and he saw maritime strategy as an extension of a
continental strategy, not as a competing alternative.55 It is always dif-
¬cult to trace intellectual in¬‚uences on policymakers, but Corbett was
close to Fisher and lectured at the Naval War College at Greenwich
from 1900. His students would have been encouraged to think in terms
of the strategic offensive, with the navy blockading the enemy ¬‚eet and
controlling maritime communications, including neutral trade, and
transporting and supporting the army in combined operations.56
However, in assessing intellectual in¬‚uences one has to take into
account professional self-interest. Clearly a ˜blue-water™ strategy of
waging war by maritime and economic means had more appeal to the
navy than to the army.
The question of how best to defend Britain against invasion had long
divided the services. The Admiralty argued that money was better spent
on warships than on forti¬cations. The War Of¬ce was not prepared to
concede that the army had no role in home defence, given the possibility
that enemy raids might evade the navy. The CID™s ¬rst investigation of

For a comparison of Mahan and Corbett see Gat, History of Military Thought,
pp. 441“93.
Donald M. Schurman, The Education of a Navy: The Development of British Naval
Strategic Thought, 1867“1914 (London: Cassell, 1965), pp. 147“84; Barry D. Hunt,
˜The strategic thought of Sir Julian Corbett™, in John B. Hattendorf and Robert S.
Jordan (eds.), Maritime Strategy and the Balance of Power: Britain and America in the
Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 110“35.
42 Arms, economics and British strategy

the subject of an invasion of Britain took place in 1902“3, when the
presumed enemy was France. The CID dismissed the possibility and
subsequently its report was cited by Balfour in a statement in Parliament
on 11 May 1905 in which he attempted to quieten public fears of
invasion.57 However, the press would not let the issue go. In 1906 the
Daily Mail serialised William Le Queux™s novel The Invasion of 1910, in
which German invaders were defeated by the members of ri¬‚e clubs.
The public™s fears were used and reinforced by Roberts and others who
wanted compulsory military service.58 At Balfour™s suggestion, a CID
sub-committee re-examined the question in 1907 and 1908. It con-
cluded that so long as the navy commanded the sea an invasion was
impracticable, while if command of the sea were lost permanently no
military force at home could prevent defeat (given Britain™s dependence
on overseas trade). To that extent the CID endorsed the ˜blue-water™
school, whose most forceful proponent at the time was Fisher. On the
other hand, the CID recommended that the army units to be maintained
for home defence should be large enough not only to deal with small
raids but also to compel a prospective invader to use 70,000 men; the
argument being that it would be impossible for so large a force to evade
the Royal Navy. This concession to the War Of¬ce™s views meant that a
substantial part of the army™s Regular units would remain at home until
the Territorial Army had been embodied and trained, a period pre-
sumed to be at least four months.59 A further CID enquiry in 1912“13,
at which Roberts and other leading advocates of compulsory military
service, Lord Lovat, Sir Samuel Scott and Colonel a Court Reppington,
were invited to make oral as well as written statements, came to broadly
similar conclusions, as did a fourth in April 1914.60
Naval strategy required choices, since, even with a two-power stan-
dard, the Royal Navy could not match every other navy in all the seven
seas. The distribution of the ¬‚eet in 1904 was still based on principles
dating from before the invention of the electric telegraph and the
introduction of steamships. These technical developments meant that
fewer warships need be kept on foreign stations as reinforcements could
be speedily summoned from home waters.61 In November 1904 the
Naval Intelligence Department recommended a home ¬‚eet of twelve
146 HC Deb., 4s, 1905, cc. 65“77.
A. J. A. Morris, The Scaremongers: The Advocacy of War and Rearmament 1896“1914
(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), pp. 103“9.
˜Report of the sub-committee appointed by the Prime Minister to reconsider the
question of oversea attack™, 22 Oct. 1908, CAB 3/2, TNA.
Reports of Standing Sub-Committee on Attack on the British Isles from Oversea, 13
Jan. 1913 and 15 Apr. 1914, CAB 3/2, TNA.
Distribution and Mobilization of the Fleet (Cd 2335), PP 1905, xlviii, 176“81.
The dreadnought era 43

