Churchill's WWI strategy could have changed course of conflict, says historian

2:15PM BST 28 Aug 2013

Allan Mallinson, a former Army officer, argued that Churchill’s plan of holding back the British forces until their numbers could be bolstered by other British troops stationed overseas might have had a decisive impact on the course the war took.

Then a 36-year-old Home Secretary, Churchill was the principal dissenting voice in the Cabinet when the possibility of armed conflict was being discussed in 1911.

At a meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defense that year, he presented a memorandum he had prepared on how he saw a German campaign against France developing.

According to his prediction, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s forces would launch a major offensive through Belgium and the French would have no chance of stopping them on the frontiers and should instead prepare to defeat them inside France.

Crucially he also argued that any British force sent to help the French should therefore be kept well back from the fighting until it could be reinforced by bringing additional troops home from overseas garrisons.

A larger British force would then fight to decisive effect when the Germans had overreached themselves, he argued.

His proposal was dismissed at the time as “ridiculous and fantastic” but, according to Mallinson, he was proved right.

In his new book released tomorrow, 1914 Fight the Good Fight: Britain, the Army and the Coming of the First World War, the military historian and defense expert subjects Churchill’s strategy to a military appraisal for what he says is the first time, to see if the war would have played out any differently had it been followed.

“I do conclude that although the British Expeditionary Force fought magnificently, the French would have been able to manage without them in the first two months,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“They had the troops to replace them and the BEF, if it had been held back at Amiens, where Churchill had suggested, and its numbers built up to 300,000, which was perfectly doable, in October it should have been able to launch a counter-stroke into the German’s open flank between Abbeville (in northern France) and the North Sea.”

Such a move might have been decisive, he added, as “the German flank might have been turned and pushed back to the Meuse (a river in Belgium).”

The centenary of the First World War, which began in 1914, will be marked next year.

“Leave the past to history especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

Winston S. Churchill