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The World Crisis: 1916-1918

The World Crisis: 1916-1918

by Winston S. Churchill

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A volume in Churchill’s history of the First World War that is “essential reading, as fresh and compelling as ever” (Jon Meacham, bestselling author of Franklin and Winston).
This epic volume—third in a five-volume history of World War I from the eyewitness perspective of a highly-placed political insider—details Winston S. Churchill’s development of the Ten Year Rule, which gave the treasury unprecedented power over financial, foreign, and strategic policy for years to come. In March 1916, Churchill returned to England to speak once more in the House of Commons. Appointed first Minister of Munitions, then later Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air, Churchill was in a prime position to observe and document the violent end of World War I.
This volume gives context for the events that came before Churchill’s return, including the intense battles of Jutland and Verdun. And it provides a rare perspective in the unbiased observances of a political leader with a journalist’s eye for the truth and a historian’s sense of significance—qualities which helped earn him a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780795331473
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Publication date: 09/23/2013
Series: Winston S. Churchill World Crisis Collection , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 525
Sales rank: 258,677
File size: 14 MB
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About the Author

Sir Winston S. Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values." Over a sixty-four-year span, Churchill published over forty books, many multi-volume definitive accounts of historical events to which he was a witness and participant. All are beautifully written and as accessible and relevant today as when first published. During his fifty-year political career, Churchill served twice as prime minister in addition to other prominent positions-including president of the board of trade, first lord of the admiralty, chancellor of the exchequer, and home secretary. In the 1930s, Churchill was one of the first to recognize the danger of the rising Nazi power in Germany and to campaign for rearmament in Britain. His leadership and inspired broadcasts and speeches during World War II helped strengthen British resistance to Adolf Hitler-and played an important part in the Allies' eventual triumph. One of the most inspiring wartime leaders of modern history, Churchill was also an orator, a historian, a journalist, and an artist. All of these aspects of Churchill are fully represented in this collection of his works.

Read an Excerpt



Europe Gripped in the Vice — General Michel's Report of 1911 — His Dismissal — Joffre Succeeds — His Stability and Impartiality — His Miscalculations — The First Disasters — Galliéni and the Marne — Victory and Reproach — Galliéni and Joffre — Galliéni, Minister of War — France and the Joffre Legend — Sir John French recalled — The new Commander-in-Chief — His Credentials — Decline in Lord Kitchener's Authority — His Just Fame.

The New Year's light of 1916 rising upon a frantic and miserable world revealed in its full extent the immense battlefield to which Europe was reduced and on which the noblest nations of Christendom mingled in murderous confusion. It was now certain that the struggle would be prolonged to an annihilating conclusion. The enormous forces on either side were so well matched that the injuries they must suffer and inflict in their struggles were immeasurable. There was no escape. All the combatants in both combinations were gripped in a vice from which no single State could extricate itself.

The northern Provinces of France, invaded and in German occupation, inspired the French people with a commanding impulse to drive the enemy from their soil. The trench lines on which the armies were in deadlock ran — not along the frontiers, where perhaps parley would not have been impossible — but through the heart of France. The appeal to clear the national territory from foreign oppression went home to every cottage and steeled every heart. Germany on the other hand, while her armies stood almost everywhere on conquered territory, could not in the full flush of her strength yield what she had gained with so much blood, nor pay forfeit for her original miscalculations, nor make reparation for the wrong she had done. Any German Dynasty or Government which had proposed so wise and righteous a course would have been torn to pieces. The French losses and the German conquests of territory thus equally compelled a continuance of the struggle by both nations. A similar incentive operated upon Russia; and in addition the belief that defeat meant revolution hardened all governing resolves. In Britain obligations of honour to her suffering Allies, and particularly to Belgium, forbade the slightest suggestion of slackening or withdrawal. And behind this decisive claim of honour there welled up from the heart of the island race a fierce suppressed passion and resolve for victory at all costs and at all risks, latent since the downfall of Napoleon.

Not less peremptory were the forces dominating the other parties to the struggle. Italy had newly entered the war upon promises which offered her a dazzling reward. These promises were embodied in the Pact of London. They involved conditions to which Austria-Hungary could never submit without final ruin as a great Power. The acceptance by Britain and France of the Russian claim to Constantinople condemned Turkey to a similar fate. Failure meant therefore to both the Austrian and the Turkish Empires not only defeat but dissolution. As for Bulgaria, she could only expect from the victory of the Allies the dire measure she had meted to Serbia.

Thus in every quarter the stakes were desperate or even mortal; and each of the vast confederacies was riveted together within itself and each part chained to its respective foe by bonds which only the furnace of war could fuse or blast away. Wealth, science, civilization, patriotism, steam transport and world credit enabled the whole strength of every belligerent to be continually applied to the war. The entire populations fought and laboured, women and men alike, to the utmost of their physical destructiveness. National industry was in every country converted to the production of war material. Tens of millions of soldiers, scores of thousands of cannon hurled death across battle lines, themselves measured in thousands of miles. Havoc on such a scale had never even been dreamed of in the past, and had never proceeded at such a speed in all human history. To carry this process to the final limit was the dearest effort of every nation, and of nearly all that was best and noblest in every nation.