battleships with its strategic centre at Dover; a Mediterranean ¬‚eet of
eight battleships; and an Atlantic ¬‚eet of eight battleships based at
Gibraltar, ready to reinforce either of the other ¬‚eets.62 These disposi-
tions re¬‚ected the fact that France and Russia were more likely enemies
than Germany. As it became apparent that the most likely war would be
with Germany in the North Sea the concentration in home waters was
progressively increased. By March 1909 a new Home Fleet had absor-
bed the former Fleet Reserve, the ef¬ciency of the latter being increased
by raising crew complements from 40 per cent to 60 per cent. In July
1914 the Royal Navy had what was by then called the Grand Fleet of
twenty dreadnought and two semi-dreadnought battleships, and six
battle-cruisers in home waters, plus three battle-cruisers in the Medi-
terranean and one Australian battle-cruiser in the Paci¬c. In compar-
ison, Germany™s High Seas Fleet had thirteen dreadnought battleships
and four battle-cruisers, plus one battle-cruiser in the Mediterranean.
Trade protection was a matter for cruisers, of which Britain had 120
at the outbreak of war, excluding battle-cruisers and 3 Australian ships,
compared with 49 German cruisers. Fisher was accused by his critics in
1905 of scrapping older cruisers that would have been useful for trade
protection, a criticism endorsed by Arthur Marder.63 In fact, when
Admiral Tirpitz made his proposal for an enlarged German navy in 1897
he had commented that commerce raiding against England would be
hopeless because of Germany™s lack of bases with access to the high seas,
and he had restricted cruiser construction to the minimum required for
scouting for the main ¬‚eet, plus a few (nine in 1914) to represent
German interests overseas.64 The Admiralty had long studied how to
protect British trade and was con¬dent that it had suf¬cient cruisers for
the purpose, although it has been argued that the defensive scheme of
allocating cruiser squadrons to focal points left the Germans with too
much scope for attacking merchant shipping, which was not organised
into convoys until 1917.65 Although Fisher predicted in memoranda to
Churchill in 1912 and 1914 that submarines would be employed against
merchant shipping, the Admiralty took the view that submarines were of
no use for this purpose, since they could not carry crews large enough to
take charge of a prize or accommodate crews of ships they wished to
Ruddock F. Mackay, Fisher of Kilverstone (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), p. 313.
Arthur J. Marder, The Anatomy of British Sea Power: A History of British Naval Policy in
the Pre-Dreadnought Era, 1880“1905 (London: Frank Cass, 1940), p. 495.
Jonathan Steinberg, Tirpitz and the Birth of the German Battle Fleet: Yesterday™s Deterrent
(London: Macdonald, 1965), pp. 127, 209.
Bryan Ranft, ˜The protection of British seaborne trade and the development of
systematic planning for war, 1860“1906™, in Bryan Ranft (ed.), Technical Change and
British Naval Policy 1860“1939 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977), pp. 1“22.
44 Arms, economics and British strategy

sink. CID discussions in 1913“14 focused entirely on the threat from
cruisers or armed liners, and indeed it was only after the outbreak of war
that the Germans began to plan commerce raiding with submarines.66
The Admiralty had great hopes of the effectiveness of blockade
against the German economy. Between 1906 and 1908 Captain Henry
Campbell, the head of the trade division of the Naval Intelligence
Department, undertook a study that showed that Germany was
becoming increasingly dependent on imported food and raw materials
as she industrialised, and his conclusion that a blockade of her ports
would disrupt her trade and exhaust her capacity to ¬nance a great war
was adopted as part of the navy™s strategy.67 Unfortunately, there was no
way of calculating how quickly such a strategy would be effective, given
that Germany would be able to import goods from adjacent neutral
countries, using her excellent railway system. The CID agreed in
December 1912 to Lloyd George™s suggestion that Britain would have
to ration Dutch and Belgian imports to prevent goods from being re-
exported to Germany.68 Meanwhile, there had been considerable dis-
cussion of international law in relation to blockade. The second Hague
conference, which met from June to October 1907, set up a committee
representing the leading naval powers to draft a treaty that emerged in
February 1909 as the Declaration of London. The British delegates
were guided by the recommendations of a CID committee on Neutral
and Enemy Merchant Ships, which had reported in March 1907 on how
the British merchant marine could be left unmolested when Britain was
neutral, as in the Russo-Japanese War, without limiting the effectiveness
of blockade as a weapon when Britain was a belligerent. The Declara-
tion of London classi¬ed goods aboard neutral vessels into three cate-
gories: ˜absolute contraband™, such as munitions or explosives;
˜conditional contraband™, such as food or clothing, which could
be con¬scated if bound for a military or naval destination; and ˜non-
contraband™, including raw materials that had military as well as civil
uses (for example, jute, from which sandbags were made). Hankey, as
an assistant secretary of the CID, thought that the Declaration would
diminish the ef¬cacy of British sea power, but a memorandum from him
led the First Lord of the Admiralty, McKenna, to take the view in 1911
that international treaties were easily evaded and some pretext to impose

