sir-william-robertson-and-kingAuthor: John Spencer MA

A dissertation submitted as part of the requirements for the degree of MA in British First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham in November 2011.

List of Abbreviations


Chapter 1 – Operations in the BEF

Chapter 2 – Wider Strategy

Chapter 3 - General Staff




AG - Adjutant-General

BEF - British Expeditionary Force

CAC - Cambridge Archives Centre

CGS - Chief of General Staff

CIGS - Chief of the Imperial General Staff

C-in-C - Commander-in-Chief

FM - Field Marshal

GS - General Staff

IGS - Imperial General Staff

IWM - Imperial War Museum

OH - British Official History

QMG - Quartermaster-General

GHQ - General Headquarters

GQG - Grand Quartier-General (French HQ)

HQ - Headquarters

LHCMA - Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives

TNA - The National Archives


This dissertation is about Sir William 'Wully' Robertson's role and influence while Chief of General Staff (CGS) of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front in 1915. It is a subject which has received scant attention from historians who have chosen to concentrate on the actions of his more 'colourful' colleagues. For the whole of 1915, give or take a few days, Robertson was CGS of the BEF under its commander Field Marshal Sir John French. The year ended with French's dismissal and Robertson's promotion to the post of Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the professional head of the British army.[1] Why was this? Why, if French and his actions were deserving of dismissal, did his senior military advisor not only survive but prosper?

The apparent failure of historians to devote particular attention to Robertson's role as CGS, while perhaps surprising considering the vital importance of the relationship between a commander and his senior staff officer, is not unusual in the historiography of warfare. All too often the CGS is overlooked by historians eager to focus on the commander while ignoring his principal military advisor. The dissertation will aim to contribute to this gap in the literature by considering the Robertson-French relationship and assessing its impact on decision making at the operational, strategic and military-political levels.[2] Attention will also be paid to Robertson's interaction with other key political and military figures of the day.

This dissertation will examine Robertson's role in 1915 and assess his influence both within the structure of the BEF and outside it. Research amongst primary sources has revealed that Robertson was active and influential not only at the operational level in the BEF. He lobbied extensively, and at times successfully, to impose his strategic views on the wider conduct of the war. Robertson in 1915 was not, as he appears in the historiography, a reserved and shadowy figure standing on the sidelines of events, but a key player. As well as fulfilling the operational role of CGS to the BEF he engaged formally and informally throughout 1915 with military and political decision makers and, perhaps fundamentally, worked hard to establish the primacy of the Imperial General Staff (IGS) as the arbiter of military strategy and the government's primary source of advice.


Sir William Robertson's role as CIGS during the Great War has been extensively studied. He was appointed to the post as the government's military advisor at the end of 1915 and was a major influence in British military policy until his forced resignation in February 1918. The secondary literature of this period devotes much space to Robertson, and the significant impact and sustained and focussed influence he brought to bear on British military strategy, particularly on the Western Front.[3] It is a different story for the reader looking for evidence of his influence, if any, in the year prior to becoming CIGS. While the historiography for the most part ignores Robertson in his CGS role, he is not alone. Other Chiefs of Staff are also largely overlooked in the writing on the war which has concentrated on the leading actors rather than the supporting cast.[4]

In line with Robertson's instructions, his diaries were destroyed after his death in 1933 and his two volumes of autobiography provide little meaningful insight into his time as CGS.[5] The Official History for 1915 is similarly opaque with the CGS receiving just thirteen index references across two volumes and more than nine hundred pages. None of the references shed much light on Robertson's personal contribution to the events of that year.[6] The most recent Robertson biography offers an excellent study of his role as CIGS, but the perfunctory attention given to 1915 means the full context for Wully's policies and actions once at the War Office is lacking.[7] The dissertation will demonstrate that Robertson's arrival in Whitehall, on his own stringently crafted terms, was the culmination of a sustained campaign to place military professionals at the heart of the decision making process.

Richard Holmes' biography of French is a portrait of a brave officer with an impressive record in the small wars of Empire, but a man out of his depth when required to command the biggest army in Britain's history.[8] French is characterised by Holmes and others as a man of suspicious and mercurial nature whose inability to work in harmony with either his political masters or his military allies led to his downfall.[9] Robertson, temperamentally the precise opposite of his Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C), has a limited presence in this and other works and little is revealed of his personal influence in the events of 1915, a crucial year for the British army's tactical, operational and strategic development.


Amongst the primary sources consulted in the preparation of the dissertation, of particular value were the papers of Field Marshal Sir William Robertson held at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives (LHCMA) at King's College London. A significant element of the Robertson archive comprises copies of formal reports produced for the information of the government on recent operations, together with frequently produced assessments of the military situation on the Western Front and in other theatres.

Of particular value for this dissertation were the substantial files of private correspondence both from and to Robertson. In 1915 Robertson communicated regularly with colleagues at the War Office expressing clear and unequivocal views on the conduct of war on the Western Front and, significantly for his future role as CIGS, on others. Another audience was King George V himself.[10] Writing to the monarch's closest advisors Robertson expounded his views on the conduct of the war, and became embroiled in the struggle to steady the tempestuous and destructive relationship between Sir John French and the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener.[11] Other primary sources of particular value include the letters and diaries of French, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson,[12] and Sir Maurice Hankey, secretary to the War Cabinet and its successors,[13] the diary of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig,[14] the papers of Lord Kitchener,[15] and the papers of the Prime Minister of the day, Herbert Henry Asquith.[16]


The dissertation consists of three chapters. Chapter 1 considers Robertson's influence on the operational organisation and performance of the BEF in 1915. The year was defined by static trench warfare in which limited British forces played a junior role alongside their French ally. While the British government toiled to create new mass citizen armies for future use, the BEF in France and Flanders was forced into a series of bloody offensives in support of the French. Learning for both attacker and defender was problematic with key lessons subsequently forgotten or overlooked and mistakes repeated. Robertson's background and personal character strongly influenced his effectiveness in the role and in his relations with both his chief and other colleagues.

Chapter 2 focuses on the broader strategic context of the war in 1915. Impatience in Britain with the apparent lack of progress in France and Flanders, together with growing losses, saw politicians and soldiers actively looking for other theatres where the impasse might be broken and the conflict brought to a speedy end. As this chapter will show, Robertson fought hard to maintain the primacy of the Western Front, believing that it was there and there alone, that the German army would be defeated. He was also acutely aware of the impact of British resources being expended elsewhere would have on the French who were undertaking the bulk of the fighting and incurring the vast majority of the casualties in the west. Robertson and like-minded senior commanders of the BEF were not aided in their cause by the ongoing internecine battle between French and Kitchener.

This awareness of the wider impact of strategic policy reveals Robertson as a subtle political thinker at odds with the caricature of the bluff, blunt-speaking former domestic servant.[17] Robertson's actions in 1915, as we shall see in Chapter 3, were focussed on ensuring strategic clarity from the British government. Time and again Robertson's incisive memoranda and letters seek, often in vain, for consistency of policy and approach. As the year progressed, Robertson identified the absence of an effective General Staff in the War Office fulfilling the role of the government's principal military advisory body as a fundamental failing. It was a failing he was determined to remedy. In this context, his successful curbing of Kitchener's authority at the end of 1915 and the assertion of the primacy of the IGS with Wully as its Chief should be seen not as a spur of the moment event but the culmination of a carefully executed campaign of political attrition.

What will emerge is a portrait of a highly efficient staff officer whose organisational abilities and clarity of purpose brought order to the BEF's operations in 1915. Over time the relationship between Robertson and French became tense, not over operational and strategic priorities but because Robertson, in common with many other influential figures, felt that French was chronically unsuited to be C-in-C at this unique time in the history of the British army. Although his arguments about the primacy of the Western Front and the necessity of a strong IGS appeared to make little headway in 1915, by the following year all that had changed and Robertson, with his ally Douglas Haig in command of the BEF, were to prove a formidable partnership.

Chapter 1 – Operations in the BEF

When Sir William Robertson became the BEF's CGS on 25 January 1915 his responsibilities were clear. As he recorded in his memoirs, he was the C-in-C's 'responsible adviser on all matters affecting military operations, through whom he exercises his functions of command, and by whom all orders issued by him will be signed.'[18] In 1915 staff duties at GHQ saw officers of equal rank in a triumvirate of CGS, Quartermaster-General (QMG) and Adjutant General (AG). Robertson's new role 'was in fact first amongst equals, and it was he who was presumed to have most influence over and contact with the C-in-C.'[19] Robertson's relationship with Sir John French at the tactical and operational level began well and continued for the most part in a positive vein. There is little if any evidence in the primary sources, especially French's diary, of major differences between the two men on the key issues facing the BEF and the British army more widely. They both agreed, along with other senior officers including First Army commander Sir Douglas Haig, Sir Henry Wilson, Senior British Liaison Officer with the French army and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien commanding Second Army, that the war could only be won on the Western Front against Germany as the main enemy. As we shall see later, it was a fundamental personality clash rather than disagreements over how the war should be fought and won that led to an almost inevitable souring of relationships.

