5/8/1916 The Somme: Churchill tries to call a halt

Winston Churchill resigned from the British government after the failure of the Gallipoli campaign. He rejoined the army and served on the Western Front, commanding a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. But the military life turned out not to suit him, so he gave up his commission and returned to Westminster, where he remains a member of the House of Commons.

Churchill has written a memorandum criticising British progress at the Somme. He argues that the battle is a waste of British lives and resources, with the minimal gains failing to justify the losses. He sees no prospect of a breakthrough and effectively calls for the offensive to be halted. Churchill’s letter is not made public but it is circulated to members of the Cabinet and the government’s War Committee.

The War Committee meets today. Robertson, the chief of staff of the British army, reads a report from Haig designed to counter Churchill’s claims. Haig claims three positive results of the battle so far. Firstly, the German pressure on the French at Verdun has been relieved. Secondly the German have been prevented from sending troops east to meet the Brusilov Offensive. And thirdly, the battle has had a generally positive effect on morale. Haig furthermore asserts that the British casualties suffered at the Somme are not particularly heavy. He recommends that the battle be continued, at least into the autumn, if not beyond.

If Churchill’s letter created any misgivings on the part of the politicians, Haig’s report dispels them. Asquith judges Haig’s resport to be “very satisfactory”. The Prime Minister instructs Robertson to reply to Haig assuring him that he retains the War Committee’s full support.

image source:

Winston Churchill (Telegraph)

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