Marder, Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, vol. I, pp. 363“4; CID minutes, 6 Feb. 1913 and
21 May 1914, CAB 2/3, TNA.
Avner Offer, ˜The working classes, British naval plans and the coming of the Great
War™, Past and Present, 107 (1985), 204“26.
CID minutes, 6 Dec. 1912, CAB 2/3, TNA.
The dreadnought era 45

a strict blockade would be found when it suited Britain to do so.69
The Declaration was embodied in a naval prize bill that was passed by
the House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. Even so,
the Declaration was a guide to what would be acceptable to neutral
powers, particularly the United States, with its longstanding attachment
to the principle of the freedom of the seas. Avner Offer has argued that
the deterrent of naval blockade failed to maintain peace in 1914 because
the consequences were not visible enough to the Germans.70 One could
equally argue that Britain™s lack of clear alliance with France and Russia
gave Germany cause to hope that Britain might stay out of a European
The Admiralty was faced with the problem of how the blockade was
to be applied. Initially it was assumed that, as in previous wars, there
would be a close blockade of the enemy™s ports. The capture of one or
more of the islands off the German North Sea coast was projected by
naval planners as a forward base or bases for the British light craft which
would intercept merchant ships. Behind the light craft there would be
capital ships ready to engage the German ¬‚eet when it came out, in the
expectation that there would be a second Trafalgar. At ¬rst it seems
to have been assumed that the new British ocean-going destroyers
would provide adequate protection to the capital ships against German
torpedo-craft. As awareness of the danger from the latter increased,
plans were modi¬ed so that the British capital ships would withdraw at
night to a distance beyond which German light forces could not reach if
they sailed at sunset and were to be back in harbour by sunrise. By 1912
the planners had come to the conclusion that close blockade was too
risky. The German islands were now heavily forti¬ed and it was realised
that German submarines and torpedo boats would be able to carry out a
war of attrition against British advanced forces. An alternative plan was
adopted for an ˜observational blockade™, with cruisers and destroyers
patrolling a 300-mile line from south-west Norway to the centre of the
North Sea and thence south to the coast of Holland, with the main
battle ¬‚eet at sea to the west of this line. Then, in July 1914, this plan in
turn made way for one for a distant blockade, with the exits from the
North Sea closed by a Channel Fleet of pre-dreadnoughts in the Dover
Straits and the Grand Fleet stationed in the north of Scotland to guard a
line from the Orkney Islands to the Norwegian coast. This last plan
greatly reduced Germany™s opportunities for a war of attrition, and was

Bernard Semmel, Liberalism and Naval Strategy: Ideology, Interest, and Sea Power during
the Pax Britannica (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986), pp. 100“14.
Offer, First World War, pp. 295, 351, 404.
46 Arms, economics and British strategy