A bewildering range of factors faced Britain's military and political decision makers at the beginning of 1915. War on the Western Front had reached apparent deadlock with trenches replacing the more familiar war of movement which characterised the late summer and early autumn of 1914. As the year progressed, attempts by France and Britain to end this stalemate and eject the German invader grew in scale, both in terms of resources employed and casualties suffered. The six divisions of the British army which went to France in August 1914 had been badly mauled in the defensive battles of that year. By the time Robertson became CGS the pre-war army's professional core, particularly its officer and NCO cadres, was much diminished. For the BEF, 1915 was marked by shortage of manpower while Britain trained its new armies at home. Robertson noted:

It is simply impossible to make a new army in the course of a year. The organisation fails in officers and non-commissioned officers...the troops have no confidence in themselves nor in their leaders. If we had enough regular officers and non-commissioned officers to man the New Armies they would be very good, but as all join practically on the same day no subordinate credits his superior with knowing much more about the business than he knows himself, and consequently in times of stress he prefers to act according to the dictates of his own judgement rather than in accordance with the orders of his appointed superiors.[20]

Men were not the only resource in short supply. Lack of artillery, particularly heavy guns and high explosive ammunition, hampered offensive planning and quickly curtailed attacks when they came. Another key feature was the tactical and operational novelty brought about by static trench warfare. There is evidence during the year of tactical learning within the BEF, but a consistency of approach was lacking. Sheffield states: 'The battles of 1915 were defined by a race to learn and apply lessons. The British were to learn the hard way that generally the German army was able to improve its defences faster than they were able to improve their assault techniques.'[21] The BEF's learning in 1915 characterised the war as a whole and the role of the staff officers at GHQ followed a similar pattern: 'Tremendous difficulties overcome with differing degrees of success, huge growth, eventual victory.'[22]

Writing about Sir William Robertson often appears to be as much focussed on his plain-speaking blunt personality as on his merits as a highly competent military administrator. This is hardly surprising bearing in mind the fact that Robertson is the only British soldier ever to rise from private to Field Marshal; from humble beginnings a stellar career was formed. But Robertson's rise, while good fortune may well have played an occasional hand, was not an accidental fluke. Determined from the outset to make his mark Robertson had a love of all things military, both practical and less commonly in the late-Victorian British army, academically. He worked hard on the parade ground and at his books. A linguist and master of eight foreign languages, he often expressed himself in a bluff manner unfamiliar to most in the higher echelons of the British army and society. As Winston Churchill remarked with the myopia which characterised his unshakeable support for the Gallipoli campaign: 'Robertson has prestige largely because he was a footman and drops his aitches.'[23] It seems likely that Robertson played on his humble beginnings to create a characteristic persona. Wilson was happy to denigrate Robertson's background when he refused to bend to his views: 'I find Robertson difficult. He is secretive and, like all underbreds, suspicious; also his manners are somewhat repugnant,' and 'it is d – [sic] to work with a man who is not a gentleman. The moment the strain comes, so does the hairy hand.'[24] Rough at the edges or not, Wully's most recent biographer says his subject was seen by some contemporaries as 'the cleverest man in the army'.[25] Robertson had misgivings about becoming CGS of the BEF at the start of 1915 and worried about how he might get on with his C-in-C.[26] At the same time he was reluctant to give up his role as QMG to the BEF, one at which he had excelled. During the retreat from Mons in August 1914 Robertson's deputy witnessed the impact of the stressful events on GHQ:

Saw the C-in-C this morning – he looks fit and quite cheery. The Chief of the Staff [Gen. Sir Archibald 'Archie' Murray] is dead beat – found him fainting at 5am and poured whisky down his throat – don't think he will last long. However pray that the moment is near where they will appoint Sir W Chief of the Staff. I firmly believe he is the only man capable of getting us safely out of this.[27]

Putting his anxieties aside, the ambitious Robertson accepted the prestigious appointment. It was immediately clear to his colleagues that Wully was to be a more effective CGS than the reticent Murray whose orders were 'miracles of opacity, devoid of context, and a source of consternation and confusion to those who received them.'[28] On 5 February Haig met with Robertson: 'In talking to him, one gets a great feeling of confidence in what he takes in hand.'[29] Days later he attended a briefing by the C-in-C about the forthcoming attack on Neuve Chapelle: 'I thought the way in which the matter in hand was dealt with seems to show that Robertson has the full confidence of Sir John and augers well for the future.'[30]

Despite the limitations facing the BEF, Britain's French ally was following a determinedly aggressive strategy, launching repeated costly offensives throughout the year. Pressure from the French for the British army to take its share of the burden was a constant issue for French, his military colleagues and their political masters in London. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to see the period as one of stasis and inactivity at the tactical or operational level. The BEF fought four major offensive battles in 1915, each of them characterised to a greater or lesser extent by the demands of coalition warfare.[31]

Throughout 1915, and subsequently, Robertson was convinced that to win the war the allies had to defeat the main enemy, Germany. Germany could only be defeated, he was certain, on the Western Front. To win would require a determined commitment, both in resources and manpower, but also politically. There would be no speedy conclusion, patience was essential. But victory was not impossible. Encouraged by events at the Battles of Neuve Chapelle and Festubert Robertson wrote to Major General Charles Edward Callwell, Director of Military Operations and Intelligence at the War Office: 'We know that we can break the front line because we have already done it on two occasions but then we have had to stop for want of ammunition!'[32] The CGS was not alone in this belief. His General Staff Officer 1 (GSO1), Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Maurice wrote after Neuve Chapelle:

'With a very little luck we should have had a very big success, but a mistake was made at an important moment on the first day, which delayed the reserves coming up and a dense fog on the morning of the 2nd day also kept us back for several hours, this just gave the Germans time to bring up their reserves, but for this I think we should have broken right through.'[33]

Lord Esher, without official portfolio but entrusted by the government with various important missions, visited GHQ soon after Robertson took up his new role and reported to Hankey:

'You cannot imagine how smoothly all the preparation for this attack on La Bassee [part of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle] worked under the new Chief of Staff. I am telling you Sir John's impressions. He likes Robertson's methods. French gives his general instructions. Robertson comes in with a few questions on half a sheet of note paper. They are answered, and everything goes forward.'[34]

This methodology appears to have continued for the rest of the year.

By May Robertson had concluded there were three phases to battles against entrenched positions. The first was to 'carry the trenches', for which a good supply of ammunition was essential, the next to 'get through the defended localities', the risk being that these strongpoints could be reinforced and re-established if the advance was not pushed forward, and thirdly sufficient infantry reserves and field artillery support was essential to 'exploit the success gained in the first two phases.' There would be no speedy conclusion, patience was required, as were essential tools: 'I do not think that people without the experience we have had sufficiently realise what modern warfare is like in a situation such as ours in which there are no flanks and therefore can be no manoeuvre until a hole right through the defence is made. There is no doubt in our minds that it could be made if the means were forthcoming.' If ammunition was not forthcoming: 'Then we had better get into our holes and stay there and see what the French can do.'[35]

A fortnight earlier French, in one of his regular status updates to the Army Council, expressed views in line with those of his CGS:

'Our experiences at Neuve Chapelle and again this week [beginning of the Battle of Festubert, 15 May 1915] and that of the French near Arras show clearly that it is possible to break through the enemy's defences, provided sufficient artillery ammunition of the proper nature is available and sufficient troops are resolutely employed. Experience also shows that to take advantage of an initial success a constant stream of fresh troops is essential, as such operations involve very severe and exhausting fighting and are necessarily protracted.'[36]

A week later, once the lessons of Festubert had been digested he wrote to Kitchener:

It has also become clear that however strong the enemy's defences may be they can be captured if they are sufficiently bombarded and an adequate force of infantry is resolutely employed. The process of breaking through the enemy's successive lines of defence is, however, so slow that he is able to bring up reserves from any part of his front which is not being attacked...the general conclusion is not that it is impossible to break through the enemy's lines, but that if this is to impose upon him a general withdrawal, it is necessary to be greatly superior on the front of attack not only to the troops the enemy may have there but also in addition to any reserves he may have available elsewhere...The recent fighting between Festubert and Arras did draw in the whole of the enemy's available reserves, but we were unable to develop our full offensive power owing to lack of artillery ammunition.[37]

The pair had identified and correctly described the problem. It would take the BEF until 1918 to have all the tools at its disposal to provide the solution.

The BEF's shortage of artillery ammunition, particularly high explosive, was a major problem for the whole of 1915.[38] Blame for the apparent inability of industry at home to provide the wherewithal for the front was laid, by French in particular, at Kitchener's door. Sir John complained to Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty: 'We are getting on here slowly but surely. Ammunition is still the big bug bear. K[itchener] ought to be shot!'[39] Robertson took the opportunity to press the case for much improved ammunition supplies when Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Hankey, Secretary to both the Cabinet and the War Council, made his first visit to the Western Front in early April: 'Robertson's conversation on this evening, and on a subsequent evening was on two subjects only; (1) the need for more shells, and (2) the friction between Sir John French and General Joffre.'[40]

While the French C-in-C and his British counterpart often failed to see eye to eye, French's long-standing and sometimes irrational distrust of Kitchener meant relations between GHQ and the War Office were strained throughout 1915. They reached breaking point on 14 May when The Times, supplied with information by Sir John, accused Kitchener of presiding over a 'shells scandal'. The claim was that political ineptitude in Whitehall, and in the War Office in particular, was hampering war production and costing lives on the front line. The story did more to damage French's reputation than it did Kitchener's.[41] Personal animosity aside, the paucity of ammunition was a fact of life at this time. As planning began for the offensive which was to become the Battle of Loos, Robertson took his concerns to the King's Private Secretary:

We began the war without an army or the means of making one. We are still to a great extent without those means. (For the past three days we have received a total of three rounds for our three 15-inch howitzers. The Germans yesterday fired 47 rounds of this calibre at certain places merely as a joke). So we must expect to be in difficulties.[42]

It was not until the time of the battle itself that the situation had improved to the CGS's satisfaction:

We have only now for the first time been in possession of an adequate supply of ammunition, and therefore this is really our first serious effort. We are delighted the ammunition is coming in so well, and if it continues at the same rate we ought to give the German much to think about.[43]

During 1915 the challenges of fighting a coalition war in which Britain was the junior partner had a fundamental influence on both operational planning and at a strategic level. Sir John's relationship with his French colleagues was often fraught, but he too understood the risks of division:

With the best of will on both sides, the difficulties involved in the conduct of operations of allied forces, and the possibility of friction and misunderstandings arising, are very great, and if assurances to the arrival of reinforcements are not strictly adhered to relations become necessarily very strained.[44]

Reservations about their ally aside, French and Robertson were not averse to calling on 'political' support when they believed the occasion demanded. In mid-1915 the C-in-C and his CGS were worried that the British government, in response to continuing losses on both the Western Front and in Gallipoli, were considering adopting a new policy. At a conference with the French army commander Sir John asked 'whether General Joffre had ever contemplated a passive defence, as none of the attacks up to now had been wholly successful.' Joffre said he had 'never dreamt of such a thing' and he was 'wholly opposed to it.' French said he had asked the question because he believed the British government would 'press him strongly in that direction. He himself was entirely of one mind with General Joffre.'

