14 MARCH 1941, Page 13


Sm,—" Strategicus " is mistaken in ascribing what he terms my recent " obsession with the defensive" to the influence of M. Bloch's writings before the last war. Actually, my realisation (as I should describe it) of the practical limiting conditions of successful offensive action was far more influenced by Mr. Winston Churchill's con- clusions in The World Crisis, as set forth in his chapters on " The High Command " and " The Blood-Test." It may be worth recalling his salient points to the attention of our people: " During the war, it was the custom of the British and French Staffs to declare that in their offensives they were inflicting far heavier losses on the Germans than they themselves suffered. Similar claims were advanced by the enemy. .Ludendorff shared the professional outlook of the British and French High Com- mands. Even after the war was over, with all the facts in his mind or at his disposal had he cared to seek them, we find him writing: 'Of the two (policies), the offensive makes less demands on the men, and gives no higher losses.' Let us subject these assertions and theories of the military schools of the three great belligerents to a blood-test as pitiless as that to which they all in turn doomed their valiant soldiers. Since the Armistice, the facts are known. . . ."

" The result of every one of these offensives was to leave us relatively weaker—and in. some cases terribly weaker—than the enemy. . . . Not only is this true of numbers, but also of the quality of the troops. In the attack it is the bravest who fall. The loss is heaviest among the finest and most audacious fighters. In defence, the casualties are spread evenly throughout the total number exposed to the fire. The process of attrition was at work ; but it was on our own side that its ravages fell, and not on the German.. . ."

" It was not until 1918 that the change fatal for Germany occurred. There was one period in the warfare between the British and Germans in which the relative losses are strikingly reversed. That period is not, as the casual reader might expect, when our troops were gaining ground, storming trench-lines, pulverising fortified villages, gathering prisoners and the grisly spoils of war, and when our propaganda, domestic and external, was eagerly proclaiming that the tide of victory flowed. . . . It was their own offensive, not ours, that consummated their ruin. They were worn down, not by Joffre, Nivelle and Haig, but by Ludendorff. . ."

" But, it will be said, numerical attrition is not the only test, there is moral attrition, which wears down the will-power of an enemy who is constantly being attacked. . . . It may be conceded that the ordeal of the defending troops in modern warfare is no less trying than that of the attacker. But after all there is no greater stimulus to the soldier in his agony than the knowledge of the loss he is inflicting on his foe. Crouched by his machine- gun amid the awful bombardment he sees long lines mowed down, wave after wave, in hundreds and in thousands. He knows how few and far- between are the defenders, he sees how many are their targets. With every attack repulsed he gains fresh confidence. . . . But let us test the theory of moral attrition also by the facts. . . . It is certain, surveying the war as a whole, that the Germans were strengthened relatively by every Allied offensive, British or French, launched • against them, until the summer of 1918. Had they not squandered their strength in Ludendorff's supreme offensive in 1918 there was no reason why they should not have maintained their front in France practically unaltered. .. .

" The question is whether it was wise policy to seek and Pursue prolonged offensives on the largest scale in order to wear

down the enemy by attrition ; whether, instead of seeking the offensive ourselves in France, both British and French ought not consistently on all occasions to have endeavoured to compel the enemy to attack. If our whole strategy and tactics had been directed to that end, would not the final victory have been sooner won? . . And is there not also a virtue in `saving up' ? We never gave ourselves the chance. We had to improvise our armies in face of the enemy. The flower of the nation, its man- hood, its enterprise, its brains, were all freely given. But there never was found the time to train and organise these elements before they were consumed. . . . The front had to be defended, the war had to be waged, but there was surely no policy in eagerly seeking offensives with immature formations or during periods when no answer to the machine-gun existed. . . How does the doing of an unwise, costly and weakening act help an Ally? Is not any temporary relief to him of pressure at the moment paid for by him with compound interest in the long run? What is the sense of attacking only to be defeated ; or of ' wearing down the enemy by being worn down more than twice as fast oneself '? The uncontrollable momentum of war, the inadequacy of unity and leadership among Allies, the tides of national passion, nearly always force improvident action upon Governments or Commanders. . . . But do not let us obscure the truth. Do not found conclusions upon error."

The further I went into the history of the war, and of past wars, the more I found that the facts tended to confirm Mr. Churchill's 1927 reflections. With deepening thought, I came to see that my own theory of the surprise offensive by tanks-cum-bombers was only suitable for an aggressive Power that could develop the necessary means in preparation for war—and that it was useless to expect that a peace-loving country such as ours would be ready to carry it out. Facing this situation honestly, it became clear that our wisest policy would be to concentrate on developing the most up-to-date methods and means of defence and counter-offence—a more easily attainable goal for a late-starter in the armament race.

Unhappily, most of the leaders of Britain and France chose to continue theorising about the offensive, on old-style lines, instead of applying their energies to what was practicable—with the result that they were caught unready even for defence. Their preference for this doubly inadequate course was encouraged not only by " the tides of national passion," but by the popular taste for dramatic if " improvident " action, a taste which they were too inclined to