almost as effective as a close blockade for intercepting her overseas
When the Admiralty and the War Of¬ce ¬rst began to make plans for
war with Germany, in 1905, the navy advocated combined operations on
the North Sea and Baltic coasts to divert part of the German army away
from France. The War Of¬ce believed that these ideas were unrealistic,
given the strength of Germany™s coastal defences and the speed with
which reinforcements could be moved by rail. In any case the General
Staff had come to the conclusion that the German army would out¬‚ank
France™s strong forti¬cations on her eastern frontier by invading Bel-
gium, and that an ef¬cient British army of 120,000 men might just be
suf¬cient to prevent German success on France™s northern frontier. The
General Staff hoped that, confronted by stalemate on land and blockade
at sea, Germany would then make peace. As David French has pointed
out, this kind of thinking overlooked the possibility that the war would be
long drawn out and that the BEF, given the political impossibility of
conscription, lacked the reserves for extended operations.72 A CID sub-
committee on the military needs of the Empire, with Asquith in the chair,
failed to resolve the differences between the Admiralty and the War
Of¬ce in 1908“9 and left the decision of how to react to a German attack
on France to be taken by whatever government was in of¬ce at the time.
However, the General Staff was authorised to prepare plans to assist
France in the initial stages of a war with Germany.73
A further attempt to settle strategy was made at a famous meeting of
the CID on 23 August 1911, during the second Moroccan crisis.
Asquith arranged the meeting so as to exclude regular members who
were opposed to a continental commitment: the Marquess of Crewe, the
secretary of state for India, Lewis Harcourt, the secretary of state for the
Colonial Of¬ce, and Viscount Morley, the lord president of the council
and former secretary of state for India. The army™s Director of Military
Operations (DMO), Sir Henry Wilson, gave a well-prepared exposition
of how it was planned to send the BEF™s six infantry and one cavalry
division to operate on the left ¬‚ank of the French army, which was
expected to deploy sixty-six divisions against the Germans™ eighty-four.
Sir Arthur Wilson, Fisher™s successor as ¬rst sea lord, was more taciturn,
and could only outline the Admiralty™s plans for close blockade, the
capture of advanced bases, and possible landings on the German coast.
He also argued that the dispatch of the whole BEF would cause an
Marder, Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, vol. I, pp. 368“73.
French, British Economic and Strategic Planning, pp. 23“7.
˜Report of the Sub-Committee of the CID on the Military Needs of the Empire™, CID
paper 109B, 24 July 1909, CAB 4/3, TNA.
The dreadnought era 47

invasion scare, forcing the navy on to the defensive, and depriving it of
the troops needed for its strategy. Hankey, who was present, thought
that no decision had been taken, but Asquith asked the searching
question of what was the smallest force that could intervene effectively
on the Continent, and was told that ¬ve infantry divisions would have
almost as great a moral effect as six, and that four would be better than
none. The possibility of having some Regular soldiers for amphibious
operations or for home defence was thus left open. Nevertheless, in
October Asquith made a crucial change at the Admiralty, replacing
McKenna, who was opposed to a continental commitment, with
Churchill, who accepted the army™s viewpoint and who shelved plans for
amphibious operations.74
In the event the crisis was over by early November 1911 and Asquith
saw no need to divide his Cabinet over the issue. The majority of
ministers remained ignorant of the army™s plans, and at the beginning of
August 1914 all assumed that the traditional British way of warfare
would prevail. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Asquith™s ministry
failed to give clear strategic direction, with the result that the Admiralty
and War Of¬ce made their plans for what were essentially parallel wars.
The Admiralty prepared for blockade, and hoped that the German High
Seas Fleet would respond to the challenge by coming out to ¬ght. In line
with the CID™s recommendation in 1913, reaf¬rmed in April 1914, the
General Staff was instructed to plan on the basis of having two Regular
infantry divisions at home at the outbreak of war, to guard against raids,
until the Territorial Army could be ready. The DMO, Wilson, and the
Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Sir Charles Douglas,
objected to Britain™s contribution to the crucial opening moves of the
war being limited to four infantry divisions and one cavalry division, and
in May 1914 secured Asquith™s agreement that he would, if necessary,
sanction the dispatch of an additional infantry division. In the event, a
¬fth infantry division did reach France in August 1914, but only after
some delay on account of Cabinet misgivings about a continental

Britain™s defence policy before 1914 had to be adapted to the change in
most probable opponents from France and Russia to Germany and
CID minutes, 23 Aug. 1911, CAB 2/2, TNA. See John Gooch, The Plans of War: The
General Staff and British Military Strategy, c. 1900“16 (New York: Halstead Press,
1974), pp. 290“2.
Williamson, Politics of Grand Strategy, pp. 310“11, 362“6.
48 Arms, economics and British strategy

Austria-Hungary, and inevitably there was some uncertainty arising
from the non-committal nature of the ententes with France and Russia.
While there are examples of de¬ciencies in Britain™s armaments, for
example with regard to the navy™s mines or the army™s heavy artillery,
there is no evidence of general technological backwardness on the part
of the arms industry or of conservatism in the Admiralty and the War
Of¬ce towards weapons procurement. On the contrary, the navy was
highly innovative as regards capital ships and submarines and the army
was up-to-date in quick-¬ring artillery. Both services were applying
aircraft to their needs. More could have been spent on defence, parti-
cularly after 1908, but the government of the day saw no need to do so.
Britain had the industrial capacity to keep ahead of Germany in the
naval race, and political objections to conscription limited the size of the
British army. Britain™s insular position and wealth based on trade
pointed to reliance on a maritime strategy of blockade, with support for
allies limited to the BEF plus subsidies and supplies. However, more
could have been done to prepare for war, particularly as regards
industrial capacity to produce munitions. This shortcoming was partly
the consequence of Treasury-inspired parsimony, but was also a result
of a lack of a clear, overall strategy and a failure to appreciate the
implications of a continental commitment in support of France and
2 The First World War