According to the minutes: 'General Joffre replied that a policy such as the British Cabinet appeared to favour was one which, by making sure of a Russian defeat, would make certain of our defeat in our turn. He, therefore, would not countenance it for a moment.'[45] French and Joffre agreed to write to their governments asking for all possible British forces to be sent to France with a view to a major offensive later in the summer. A passive defence was 'bad strategy, unfair to Russia, Servia [sic] and Italy, and therefore wholly inadmissible.'[46]

Despite this, as Robertson's confidence in the BEF grew, his view of his alliance partner declined. The Battle of Loos in September 1915 produced enormous casualties for little gain.[47] French and Robertson had concerns from the outset: 'Saw CGS about the attack on Loos. He is evidently convinced that the place is too strong, and that we should not be helping the French by throwing away thousands of lives in knocking our heads against a brick wall.'[48] Two days later Lieutenant-Colonel Sidney Clive, head of the British Mission at French Headquarters (GQG), recorded:

I did not gather that they [French and Robertson] wish to attack anywhere; and that the real reason underlying this objection to attacking as that that they don't believe that the French are going to get through. This makes them jib at putting in a lot of divisions at a point where they see little chance of doing much good.[49]
Nonetheless, the attack had to go ahead, principally in support of a much larger neighbouring French offensive. As the fight wore on Robertson vented his frustrations:

The French are most unbusinesslike people. I think it quite true to say that their Staff is far inferior to ours, and they certainly set no value on keeping to arrangements made beforehand, and indeed suggested by themselves. However there has always been this kind of trouble in fighting with allies, and there always will be. War is a one-man business, both in the field and at home, and always has been.[50]

By the end of the month, Robertson believed the time for allowing the French to call the operational tune was past:

It is necessary we should get a more dominating control over matters...our stake is as great as the French stake; we have now a great Army in the field; our Navy is all-powerful; we are finding the greater part of the money; our General Staff is at least as competent as the French General Staff to show the way to victory; and therefore we ought to take a much greater share in the general planning of operations than we have taken hitherto.[51]

The fact was that all of the BEF's offensive operations in 1915 had been in one way or another initiated by or in support of the French. Robertson was clear where responsibility for these disappointments lay:

We ought not to allow ourselves again to be dragged aimlessly and hurriedly by the French into operations of which we disapprove – that is, unless we are to leave supreme control of the operations in French hands, and to do merely what they ask us to do.[52]

In 1916, with the French army concentrating on defending Verdun, the British army would take the offensive lead.

Chapter 2 - Wider Strategy

There were plenty of armchair strategists in Britain with a view on how the war should be fought. When conflict broke out in August 1914 Kitchener was convinced the war would be a long one and refused to put an upper limit on the number of divisions the British army would ultimately need to put in the field.[53] Short and sharp, albeit expensive in lives and materials was the prevailing view.[54] By 1915 it had become clear that it would be both costly and long. The French were losing huge numbers during this period in a series of strategically flawed large scale attacks. The BEF's three failed offensives in the first six months of the year, together with the high cost of the defensive Second Battle of Ypres in April and May, saw those in power casting around for another way to breach the impasse. Not all thought the Western Front held the answer. A growing caucus of influential soldiers and statesmen believed there must be a better solution than the 'billy-goat tactics of western generals in butting away the strength of their armies against unbreakable walls a succession of sickening thuds.'[55] This desire to find other ways to win the war, as strong in France as in Britain, led to two major campaigns in 1915, the first in the Dardanelles and the second at Salonika in Macedonia. Designed to deliver a knock-out blow to Germany's allies, their inevitable effect was to divert men and supplies away from France and Flanders.[56]

Those commanding the BEF were united in their opposition. Robertson took a leading role in this dissent, waging a relentless campaign both officially and unofficially to persuade the government to abandon these 'sideshows'.[57] It was not a struggle he would win easily. Evidence of the hunger for an alternative strategy came early in 1915 from Robertson's old friend Callwell at the War Office who felt there was an opportunity for 'more effective work' in the east:

Is not Joffre perhaps a little unduly impressed with the idea that the western is the decisive theatre? There are two main theatres, and as long as the initiative is left with the enemy I do not see much prospect of decisive success in either.[58]

Robertson responded with characteristic bluntness:

There is only one way of ending this war satisfactorily and that is by putting our troops where they can kill the most Germans and by trusting to ourselves and not to other people. We have never yet put our back into the war as a nation. We are looking around the world for people to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for us on the foolish impression that we have the affection of everybody![59]

Robertson remained on the offensive. The day after the Royal Navy began its attempt to force the Dardanelles he condemned the exercise as 'a ridiculous farce' and lambasted the pre-war military reformer Lord Haldane as: 'One of those people who think that this war can be settled in some other way than by fighting. There is only one way to settle it and that is by fighting out here.'[60] A fortnight later Hankey dined with Robertson at GHQ:

Rather awkward at first as he [Robertson] wouldn't talk. Found he believed me responsible for naval bombardment of Dardanelles which I have always opposed, though originally and still in favour of a joint naval and military expedition for which superiority essential; speedily disillusioned him, after which he thawed [61]

Robertson's views on the upcoming land campaign in Turkey made an impression on Hankey. Days later the Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith wrote: 'Hankey has just been in: very anxious about the Dardanelles, which he says Robertson describes as the stiffest operation anybody cd. undertake.'[62] Robertson was not alone in his antipathy to the Dardanelles. Hankey also talked with Wilson who 'abused Churchill and the Dardanelles expedition.'[63]

Despite the characteristic energy Wully invested in his campaign it had little tangible effect on the decision-makers in government. Eager to ensure the King was aware of his concerns he wrote to Stamfordham:

We are at war with Germany, and if it can be proved that the dispatch of troops to the Dardanelles helps to defeat Germany then they should go there. If it cannot be proved then it is clearly wrong. As regards the possibility of piercing the German lines, that entirely depends upon the means placed at our disposal. So far the means have been inadequate. But in many cases it is a very difficult thing to do.[64]

In some respects the rationale which drove those, including Kitchener himself, to seek an alternative to the Western Front is understandable. The stakes were high: 'What was (or may have been) at stake between May and August 1915 was not simply the future of the Gallipoli campaign, but nothing less than whether the Middle East should take precedence over the Western Front as the British Empire's main war effort.'[65] French and his commanders in France and Flanders could point to little in the way of success on the battlefield. Matters were made worse for the proponents of the Western strategy by the behaviour of the BEF's Commander-in-Chief. French's long-running quarrel with Kitchener could not fail to influence opinion in Whitehall. The 'shells scandal' had damaged French's credibility at home and both Robertson and Haig found themselves drawn into the ongoing squabble.[66] Robertson summed up the position:

We do not do the best with what we have got because of the wretched personal factor which creeps in everywhere. I can honestly say that half my time is taken up in combating this disquieting intrusion. I believe Sir John is now in a sense trying not to annoy Lord K, but we need far more than that. The worst of it is that I suppose, the Government pays no heed to opinion. He is a discredited nonentity, I take it. I hope it is not so. If they do not trust him they should replace him. If they do trust him, they ought to take his advice, or at any rate ask for it if they do not get it.[67]

Robertson was also concerned by French's seeming inability to establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect with Joffre:

[He] has never really sincerely, and honestly concerted with the French, while they regard him as by no means a man of ability or a faithful friend, and therefore they do not confide in him. Joffre and he have never been a mile within the heart of each other. Further he has never fully laid his opinions before the government. He has too much taken the stand of doing as he wishes and telling the government nothing. I have been concerned about this for a long time past. A few days ago I finally made up my mind that he should do these things, or I should resign as a protest:-
a) Ask Lord K to come out and get on better relations
b) Establish more sincere and complete relations with the French
c) Write a full and true account of the situation for the information of the Government.[68]

In the face of this ultimatum from his CGS French apparently promised to work to improve the Kitchener relationship: 'So far so good but I have no real hopes of much good coming of it all.' He ended asking for confidentiality but told Stamfordham he was happy for him to use the letter 'for the good of the cause'. Frustrated though he was, Robertson made it his business to confer with the Secretary of State during a visit to London:

The talks you and I have had have proved most helpful and I am gratified to feel that we are so closely in accord. It would be beneficial I am sure if I could come over more frequently and see you, and so keep more in touch with you and the situation as seen in London.[69]

The ongoing ill-will between Kitchener and French so concerned the King that his Assistant Private Secretary raised the subject with Robertson twice within a week. 'HM is so anxious to establish cordial relations and good will [70] between the War Office and GHQ,' wrote Lieutenant Colonel Clive Wigram, the King's Assistant Private Secretary. He had just accompanied his sovereign on a review of the Grand Fleet: 'Oh! If we could only get the same feelings of comradeship and mutual service between the parts of the army abroad and at home.'[71] A few days later, the atmosphere seemed to have improved:

Now that the ball has been started rolling in the right direction as regards interchange of views between the War Office and GHQ, between the French and ourselves, and among the Allies it is most important that it should be kept going and gathers no moss.[72]

Robertson's apparent role as a go-between for French and Kitchener appears to have landed him in hot water with his Chief. In August Wigram told him: 'HM hopes that the relations between the GS at GHQ and at the War Office are friendly and correct – their views should be identical as far as possible.'[73] Robertson replied by return that there were problems communicating directly with Kitchener without French's permission, concluding 'there can only be one C-in-C in the Army'.[74] The King, through Wigram, was not prepared to allow French to avoid regular dialogue, stating that there: 'Ought to be a Standing Order that K should have the views of GHQ through the C-in-C once a fortnight or once a month.'[75]

As the BEF began assembling its resources for the Battle of Loos, Robertson continued his lobbying against the Dardanelles offensive: 'Unless this enterprise is shortly stopped, the chances of our obtaining a reasonably successful issue to the war will be doubtful.' Robertson said he had tried to get French to present his views to the government but:

He declined to do so. He says, and I dare say quite correctly, that his views are already well known, and that it is a waste of time to repeat them...I had prepared for his assistance a short note on the situation, but he declined to read it.[76]

Nonetheless, Robertson enclosed a copy of the note to Wigram in the full knowledge that it would be seen by the King.