When Britain entered the First World War on 4 August 1914 Liberal
ministers could agree on the aims of maintaining Belgian independence
and excluding the Germans from the Channel ports. Asquith and Grey
from the outset, and Lloyd George by 1915, also thought in terms of
regime change in Germany, to make her more paci¬c by replacing
˜Prussianism™ with democracy. This third objective implied a greater
margin of victory than the ¬rst two.1 Britain found itself at war on the
side of France and Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary on
account of a con¬‚ict between the last named power and Serbia. Gra-
dually other countries were drawn in: Japan on 15 August 1914 to take
over German colonies in the Far East; Turkey in late October 1914 to
regain lost territories, thereby threatening British interests in the Middle
East; Italy on 23 May 1915 to gain territory from Austria-Hungary;
Bulgaria on 12 October 1915 to regain territory from Serbia; and
Romania on 27 August 1916 to gain territory from Austria-Hungary.
From the late autumn of 1914 trench warfare prevailed on the Western
Front and ministers looked elsewhere for opportunities, most notably at
the Dardanelles in 1915, where an unsuccessful attempt was made to
break Turkey™s stranglehold on access to the Black Sea. The United
States remained neutral, but interpreted that status in a way that
allowed the Allies to place orders there for munitions. It was only after
the Germans adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare on
1 February 1917, and British intelligence intercepted a telegram from
Arthur Zimmermann, the German foreign minister, offering Mexico an
alliance against the United States if the latter entered the war, that
President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress on 2 April 1917 to declare
that a state of war existed between America and Germany. This

John Gooch, ˜Soldiers, strategy and war aims in Britain 1914“1918™, in Barry Hunt and
Adrian Preston (eds.), War Aims and Strategic Policy in the Great War 1914“1918
(London: Croom Helm, 1977), pp. 21“40.

50 Arms, economics and British strategy

accession of strength to the Allied cause was partially offset by the
gradual defection of Russia following revolutions in March and
November 1917. Germany™s only hope of victory was to defeat Britain
and France before large American forces could be put in the ¬eld, but a
series of offensives in the spring and summer of 1918 failed to break the
British and French armies, who counter-attacked successfully from mid-
July. On 29 September, the German army commander, Erich von
Ludendorff, secretly informed the Grand Committee of the Reichstag
that the war was lost, and a new government was appointed on
1 October for the purpose of negotiating peace. Germany™s allies were
forced to accept armistices: Bulgaria on 30 September, Turkey on
30 October and Austria-Hungary on 4 November. Germany, her home
front weakened by blockade, followed on 11 November. This chapter
focuses on the technical, economic and strategic aspects of Britain™s
contribution to the Allied victory.

The lack of clear direction in strategy apparent before the war continued
until at least December 1916. Asquith held the Liberal government
together in the crisis leading to the war only with dif¬culty, ministers
being divided between those who advocated neutrality, those (Grey and
Churchill) who advocated intervention on the side of France and Rus-
sia, and those who did not make up their minds until Germany invaded
Belgium on 3 August.2 A Cabinet of about twenty was far too big to
come to rapid decisions, and Asquith tended to call together a few
ministers to deal with emergencies without any proper record of what
they had decided being kept. In November 1914 he formed a War
Council, originally with eight members, but the advantages that might
have been gained from direction by a small group were lost within a few
months as the membership rose to thirteen. The Council lapsed in May
1915, its functions in effect being taken over by the Dardanelles
Committee in June and eventually by the War Committee in November
1915. Meanwhile Cabinet sub-committees proliferated, increasing the
importance of the CID secretariat, and particularly of Hankey, as the
deliberations of the various, often overlapping sub-committees required
co-ordination. Even so, the secretariat had no executive powers and
could only encourage representatives of independent departments to
compromise in interdepartmental planning. In John Turner™s judge-
ment, the multiplicity of ad hoc committees gave opportunities to

See Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (London: Allen Lane, 1998), pp. 158“64.
The First World War 51

different factions in the Cabinet to delay clear decisions on broad war
policy.3 Asquith was not a great war leader, but he had to manage
quarrelsome colleagues, and in his defence it can be said that the major
decisions affecting the outcome of the war “ the commitment of the bulk
of the British army to the Western Front, the abandonment of economic
orthodoxy, the creation of the Ministry of Munitions and the intro-
duction of conscription “ were taken while he was prime minister.4
Few ministers showed any talent for conducting war, and those who
did might have bene¬ted from greater willingness to listen to their
professional advisers. Churchill™s enthusiasm for strategic ends was not
always accompanied by adequate re¬‚ection on the necessary means, as
the Dardanelles episode was to show. Field Marshal Lord Kitchener,
who was appointed secretary of state for war on 5 August 1914, enjoyed
a great reputation as a soldier, but was unfamiliar with the work of the
War Of¬ce and was temperamentally an autocrat, unaccustomed either
to seeking or taking advice. He ignored the General Staff, which had in
any case been weakened by the departure of many of its members with
the BEF, with the result that plans for the Dardanelles operation were
not subject to critical appraisal.5 In some respects Kitchener™s
appointment served to obscure rather than to clarify the direction of the
nation™s military effort as he combined ministerial responsibility and
professional authority. During the Battle of the Marne in 1914 he went,
in his ¬eld marshal™s uniform, to the headquarters of Sir John French,
the commander of the BEF, and overruled the latter™s orders to retreat
behind the Seine, thereby causing lasting hostility on French™s part.
Military strategy was settled by ministers in Cabinet on Kitchener™s
advice, although he frequently found it dif¬cult to explain policy.6 He
was the ¬rst person in authority to realise that the war could last for
several years, reasoning that Germany would resist the Allies™ superior
numbers with the same determination as the South had resisted the
North in the American Civil War.7 The Cabinet sanctioned his call for
volunteers on 6 August without deciding what the strategic purpose of
the new army would be. By the end of October 898,635 men had
enlisted, more than the combined pre-war strength of the Regular and
Territorial armies (707,466). It is not surprising that there was a
John Turner, ˜Cabinets, committees and secretariats: the higher direction of war™, in
Kathleen Burk (ed.), War and the State: The Transformation of British Government, 1914“
1919 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1982), pp. 57“83, at p. 63.
George H. Cassar, Asquith as War Leader (London: Hambledon Press, 1994).
Gooch, Plans of War, pp. 299, 301“12, 316“17.
Strachan, Politics of the British Army, p. 128.
Journals and Letters of Reginald Viscount Esher, ed. Maurice Brett and Oliver Esher, 4 vols.
(London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934“8), vol. III, pp. 192“3.
52 Arms, economics and British strategy

shortage of experienced of¬cers and NCOs, or that training in about
twelve months fell short of what could have been achieved with con-
scripts over two years.
Munitions for the army proved to be the Liberal government™s
downfall. On 9 May 1915 a British attack at Aubers Ridge failed for
want of high-explosive shells. Five days later, The Times carried an
article blaming the government for what became known as the ˜shell
crisis™. On 17 May Asquith resigned and formed a coalition with the
Conservatives. Although the press attack had been inspired by Sir John
French with a view to bringing down Kitchener, the latter remained at
the War Of¬ce. However, responsibility for the production of munitions
was transferred to a new Ministry of Munitions, headed by Lloyd
George. Kitchener™s in¬‚uence was further diminished in December
1915 when Sir William Robertson was appointed CIGS. A strong
character who, most unusually, had risen from the ranks, Robertson
insisted that he was to be responsible to the War Committee and not to
the secretary of state for war, which made the CIGS, not Kitchener, the
government™s principal adviser on military strategy. Kitchener departed
from the political stage on 5 June 1916, when he was drowned after
HMS Hampshire, in which he was sailing to Russia, was sunk by a
German mine.
Lloyd George, whose reputation had risen with munitions produc-
tion, took over at the War Of¬ce on 6 July. He was able to use even the
reduced powers of his new post to strengthen his image as the man who
could organise victory. Esher wrote in November, when the Asquith
government was accused of failing to prosecute the war rigorously, that
Lloyd George could ˜get things done where other men cannot™.8 When
Asquith resigned on 5 December, Lloyd George became the Liberal
leader of a coalition dominated by the Conservatives. He established a
war cabinet of ¬ve ministers, all except Andrew Bonar Law, the Con-
servative leader, who was chancellor of the exchequer, being without
departmental duties. Other ministers were invited to attend when their
departments™ business was being discussed. In practice, the War Cabi-
net often delegated decisions to individual members, who would adju-
dicate in interdepartmental disputes or co-ordinate policy by chairing
standing committees. Lloyd George™s reform of the central direction of
the war was accompanied by two parallel developments: the evolution of
the Cabinet secretariat to prepare agenda, circulate memoranda and
record minutes and conclusions, the last having the force of instructions