For some time elements within the French government had been pressing for the opening of another front, this time in Macedonia and the port city of Salonika. The concept was to prevent Germany and her Austro-Hungarian allies defeating neighbouring Serbia and effectively taking control of the Balkans. It was not a novel initiative, Churchill and Lloyd George in particular having toyed with the idea since the start of the year.[77] By late summer of 1915 it had caught the imagination of members of the government's military policy making body, the Dardanelles Committee.[78] The 'Westerners', with Robertson again to the fore, fought a rearguard action to rein back an initiative he labelled a 'mad scheme' capable of 'even losing the war'.[79] He complained to Murray, by this time CIGS, about the government's decision to commit British divisions which he claimed had been:

Sent away from this country without prejudice as to where they should ultimately be employed, and the main contention of the GS was therefore utterly rejected. I do not for a moment wish to interfere with GS work at the is clear that both the War staff and the GS hold that the west is still the main theatre, and therefore all other operations should be subordinated to it. It is of course no use laying down these excellent principles and expressing such entire conviction of their soundness, unless we are prepared to carry them to their logical conclusion and stand or fall by them.[80]

Murray responded immediately:

I can assure you that I will do all I possibly can to keep the Western as the main theatre of war and not weaken the force for anything except the most urgent necessity. I have, inside and outside the War Council, strongly advocated no expedition to the Balkans, and I think we have succeeded in killing that mad scheme.[81]

Murray's confidence was misplaced.[82] Once again, Robertson had his knuckles rapped for speaking directly to officials at the War Office: 'The C-in-C has recently strongly resented any opinion regarding the EF [Expeditionary Force being sent to Salonika via Egypt] being given by me or anybody else except himself. I need add no more on this point.'[83]

Robertson questioned the strategic rationale of the Salonika campaign:

Nothing could have been more pitiable than our proceedings of the last month. Germany suddenly sends about a dozen divisions into the Balkans...and we immediately seem to become panic stricken and helpless. Troops are rushed off there by the French without any proper reflection as to what may be the result, and now the British are sending troops there mainly to ensure the safety of those already sent.[84]

He called for a Franco-British plan for winning the war. 'Our General Staff are unanimously of opinion that this plan should be based on killing Germans, and they hold it to be both useless and unsound to embark on a campaign in the Balkans.'[85]

Two weeks earlier Robertson, not without an evident degree of satisfaction, wrote to Callwell in Whitehall:

Now that we are more in agreement as to the general policy to be pursued,[i.e. that the Dardanelles and the Balkans were not the answer to ending the war quickly] I am sure that the proper policy is to go on hammering away here. People at home expect decisive success too rapidly. It is only in the last few weeks that anything like an adequate supply of ammunition has been received, although I am quite prepared to admit that we shall not achieve any great conspicuous success on any one occasion. It is a question of exhausting and wearing down the enemy...everything should be devoted to hammering away in this theatre.[86]

Callwell's reply was telling. Directors of the Imperial General Staff were now:

Absolutely in accord with you in all you say and are totally opposed to operations in Macedonia which are objectionable from every point of view! I do hope that the opposition of Sir John and Joffre will suffice to put an end to the absurd idea of sending away 8 [sic] complete divisions with no definite object.[87]

Wully continued his campaign for a clear strategic plan for the war. A plan on which both Britain and France agreed and which, once and for all, acknowledged the primacy of the Western Front. Clive recorded:

Saw CGS and gave him a précis of the French appreciation [regarding Salonika]. He thought little of it, and said so in picturesque terms. His whole idea, and quite rightly, is to get a plan agreed to by the two governments with a definite undertaking that they will not depart from it without consulting the other. He spoke much of his experiences with the Cabinet during the time he was at home; the daily fever and loss of balance when a telegram came from Mesopotamia asking for more troops, or from Egypt saying 15 Divisions were wanted at once.[88]

On 5 November Robertson had produced his Memorandum on the Conduct of the War, addressed to the Prime Minister. In 29 closely argued points he made clear what he believed needed to be done. He wanted an end to the 'sideshows', greater weight for the British in the Allied councils of war and the time and resources to deliver victory alongside the French. But, he concluded, victory would not be achieved 'unless we have a carefully considered, complete, and accepted plan upon which both countries can base their action.'[89] If the memorandum was not a barely disguised application for the post of CIGS it came remarkably close. His sparring partner at the War Office Charles Callwell told Wilson: 'He undoubtedly has impressed the politician people, and I do not know that Murray has; they think he is too much under K's thumb – as indeed he is.'[90] As we shall see in the next chapter, the memorandum outlined a strategy from which Robertson never deviated.

Chapter 3 – General Staff

Sir William Robertson's influence in the events leading up to the dismissal of French as C-in-C of the BEF at the end of 1915 receives some, albeit limited attention in the historiography. His involvement is characterised as just one part of a wider conspiracy of opinion which involved a range of other more important players, principally Haig, Kitchener, Wilson and even the King himself. Study of the primary sources reveals that Robertson was not so much a reticent by-stander as a key player in the drama. Far from holding back, his contribution to the undermining of French, as this chapter will show, was significant and sustained. At the same time, and the secondary sources have paid little attention to this area, Robertson was also lobbying hard to establish the primacy of the Imperial General Staff at the War Office as the sole source of the government's military advice. After the failure of the Loos offensive and the subsequent unedifying row between French and Haig over the employment of reserves, the former's departure was inevitable.[91] Only the timing and manner of his exit awaited resolution. While these were significant events, this dissertation argues that Robertson's commitment to forming a powerful General Staff was of greater long-term strategic importance.

As far as Wully was concerned, his confidence in French's competence to lead the BEF to victory was already in doubt even before he became his CGS at the start of 1915. In January it became clear to both Robertson and Wilson that Murray would soon be replaced. Both of them were candidates. 'We discussed this morning's work and how impossible Sir J. was. Robertson thinks Anyone would be better,' wrote Wilson in his diary:

He said he would not accept it, [the CGS job] he could not manage Johnnie who was sure to come to grief and would carry him with him...he said and begged of me to put Johnnie off offering it to him because he must refuse. "The chance of a life time and two men in one car, both refusing it," It is something of a tragedy.[92]

Regardless of his apparent reluctance, no doubt caused by his knowledge that French had initially lobbied for Wilson to be appointed to the position, Robertson took on the role.[93] French had been given little choice in the matter. Kitchener, who from the beginning of the war had experienced difficulties with him, told Clive that:

Wilson enjoyed his [French's] confidence as much as ever, that he would even have been prepared to take him as CGS but for the political difficulties; while the Government had left him a free hand, Mr Asquith had said they would be sorry if he was chosen, and Sir John had not thought it was wise, or right, to do so.[94]

However, a few days later Clive saw French and:

I think he is pleased to have got the changes over and satisfied that he is much better off with General Robertson as CGS than he would have been with anybody else. By promoting Henry Wilson L[ieutenan]t. General he gets over the difficulty of any idea of loss of prestige when he meets the French authorities; but at the same time I doubt whether the latter will find enough work to do, and I feel quite sure that General Robertson will not allow him to have the slightest independent access to Sir John.[95]

Clive was mistaken. Wilson, who as sub-chief of the BEF's General Staff 'had had far more influence on French than the well-meaning but fragile Archie Murray' continued to have almost daily access to the C-in-C, reporting directly to him in his new role as chief liaison officer with the French.[96] French and Robertson messed separately, with the inevitable result that the convivial Wilson often dined with the C-in-C. In his autobiography Robertson implies that the arrangement was of his own making, giving both men a break from the other:

Unless they possess more angelic tempers than ordinary mortals can hope to have, the constant mental strain to which they are subjected by the stress of way may cause them to get on each other's nerves. If that happens there will be trouble.[97]

In some respects French and Robertson ought to have been perfectly matched, so different were their personalities. Very often contrasting characters in leadership can complement each other to the benefit of each, and of the organisation. Archival evidence indicates that Robertson and French avoided direct confrontation over policy during the year they worked so closely together. Nonetheless Robertson resented his chief's apparent inability to make clear and precise decisions and stick to them. At the same time, French's insecurity grew as 1915 wore on. His distrust of Kitchener meant that any contact others had with either the War Office or the politicians in London exacerbated his suspicions. As we have seen, Robertson had many contacts with influential figures at home. Where the two did agree was in their mutual determination to maintain the Western Front as the most important theatre, ideally the only theatre. Operationally French was more akin to Haig in his views, both men believing that a break-through of the German lines would lead to a break-out and a return to a war of manoeuvre. Robertson had less confidence in likelihood of a break-out and set more store by wearing down the enemy's resources.[98] Although fundamental later in the war, in 1915 this difference of view did not significantly alter the approach of all three men. For each of them what was needed were more trained men, more guns and ammunition and more clarity from their political masters about military priorities.