Bentley B. Gilbert, David Lloyd George, a Political Life: Organizer of Victory 1912“1916
(London: B. T. Batsford, 1992), p. 386.
The First World War 53

to departments; and the creation of his personal secretariat to act as
policy advisers and as his eyes and ears to check that departments were
acting on Cabinet decisions.9
Both as secretary of state for war and as prime minister, Lloyd George
was determined to assert civilian control over the army. However,
despite his centralisation of the direction of the war in the hands of the
War Cabinet, generals continued to exercise considerable autonomy.
Haig, who succeeded French as commander of the BEF in December
1915, had court connections. He and Robertson were mutually sup-
portive in arguing that the war would be won on the Western Front, and
they could pursue that strategy as long as they enjoyed the support of the
Conservatives and the press. Lloyd George failed in an attempt to
subordinate the BEF to overall French military command early in 1917
because of opposition from the King and from members of the War
Cabinet. However, heavy casualties in the third Battle of Ypres (Pas-
schendaele) between 31 July and 6 November weakened Conservative
and press support for Haig and Robertson. In February 1918 the Prime
Minister was able to replace the latter with Sir Henry Wilson and on 26
March, when the German offensive was driving a wedge between the
British and French armies, Marshal Foch was appointed co-ordinator of
all Allied forces on the Western Front.10 However, Foch™s powers were
limited, so that he could expect from Haig and the commanders of the
French, American and Italian armies no more than optional execution
of his instructions. Despite serious disagreements with Lloyd George,
Haig survived as commander of the BEF, partly because the Prime
Minister knew of no better general, but also because there were limits to
how far civilian control over the army could be pushed.11
Civilian control over naval affairs was likewise problematic. Churchill
recalled Fisher as ¬rst sea lord on 29 October 1914 after Prince Louis of
Battenberg resigned on account of public hysteria over his German
birth. At ¬rst the renewed Churchill“Fisher combination was very
successful. Fisher, now aged 73, had lost none of his ability to innovate.
He ordered a large number of aircraft and small airships for recon-
naissance. He was keen to revive his schemes for operations in the Baltic
and placed orders for monitors “ ships designed for coastal bombard-
ment “ and landing craft with bullet-proof bulwarks. However, he was
strongly opposed to the Dardanelles expedition and eventually resigned
on 15 May 1915 on the grounds that it imperilled ships required for the
John Turner, Lloyd George™s Secretariat (Cambridge University Press, 1980).
Strachan, Politics of the British Army, pp. 131“8.
David Lloyd George, War Memoirs, 6 vols. (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson,
1933“6), vol. IV, pp. 2266“8, 2271“2; vol. VI, pp. 3414“16, 3421.
54 Arms, economics and British strategy

Grand Fleet. Churchill was replaced ten days later by Balfour, when
Asquith formed his coalition government. The biggest crisis between
ministers and admirals came after Sir John Jellicoe was appointed ¬rst
sea lord in December 1916, and concerned the best way to respond to
submarine attacks on merchant shipping. Lloyd George™s memoirs are
among the least reliable sources for the First World War, but there is no
reason to doubt his veracity when he wrote that one reason why he did
not insist on the Admiralty adopting convoys earlier than it did was
because it was a serious thing for ministers, as amateurs, to interfere by
exercising authority over the naval experts.12 His attacks in his memoirs
on admirals were no less bitter than those on generals, evidence of equal
frustration in establishing civilian control.
The creation of a third defence department, the Air Ministry, in 1917,
was a response to a lack of co-operation between the RFC and the
RNAS and to the political necessity to be seen to be doing something
about German air attacks on London. There had been a series of
interdepartmental bodies: the Joint War Air Committee in February
1916, under Lord Derby; the Air Board in May 1916, initially under
Lord Curzon and then, from December 1916, under Lord Cowdray;
and the Aerial Operations Committee in September 1917, under the


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