Nonetheless, there were tensions. During the planning for the Battle of Loos Robertson reportedly complained to Wilson that although both he and Haig disagreed with elements of the offensive plan: 'He was not going to say another word as Sir J chopped and changed every day and was quite hopeless.'[99] A fortnight later it was clear that French knew Robertson was liaising with influential figures in London behind his back:

R is very sick with Sir J, he cannot manage him, nor influence seems to me that these two are drifting into a relationship which will become very difficult. R who first tried to run Sir J is now powerless and I think is trying to get rid of him by writing home and sending copies of appreciation notes on Amm[unition] supply etc which he drafted for Sir J but which the latter would rather not sign.[100]

It is hardly surprising that as C-in-C French would be irked by such behaviour, but Robertson, while a willing participant would have been hard put to refuse requests from not only Kitchener but also his sovereign:

The King feels that the more you can see Lord K the better and HM hopes that the relations between the General Staff at GHQ and at the WO are friendly and correct. Their views should be identical as far as possible, and the GS at the WO should not advise Lord K without your knowing what advice is being proffered... Lord K does not understand the General Staff.[101]

On the eve of the battle, Wilson and Robertson met again to discuss their C-in-C's leadership: 'Robertson told me this morning that he can't get Sir J. to do anything. He won't even allow instructions to go out re the coming fight. He is not well.'[102]

It is clear however, that for Robertson the unpredictable behaviour of his C-in-C took second place to his concern about how war policy was being made, even if that behaviour might in itself have influenced the attitudes of his political masters. During 1915 it became evident to him that the politicians at home needed clear and strong guidance from their military experts. Without such guidance they would continue, as he saw it, to chop and change policy, with disastrous results. The absence of a strong and respected General Staff (GS) in Whitehall had resulted in a 'policy vacuum' that was filled by a single-minded Secretary of State for War. As the year progressed and Kitchener's authority waned that vacuum was filled by 'strategic entrepreneurs' such as Churchill and Lloyd George.[103] Robertson made vigorous use of his network of contacts within the politico-military elite to press his case for a strong General Staff to guide policy. He went directly to the King in the middle of the year, telling the monarch's Private Secretary:

The General Staff with a trusted and competent head, should be allowed to function and do the work for which it was designed, and which it alone can do. It has been obliterated. Having the views of the different C's in C, and the advice of the General Staff at home, the Govt. will be in a position to see where they are, and what they can best do. The present method of this higher conduct of the war can only lead to disaster.

He had a dim view of those he thought were advising the politicians:

The government must receive the best military advice at home (Hankey and Callwell are I suppose the chief advisors. Ridiculous!) The Secretary of State for War has not the time the study matters and formulate advice...This is no time for mincing matters. I feel you may not dislike to hear my real views. I am not in a position to express them to anyone else...make such use of my views as you deem best in the good of the cause.[104]

It is hardly surprising that with a Secretary of State for War as strong as Kitchener the GS in the War Office was effortlessly sidelined. The GS was a relatively new institution, established as part of the Haldane reforms of 1906.[105] While an improvement on the relatively ad hoc system of the past the GS, and in particular the role of the Chief of the General Staff (CGS), was far from the pre-eminent voice in the councils of war either before the outbreak of hostilities or in the twelve months afterwards. French himself, never the epitome of administrative rectitude, had held the role until forced to resign over the Curragh Incident in March 1914, but his successors in the post were not strong characters. General Sir Charles Douglas who was in post at the outbreak of war died of overwork in September to be replaced by Lieutenant–General Sir James Wolfe Murray. The latter's failure to influence the domineering Kitchener earned him the nickname 'Sheep' Murray from the ever caustic Churchill.[106] In fairness to both Douglas and Wolfe Murray, Kitchener was a supremely self-confident figure, at this time unassailable in councils of state, admired by Britain's French allies and immensely popular in the country at large.[107] It would take a strong man indeed to confront and tame him. Kitchener sidelined the CGS and his staff, effectively undertaking the job himself while at the same time performing the onerous task of Secretary of State.[108] There were other complications: 'In attempting to make its views heard, the General Staff was hampered by the loss of all its senior and many junior members to the Expeditionary Force.' [109] Robertson was clear about where he believed the blame for the weakness of the GS lay:

The neglect of statesmen, soldiers, and sailors alike to make sufficiently close study of the principles by which the functions of High Command ought to be governed.'[110]

Significantly, when Robertson took over as CIGS he took with him a cadre of trusted staff officers who had served him as CGS and who he had hand-picked at the beginning of the year.[111]

During 1915, Kitchener's political dominance was slowly eroded as disappointment over stalemate and high casualties on the Western Front was compounded by failure and further losses in the Dardanelles and later in Macedonia. As far as Robertson was concerned the result of this waning of Kitchener's power presented risks for further intervention from the armchair strategists, but also opportunities for a new way of making war policy. The enthusiasm in some circles for the campaign in Salonika saw Robertson offering support for the General Staff in Whitehall, elements of which opposed the venture: 'I hope you will keep me informed of the various projects put forward by the amateurs and the different conspiracies to give effect to them, and call upon me for any help we can give in trying to scotch these different wild cat schemes.'[112] Soon after, Robertson chided Callwell about the General Staff's failings:

The whole conduct of the war wants getting in hand, firstly by our government, secondly by you of the General Staff and thirdly as between these two and the French. This is where the German has had the advantage all along.[113]

For Wully the matter was a simple one, as he advised the CIGS Murray in November 1915:

So long as any one of a large number of men is allowed to put forward his own particular project no progress can possibly be made. If I were in your place I would, as soon as I had finished my survey of the whole business, refuse to write any more papers. I would stick to the views I had put down and if they were rejected, those who rejected them should put their views in their place...I would be led into no more argument, and especially into no verbal argument as to other plans.[114]

This robust approach was already familiar to Robertson's military and political colleagues. At a meeting with Cabinet members in early July 1915, alongside French and Wilson:

The CGS had been asked if he had anything to say. He produced a map of France from somewhere or other and began to speak. From time to time one or another member interrupted, and Sir William then stood silent, looking at the interrupter from under his eyebrows. He spoke for ¾ of an hour and the impression created seems to have been extraordinary. They realised that this was a man who really knew what he was talking about, who really based his deductions on unanswerable facts.'[115]

It was a manner which would become none too popular with politicians in 1916 but at the time it seemed a welcome contrast to the tongue-tied and secretive Kitchener. Later in the year Robertson engaged the Prime Minister with his continuing conviction that politicians should receive unequivocal counsel:

I feel so strongly that we can win through if only we decide what is the right thing to do, and then resolutely stick to our decision and refuse to be directed from it by the many specious temptations which always beset those responsible in time of war.[116]

By the close of 1915 Kitchener had lost most of his political capital and, seemingly, much of his self-confidence:

In all these negotiations with our Ally [in relation to the Salonika campaign] we are terribly hampered by Lord K's changes of attitude which are enough to bewilder anybody. He told me rather plaintively yesterday that the Cabinet pay no attention to his views and always want to know what the General Staff have to say about it.[117]

A day later Hankey saw Lord Curzon, a member of the Dardanelles Committee, who told him: 'His solution is to get rid of Lord K., in whom the Cabinet has lost confidence.'[118] In fact Kitchener had already initiated discussions with Robertson about the future, as Asquith told Hankey: 'Apparently K had asked R to become C.I.G.S....Robertson had replied by formulating conditions – the War Ctee. to be the supreme authority, but no military operations to be discussed by it without first going through the General Staff.'[119] According to Asquith, Kitchener had told him he agreed with the idea: 'The P.M. is very anxious to get rid of Lord K. who, he says, darkens counsel and is a really bad administrator.'[120]

For Robertson this was a fundamental moment in his career. Even if he shared His Lordship's dim view of the political class, he had profoundly disapproved of Kitchener's support for the Dardanelles and Salonika campaigns. Friends and colleagues offered advice:

The PM and other members of the War Committee are in despair at the vagaries of their colleague. At the present moment I believe the situation is that K has told the PM that he wishes to go, but K quite agrees that the formation of a IGS is necessary. The PM says that K is tired and weary and wants to be relieved of responsibility. He thinks that K would never tolerate a GS sending out orders and corresponding with Generals, as K has always been accustomed to send out his own telegrams, often in his own name. Unfortunately while K was away and the PM at the War Office, all the departments began to function, and many say the difference was remarkable! HM has just seen the PM, and begged him not to come to any conclusions about K until he had seen you. If K. went you would have a steady fellow at the WO and not L[loyd]G[eorge].[121]

The King was heavily engaged in the issue:

I have had a good think – last night, today, and I am still thinking – about K. As you know HM is devoted to K. I am very sad to think of K on the brink of a precipice. K's position at present is untenable. He is discredited with all his 21 colleagues in the Cabinet. Even his colleagues in the War Committee think he is a positive danger. He has been so unstable in his advice on military affairs.[122]

Wigram had three options in mind for retaining Kitchener. Leaving things as they were was 'impossible', secondly, Robertson to succeed Murray and work under Kitchener at CIGS or Robertson's proposal for the Field Marshal to stay as War Minister with Wully directly advising the politicians. If Kitchener would accept the third option:

So much the better. I, like you, thought he would. But he thought it meant responsibility without executive action, and told the PM he could not be placed in this position.[123] We cannot afford to lose K's unique personality, and influence with the French and masses of the Empire. K apparently is admirable in these conferences, providing he is filled up with correct ideas. Could you devise any appointment for him such as Generalissimo, by which his good qualities could be made use of for the good of the Empire..., I hope you may have fixed up something with K, whom we cannot lose. After 3 months away I came back to find K a changed man, and the war has told on him tremendously. I believe the idea of evacuating the D[ardanelle]'s haunts him and he cannot sleep at night. The PM spoke very nicely about K to HM last night.[124]

Anxious though he might be to please his sovereign Wully was determined, as he had been throughout the year, that unless the CGS could be the government's principal military advisor it was not a role he could accept:

I am not sure that I know my own mind with regard to Lord K. He seems indispensible as regards the provision of the resources we require in men etc. etc., but when we come to the application of these resources he certainly holds queer ideas while his methods seem certain to lead to trouble. He would be an enormous standby to a CIGS if he allowed the General Staff to do the whole of its work in its own way and if he devoted his time to remainder of the work. He has rather given me to understand that he would allow the General Staff to function, but the next moment he goes off to a subject in a way which shows that he might not do so.[125]

Robertson's 'bargain' with Kitchener is well documented, both in his memoirs and by others.[126] The result was the politicians got a new robust CIGS who was clear about his strategic views; the Western Front was the primary front and Germany was the main enemy. Defeat of Germany would win the war; nothing else would do. What they did not get was subservient compliance. Two days before formally taking up the post Robertson gave a taste of what was to come in a letter to Hankey. Recent GS reports had outlined the military situation and made recommendations but had not clarified what was required from the War Committee in the form of clear policy instructions.[127]

Robertson was adamant that what was wanted now was an accepted plan: 'Until we get one, no good will ever be done.'[128] He was preparing 'a short Paper asking the War Council whether they approve of the military policy advocated by the General Staff, adding that if they do not approve of it to tell me what the policy is to be as I have no other recommendations to make.'[129] He was as good as his word. On the day he formally became CIGS Robertson asked the War Committee to confirm that France and Flanders was the 'main theatre of operations', that Salonika and Gallipoli should be evacuated and a defensive policy adopted in Mesopotamia:

If the War Committee does not approve of the above policy it is necessary that an alternative policy (regarding which I have no recommendation) should be formulated.[130]

There had been talk in some circles of Robertson replacing French but there is no evidence that he personally pursued the matter.[131] The fact that Wully's career to date had been heavily biased in favour of staff work, combined with his tireless lobbying during 1915 for clear military policy advice from a strong CGS supported by a competent General Staff, suggest this outcome was always unlikely. When Sir John resigned Robertson made his position clear: 'He tells me he has recommended me to succeed him. But this will not do either from the point of view of seniority or experience in the command of troops.'[132] Haig's command experience meant he was always going to be the logical successor as C-in-C. For Robertson it was going to be promotion to CIGS or nothing.


Although Robertson's role and influence in the BEF during 1915 has been largely overlooked by historians, as this dissertation has shown his impact was significant and sustained.[133] When appointed CGS at the start of the year he inherited a confused and confusing picture. The BEF was expanding at unprecedented rates while the new style of warfare was unique at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. Robertson applied his well-honed administrative and organisational skills to bringing stability and order to the staff of GHQ and assisting and supporting his C-in-C. The latter, whose character differed in almost every way from Robertson's was satisfied with the latter's performance, especially in the early months of their relationship. When the partnership soured it did so due to the fundamental differences in the characters of the two men. French was inconsistent in his strategic views and unable to work amicably with his French allies or his political masters, in particular Kitchener. Robertson was a 'thinking' soldier, from a similar mould to his colleague Haig. Recent scholarship has shed much light on the latter's thoughtful approach to the role of the senior commander.[134] A study of the primary sources shows Robertson was both analytical and concise and seen as such by his colleagues: 'It is a great delight to be under Robertson again. As you know I think he has the big brain in the army.'[135]

At the operational level Robertson and French faced a range of challenges including a fast-growing civilian volunteer army inadequately trained and equipped to face the industrialised warfare of the Western Front. A lack of artillery and ammunition of the right calibre and quantity served to severely limit what the force could achieve. Losses were significant and political and public expectations unrealistically high. Robertson worked hard to manage these expectations, counselling patience while armchair strategists cast in all directions for quick and inexpensive ways of winning the war. The task for the BEF's commanders was further complicated by the demands of coalition warfare in which Britain was, for the whole of 1915, the junior partner. Robertson, well aware of the inevitable restrictions of fighting alongside an ally, grew weary of seeing the BEF dance to the French tune and in the latter part of the year lobbied strenuously for the British force to be given its head.

Strategically, the campaigns in Gallipoli, Salonika and Mesopotamia were seen by Robertson and his fellow generals as costly 'sideshows' leeching both men and equipment away from the primary front. For Robertson in 1915, and for the rest of the war, the main front was the Western Front and the main enemy was Germany. The campaigns elsewhere, regardless of their outcome, would not defeat Germany and end the war. Robertson lobbied incessantly for acceptance of this strategy both in the councils of war and privately with his many contacts in the military-political sphere and with the King. By the end of 1915 events had proven Robertson's scepticism about other theatres to be correct. From then on the fullest resources of the British military establishment would be focussed on France and Flanders.

Robertson played a key role in the sacking of French, but by the end of the 1915 his departure was inevitable because: 'He lacked the true self-confidence of the great commander, the ability to maintain mental equilibrium amid chaos and confusion and the strength to act alone.'[136] In modern parlance French had 'lost the dressing room'; all that remained to be decided was the timing and the succession. The primary sources contain little if any evidence that Robertson had ambitions to succeed French, indeed in mid-November he wrote to Haig: 'I think the first thing is to get you in command.'[137] However, as has been argued here, there is a substantial amount of primary source material showing him positioning himself for the role of CGS. Robertson's most consistent position in 1915 concerned the primacy of the Imperial General Staff and its chief as official advisor to the government on war policy. A succession of weak and ineffective CIGSs, ignored and sidelined by the supremely confident Kitchener had led to strategic confusion. The post of CIGS 'had neither authority nor prestige'.[138] Robertson was convinced he could change that fact, and that he had the answers which would bring clarity to military policy. In 1916 he set out to put those answers into effect.


Primary Sources:

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford Asquith Papers Papers of HH Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford

  • Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, University of Cambridge Churchill Papers Papers of Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill [CHAR]
  • Esher Papers Papers of Viscount Esher, Reginald Balliol Brett [ESHR] Hankey Papers Papers of Maurice Hankey [HNKY] 
  • Rawlinson Papers Papers of General Sir Henry Rawlinson [RWLN]

Imperial War Museum, London

  • French Papers Papers of FM Sir John French [5919 67/256/1]
  • Maurice Papers Papers of Major General Sir Frederick Maurice [3/1/4]
  • Wilson Papers Private papers of FM Sir Henry Wilson [2040-2 73/1/1-9, Con Shelf & DS/MISC/80]
  • Woodroffe Papers Diary of Brigadier General CR Woodroffe [12367 03/38/2]

Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College London

  • Clive Papers Papers of Lieutenant General Sir Sidney Clive
  • Robertson Papers Papers of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson

The National Archives, Kew

  • Haig Papers Diary of Field-Marshal the Earl Haig (WO 256)
  • Papers relating to the writing of the Official History CAB 45/120, papers relating to the Battle of Loos

Secondary Sources:

Official Histories

  • Edmonds, J.E. & Wynn G.C. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents, Military Operations France and Belgium Vol I (London: John Murray, 1927; reprinted Uckfield Naval & Military Press)
  • Edmonds, J.E. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents, Military Operations France and Belgium Vol I (London: John Murray,1928; reprinted Uckfield, Naval & Military Press)

Biographies, autobiographies and published memoirs

  • Bonham-Carter, Victor Soldier True: The Life and Times of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson (Aylesbury: Frederick Muller, 1963)
  • Cassar. George H. Kitchener, Architect of Victory (London: William Kimber, 1977)
  • Cassar, George H. The Tragedy of Sir John French (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985)
  • Cassar, George H. Asquith as War Leader (London: Hambledon Press, 1994)
  • Charteris, John At GHQ (London: Cassell, 1931)
  • French, J.P. Viscount 1914 (London: Constable, 1919)
  • French, Gerald The Life of Field-Marshal Sir John French, First Earl of Ypres (London: Cassell, 1931)
  • French, Gerald War Diaries, Addresses and Correspondence of Viscount French of Ypres (London: Cassell, 1937)
  • Gooch, John The Plans of War: The General Staff and British Military Strategy c. 1900-1916 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974)
  • Hankey, Maurice The Supreme Command (London: Allen and Unwin, 1961)
  • Harris, J.P. Douglas Haig and the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
  • Holmes, Richard The Little Field Marshal: Sir John French (London: Cassell, 2004 [1981])
  • Jeffrey, Keith Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • Jenkins, Roy Asquith (London: Collins, 1964)
  • Lloyd George, David War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, (London: Odhams, two vols., 1938)
  • Reid, Walter Architect of Victory: Douglas Haig (Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, 2006)
  • Robertson, Sir William From Private to Field-Marshal (London: Constable, 1921)
  • Robertson, Sir William Soldiers and Statesmen (London: Cassell, 1926)
  • Roskill, Stephen Hankey Man of Secrets: Vol I. 1877-1918 (London: Collins, 1970)
  • Sheffield, Gary The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (London: Aurum Press, 2011)
  • Travers, Tim The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War, 1900-1918 (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2003 [1987])
  • Woodward, D.R. Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson: Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Westport: Praeger, 1998)

Published diaries etc

  • Beckett, Ian The Judgement of History, Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, Lord French and 1914 (London: Tom Donovan, 1993)
  • Blake, Robert The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914-1919 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1952)
  • Sheffield, G & Bourne J, eds. Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters, 1914-1918 (London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 2006 [2005])
  • Woodward, David R. The Military Correspondence of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff December 1915-February 1918 (London: Records Society, 1989)

General Works

  • Badsey, Stephen 'The August Offensives in British Imperial Grand Strategy', in Ashley Ekins (ed.), A ridge too far: climax on Gallipoli (Exisle Publishing, Auckland, forthcoming 2012)
  • Bond, Brian The Victorian Army & the Staff College (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972
  • Bond, Brian The First World War and British Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • Bridger, Geoff The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (Barnsley: Battleground Europe, 2000)
  • Cassar, George H. Kitchener's War: British Strategy from 1914 to 1916 (Dulles: Potomac Books, 2004)
  • Corrigan, Gordon Loos 1915: the unwanted battle (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 2004)
  • French, David British Strategy and War Aims: 1914-1916 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1986)
  • Gooch, John The Plans of War: The General Staff and British Military Strategy c. 1900-1916 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974)
  • Gooch, John Armies in Europe (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980)
  • Hart, Peter Gallipoli (London: Profile, 2011)
  • Holmes, Richard 'Sir John French and Lord Kitchener' in Bond, Brian, (ed.), The First World War and British Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • Hughes, M & Seligmann, M Leadership in Conflict, 1914-1918 (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2000)
  • Jeffery, Keith Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier (Oxford: OUP, 2006)
  • Lloyd, Nick Loos 1915 (Stroud: The History Press, 2006)
  • Prior, R & Wilson, T Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914-1918 (London: Blackwell, 2004 [1992])
  • Sheffield, Gary & Todman, Dan (eds.) Command and Control on the Western Front: The British Army's Experience 1914-18 (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 2007 [2004])
  • Terraine, John Essays on Leadership & War (Poole: Western Front Association, 1998)
  • Travers, Tim The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War, 1900-1918 (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2003 [1987])
  • Travers, Tim How the War was Won (London: Routledge, 2005 [1992])
  • Zabecki, David (ed.) Chief of Staff; The Principal Officers Behind History's Greatest Commanders, Vol 1. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008)


  • Bond, Brian 'The Staff College, the General Staff and the Test of War, 1914-15', RUSI 116 (663) (1971): Sept, pp. 38-43
  • Edmonds, J.E 'The Reserves at Loos', RUSI 81 (1936): Feb, pp. 33-9
  • French, David 'The Meaning of Attrition', English Historical Review 103 (407) (1988) pp385-405
  • Harris, J.P & Marble S 'The "Step-by-Step" Approach: British Military Thought and Operational Method on the Western Front, 1915-1917' War in History 15 (1) (2008) pp. 17-42
  • Lloyd, Nick "With Faith and Without Fear": Sir Douglas Haig's Command of First Army during 1915', Journal of Military History 71 (4) (2007) pp. 1051-1076
  • Marble, Sanders 'Haig dismisses attritional warfare, January 1916', Journal of Military History 65 (4) (2001) pp. 1061-1065
  • Travers, Tim 'The Offensive and the Problem of Innovation in British Military Thought 1870-1915' Journal of Contemporary History 13 (3) (1978) pp. 531-533
  • Travers, Tim 'Technology, tactics and morale: Jean de Bloch, the Boer War, and British Military Theory, 1900-1914 The Journal of Modern History 51 (2) Technology and War (1979) pp. 264-286
  • Travers, Tim 'The Hidden Army: Structural Problems in the British Officer Corps, 1900-1918' 1915' Journal of Contemporary History 17 (3) (1982) pp. 523-544


[1] Woodward, David, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson: Chief of the Imperial General Staff in the Great War (Westport: Praeger, 1998)
[2] Gen. (Retd.) David Zabecki, who edited study of the role of Chiefs of Staff from Napoleonic times to the present, Chief of Staff: The Principal Officers Behind History's Great Commanders (two vols.). (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008) noted: 'Every commander/chief of staff team is a unique product of the two individuals involved, but within the larger framework of the staff system of the time of that given army,' email to the author of this dissertation (25 August 2011)
[3] Woodward, David, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, and Bonham-Carter, Victor, Soldier True (London: Frederick Muller, 1963), the latter book is disappointingly hagiographic in tone, despite being based upon original documents.
[4] The CGS role is commonly overlooked in the historiography of the First World War and other conflicts, one recent exception being Zabecki, David (ed.) Chief of Staff
[5]] Robertson, Sir William, From Private to Field Marshal (London: Constable, 1921) and Robertson, Sir William, Soldiers and Statesmen, two vols., (London: Cassell, 1926)
[6] Edmonds, Sir James, E., & Wynn, Capt. G.C., History of the Great War Based on Official ocuments,
Military Operations France and Belgium 1915 (two vols., 1927 and 1928; Reprinted: Uckfield: Naval & Military Press)
[7] Woodward, David, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson
[8] Holmes, Richard, The Little Field Marshal: A Life of Sir John French (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981)
[9] Cassar, George H., The Tragedy of Sir John French; similarly concluded that French was courageous but ill-suited to the new warfare of the Western Front. Once again Robertson is frequently in the narrative, a stalwart but shadowy figure, his true influence on events unclear. Cassar also authored two books with Lord Kitchener as his focus. The title of the first Kitchener: Architect of Victory leaves the reader in little doubt as to his sympathies. He blames French for the 'Shells Scandal' and emphasises French's turbulent character in his relationship with Kitchener. Cassar, George H., Kitchener, Architect of Victory (London: William Kimber, 1977) and Kitchener's War: British Strategy from 1914 to 1916 (Dulles: Potomac Books, 2004)
[10] Robertson was not the only senior officer invited to correspond directly with the King. Sir Douglas Haig, Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and others had similar access. Sir John French and Sir Henry Wilson did not. Beckett, Ian, 'King George V and His Generals', in Bond, Brian, The First World War and British Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)
[11] Principal recipients of this correspondence were to Lieutenant Colonel Arthur John Bigge, Baron Stamfordham, Private Secretary to HM King George V, and the King's Assistant Private Secretary Lieutenant Colonel Clive Wigram
[12] The papers and diaries of FM Sir John French, the diaries of FM Sir Henry Wilson, Imperial War Museum, London (IWM)
[13] Churchill Archive Centre, Churchill College, University of Cambridge (CAC)
[14] Haig, transcript diary, The National Archives, Kew (TNA). Haig produced a contemporaneous handwritten diary together with a typescript version prepared after the war. For a full discussion on the veracity of both diaries see Sheffield, Gary and Bourne, John, (eds.), Douglas Haig War Diaries and Letters: 1914-1918 (London: Phoenix, 2006 [2005]) pp. 2-10
[15] Kitchener Papers, The National Archives, Kew (TNA)
[16] Asquith Papers, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
[17] 'A laconic sentence, or often a mere grunt which might signify anything, was all that he vouchsafed in answer to the most anxious searcher after truth on our military situation,' Lloyd George, David, War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, (London: Odhams, two vols., 1938) I, p. 466. Lloyd George's memoirs, notoriously unreliable on many points, nonetheless helped shape the traditional view of Robertson.
[18] Robertson, Sir William, From Private to Field Marshal, p. 219
[19] Todman, Dan, 'The Grand Lamasery Revisited: General Headquarters on the Western Front 1914-1918' in Sheffield, Gary and Todman, Dan, (eds.) Command and Control on the Western Front: the British Army's Experience, (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 2007 [2004]), p. 41
[20] Robertson to Lieutenant Colonel Arthur John Bigge, Baron Stamfordham, Private Secretary to HM King George V, 1 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/18), (LHCMA)
[21] Sheffield, Gary, The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army, (London: Aurum, 2011), p. 102
[22] Todman, Dan, 'The Grand Lamasery Revisited', pp. 40-41
[23] Winston Churchill to Clementine Churchill, 20 December 1915, Spencer Churchill Papers (CAC)
[24] Wilson Diary, 8 February 1915 and 16 May 1915, Wilson Papers (IWM)
[25] Woodward, David, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson pp. 1-5.
[26] Robertson, Sir William, From Private to Field Marshal p. 218
[27] Woodroffe, C.R. diary entry, 24 August 1914, Woodroffe Papers (IWM)
[28] Bourne, J.M., Britain and the Great War 1914-1918 (London: Edward Arnold, 1989), p. 27
[29] Haig Diary, 5 February, 1915, Haig Papers (WO 256/3) The National Archives, Kew, (TNA)
[30] Haig Diary, 14 February, 1915, Haig Papers (WO 256/3), (TNA)
[31] The BEF's main offensive battles of 1915: Neuve Chapelle, 10-13 March; Aubers Ridge, 9-10 May; Festubert, 15-25 May; Loos, 25 September-16 October
[32] Robertson to Callwell, 31 May 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/23) (LHCMA)
[33] Maurice Diary, 17 March 1915, Maurice Papers (3/1/4/115) (LHCMA)
[34] Esher to Hankey, ? March 1915 (precise date obscured by hole punch in original notepaper), Hankey Papers (HNKY 4/7) (CAC)
[35] Robertson to Callwell, 31 May 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/23) (LHCMA)
[36] French to Army Council, 17 May 1915, Robertson Papers (3/1/1) (LHCMA)
[37] French to Kitchener, 23 May 1915, Robertson Papers (3/1/2) (LHCMA)
[38] One of Robertson's final acts as QMG was to complain to the Master General of Ordnance of the 'unsatisfactory position' of ammunition supplies on the Western Front. Robertson to Sir Stanley von Donop, 23 January 1915, Robertson Papers, (2/1/22) (LHCMA)
[39] French to Churchill, (original italics), 4 May 1915, Spencer Churchill Papers (26/2), (CAC)
[40] Hankey Diary, 2 April 1915, (HNKY 1/1) (CAC)
[41] The 'shells scandal' is covered in detail in Holmes, Richard, The Little Field Marshal pp. 287-293
[42] Robertson to Lord Stamfordham, 23 June 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/4) (LHCMA)
[43] Robertson to Lord Stamfordham, 1 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/18) (LHCMA)
[44] French to Army Council, 17 May, 1915, Robertson Papers (3/1/1) (LHCMA)
[45] Notes on a meeting held at Chantilly (Joffre's HQ), 24 June, 1915, Robertson Papers (3/1/14) (LHCMA)
[46] ibid.
[47] See esp. Lloyd, Nick, Loos 1915 (Stroud: The History Press, 2008)
[48] Clive diary, 26 July 1915, Clive Papers (2/2) (LHCMA)
[49] Clive diary, 28 July 1915, Clive Papers (2/2) (LHCMA)
[50] Robertson to Stamfordham, 1 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/18) (LHCMA)
[51] Notes by Robertson on the conduct of the war, 31 October 1915, Robertson Papers (3/2/22) p. 4 (LHCMA)
[52] ibid., p. 4
[53] Holmes, Richard, Sir John French and Lord Kitchener in Bond, Brian, (ed.), The First World War and British Military History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) p. 116
[54] Haig was another who foresaw a long and costly conflict; see Sheffield, Gary, The Chief p. 58
[55] Lloyd George, David, War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, (London: Odhams Press, 1938, two volume edition), p. 292
[56] Bourne, J.M., Britain and the Great War, esp. pp. 40-48
[57] 'Although there were important lessons to be learnt from the Gallipoli campaign it was a futile and costly sideshow for all the combatants,' Hart, Peter, Gallipoli (London: Profile Books, 2011) p. ix
[58] Callwell to Robertson, 4 February 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/2) (LHCMA)
[59] Robertson to Callwell, 22 February 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/9) (LHCMA)
[60] Robertson to Callwell, 19 March 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/15) (LHCMA)
[61] Hankey Diary, 2 April 1915, (HNKY 1/1) (CAC)
[62] Asquith to Venetia Stanley, in Gilbert, Martin, Winston S. Churchill: Documents: Vol II, Part 1: July 1914-April 1915, (London: Heineman, 1972) p. 775
[63] Hankey Diary, 3 April 1915 (HNKY 1/1) (CAC)
[64] Robertson to Stamfordham, 23 June 1915, Robertson Papers, (7/1/4) (LHCMA)
[65] Badsey, Stephen 'The August Offensives in British Imperial Grand Strategy', in Ashley Ekins (ed.), A ridge too far: climax on Gallipoli (Exisle Publishing, Auckland, forthcoming 2012), no page citation
[66] Wigram wrote to Haig asking him to intervene to bring French and Kitchener together: 'I have always put in a word, when I get a chance, advising that we all, especially at this time should pull together, and think about nothing but beating the Enemy! I fear that such advice from me had no effect. The truth is that Sir J. is of a very jealous disposition.' Haig Diary, 26 May, 1915, Haig Papers (WO 256/4) (TNA)
[67] Robertson to Stamfordham, undated draft but apparently written between 23 June and 11 July 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/5) (LHCMA)
[68] Ibid.
[69] Robertson to Kitchener, 4 July 1915, Robertson Papers (4/3/26) (LHCMA)
[70] Original emphasis
[71] Wigram to Robertson, 11 July 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/6) (LHCMA)
[72] Wigram to Robertson, 16 July 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/8) (LHCMA)
[73] Wigram to Robertson, 10 August 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/12) (LHCMA)
[74] Robertson to Wigram, 10 August 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/13) (LHCMA)
[75] Wigram to Robertson, 13 August 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/14) (LHCMA)
[76] Robertson to Wigram, 6 August 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/10) (LHCMA)
[77] Roskill, Stephen, Hankey: Man of Secrets, Volume I – 1877-1918, (London: Collins, 1970) p. 155
[78] The Dardanelles Committee replaced the War Council as the Cabinet's main war policy committee in May 1915 on the creation of Asquith's Coalition Government.
[79] Robertson to Callwell, 23 October 1915, Robertson Papers, (7/2/29) (LHCMA)
[80] Robertson to Murray, 23 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/3/1) (LHCMA)
[81] Callwell to Robertson, 23 October 1915, Robertson Papers, (7/3/2) (LHCMA)
[82] The Salonika campaign tied up a maximum of six British divisions in Macedonia until 1918
[83] Robertson to Murray, 24 October 1915, Robertson Papers, (7/3/4) (LHCMA)
[84] Notes by Robertson on the conduct of the war, 31 October 1915, Robertson Papers (3/2/22) p. 1(LHCMA)
[85] ibid. p. 1
[86] Robertson to Callwell, 16 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/24) (LHCMA)
[87] Callwell to Robertson, 22 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/28) (LHCMA)
[88] Clive Diary, 29 November 1915, Clive Papers (2/2) (LHCMA)
[89] Memorandum on the Conduct of the War, 5 November 1915, reproduced in full in Robertson, Sir William, Soldiers and Statesmen, Vol. 1, (London: Cassell, 1926) pp. 196-206
[90] Callwell to Wilson, 13 December 1915, Callwell Papers (2/75/74) (IWM)
[91] 'It was this failure that gave the Cabinet, Kitchener, Haig and Robertson the opportunity to replace Sir John French,' Travers, Tim, 'The Hidden Army: Structural Problems in the British Officer Corps, 1900-1918', Journal of Contemporary History 17 (3) (1982) p. 530
[92] Wilson Diary, 17 January 1915, Wilson Papers (IWM)
[93] Robertson, Sir William, From Private to Field-Marshal p. 218, and Holmes, Richard, The Little Field Marshal, pp. 266-7
[94] Clive Diary, 27 January 1915, Clive Papers (2/1) (LHCMA)
[95] Clive Diary, 30 January 1915, Clive Papers (2/1) (LHCMA)
[96] Holmes, Richard, The Little Field Marshal, p. 117
[97] Robertson, Sir William, From Private to Field-Marshal p. 222
[98] 'Robertson wanted any large-scale offensive predicated on the prospect of reasonable success, which was not necessarily the capture of important strategical objectives or a breakthrough; having the better manpower policy was also viewed as a success.' Woodward, David, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson p. 12
[99] Wilson Diary, 29 July 1915, Wilson Papers (IWM)
[100] Wilson Diary, 12 August 1915, Wilson Papers (IWM)
[101] Wigram to Robertson, 10 August 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/12) (LHCMA)
[102] Wilson Diary, 13 September 1915, Wilson Papers (IWM)
[103] Beckett, Ian, 'King George V and His Generals' p. 257
[104] Robertson to Stamfordham, undated draft but apparently written between 23 June and 11 July 1915, Robertson Papers, (7/1/5) (LHCMA)
[105] Gooch, John, The Plans of War: The General Staff and British Military Strategy c. 1900-1916 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), esp. pp. 97-130
[106] Hankey Diary, 23 September 1914, (HNKY 1/1) (CAC)
[107] For Kitchener's character see Cassar, George, Kitchener: Architect of Victory (London: William Kimber, 1977) and Cassar, George, Kitchener's War (Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2004)
[108] Bourne, J.M., Britain and the Great War, pp. 139-145
[109] Gooch, John, The Plans of War, p. 302
[110] Robertson, Sir William, Soldiers and Statesmen, Vol I p. 157
[111] Robertson, Sir William, From Private to Field-Marshal, pp. 222-3 and pp. 250-2
[112] Robertson to Callwell, 16 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/24) (LHCMA)
[113] Robertson to Callwell, 26 October 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/33) (LHCMA)
[114] Robertson to Murray, 30 November 1915, Robertson Papers (7/3/7) (LHCMA)
[115] Clive Diary, 5 July 1915, Clive Papers (Clive 2/2) (LHCMA)
[116] Robertson to Asquith, covering note with Robertson's 'Views on the Conduct of the War', 6 November 1915 Robertson Papers (4/3/14) (LHCMA)
[117] Callwell to Robertson, 9 December 1915, Robertson Papers (7/2/38) (LHCMA)
[118] Hankey Diary, 10 December 1915 (HNKY 1/1) (CAC)
[119] Hankey Diary, 8 December 1915 (HNKY 1/1) (CAC)
[120] ibid.
[121] Wigram to Robertson, 9 December 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/23) (LHCMA)
[122] Wigram to Robertson, 10 December 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/24) (LHCMA)
[123] This is precisely what Kitchener did ultimately accept
[124] op. cit..
[125] Robertson to Wigram, 11 December 1915, Robertson Papers (7/1/25) (LHCMA)
[126] Robertson, Sir William, From Private to Field-Marshal pp. 236-245, and Woodward, David, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson pp. 20-25
[127] Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the number of times it changed, Robertson and his contemporaries occasionally used the incorrect term for the government's principal war policy body, as in the quotes on this page. It began as the War Council, became the Dardanelles Committee, then the War Committee and ultimately the War Cabinet. In all but its final guise, where it took on executive responsibility for decision making, it made recommendations to the full Cabinet.
[128] Robertson to Hankey, 21 December 1915, Hankey Papers (2/2) (CAC)
[129] ibid.
[130] Robertson to the War Committee, printed note, 23 December 1915, Robertson Papers (4/1/3) (LHCMA)
[131] Woodward, David, Field Marshal Sir William Robertson pp. 24-25
[132] Robertson to Kitchener, 5 December 1915, Robertson Papers (4/3/29) (LHCMA)
[133] One possible area for future research resulting from this dissertation is a comparative study of the effectiveness of several holders of the CGS role in the First World War
[134] See esp. Sheffield, Gary, The Chief and Harris, J,P., Douglas Haig and the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
[135] Lt. Col. Frederick Maurice, Head of Operations at GHQ, to his wife, 13 February 1915, Maurice Papers (3/1/4/92B) (LHCMA)
[136] Bourne, J.M., Britain and the Great War p. 19
[137] Robertson to Haig, quoted in Blake, Robert, The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1952 p. 114
[138] Bourne, J.M., Britain and the Great War p. 146

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