But at the same time that Europe had been fastened into this frightful bondage, the art of war had fallen into an almost similar helplessness. No means of procuring a swift decision presented itself to the strategy of the commanders, or existed on the battlefields of the armies. The chains which held the warring nations to their task were not destined to be severed by military genius; no sufficient preponderance of force was at the disposal of either side; no practical method of a decisive offensive had been discovered; and the illdirected fires of war, leaving the fetters unbroken, preyed through fatal years upon the flesh of the captive nations.

In August, 1914, the name 'Joffre' broke for the first time on British ears. Nothing was known of him then except that he was the proclaimed and accepted Chief of the Armies of France in that hour of her mortal peril which we had determined to share. Seeing that the existence of France was at stake, and trusting in the historic war science of the French Army, the British Government and people gave their confidence frankly and fully to this massive new personage who emerged so suddenly from the recesses of the French War Office and strode forward calmly towards the advancing storm.

Who was he and how did he come to be there at the summit in the supreme hour? What qualities had he shown, what deeds had he done, what forces did he combine or compel, through what chances and trials had he passed, on his road to almost the greatest responsibility in the realm of violent action which ever enveloped one man? To answer such questions it is necessary to retrace the steps of history for some distance.

Early in 1911 General Michel, Vice-President of the Superior Council of War and Commander-in-Chief designate of the French Army in the event of war, drew up a report upon the plan of campaign. He declared that Germany would certainly attack France through Belgium; that her turning movement would not be limited to the southern side of the Belgian Meuse but would extend far beyond it, comprising Brussels and Antwerp in its scope. He affirmed that the German General Staff would use immediately not only their twenty-one active army corps but in addition the greater part of the twenty-one reserve corps which it was known they intended to form on general mobilization. France should therefore be prepared to meet an immense turning movement through Belgium and a hostile army which would comprise at the outset the greater part of forty-two army corps. To confront this invasion he proposed that the French should organize and use a large proportion of their own reserve from the very beginning. For this purpose he desired to create a reserve formation at the side of each active formation, and to make both units take the field together under the officer commanding the active unit. By this means the strength of the French Army on mobilization would be raised from 1,300,000 to 2,000,000, and the German invading army would be confronted with at least equal numbers. Many of the French corps would be raised to 70,000 men and most of the regiments would become brigades of six battalions.

These forces General Michel next proceeded to distribute. He proposed to place his greatest mass, nearly 500,000 strong, between Lille and Avesnes to counter the main strength of the German turning movement. He placed a second mass of 300,000 men on the right of the first between Hirson and Rethel; he assigned 220,000 men for the garrison of Paris, which was also to act as the general reserve. His remaining troops were disposed along the Eastern frontier. Such was the plan in 1911 of the leading soldier of France.

These ideas ran directly counter to the main stream of French military thought. The General Staff did not believe that Germany would make a turning movement through Belgium, certainly not through Northern Belgium. They did not believe that the Germans would use their reserve formations in the opening battles. They did not believe that reserve formations could possibly be made capable of taking part in the struggle until after a prolonged period of training. They held, on the contrary, that the Germans, using only their active army, would attack with extreme rapidity and must be met and forestalled by a French counter-thrust across the Eastern frontier. For this purpose the French should be organized with as large a proportion of soldiers actually serving and as few reservists as possible, and with this end in view they demanded the institution of the Three Years Service Law which would ensure the presence of at least two complete contingents of young soldiers. The dominant spirits in the French Staff, apart from their Chief, belonged to the Offensive school, of whom the most active apostle was Colonel de Grandmaison, and believed ardently that victory could be compelled from the first moment by a vehement and furious rush upon the foe.

This collision of opinion was fatal to General Michel. It may be that his personality and temperament were not equal to the profound and penetrating justice of his ideas. Such discrepancies have often marred true policies. An overwhelming combination was formed against him by his colleagues on the Council of War. During the tension of Agadir the issue reached a head. The new Minister of War, Colonel Messimy, insisted upon a discussion of the Michel scheme in full Council. The Vice-President found himself alone; almost every other General declared his direct disagreement. In consequence of this he was a few days later informed by the War Minister that he did not possess the confidence of the French Army, and on July 23 he resigned the position of Vice-President of the War Council.

It had been intended by the Government that Michel should be succeeded either by Galliéni or Pau; but Pau made claims to the appointing of General Officers which the Minister would not accept. His nomination was not proceeded with, ostensibly on the score of his age, and this pretext once given was still more valid against Galliéni, who was older. It was in these circumstances that the choice fell upon General Joffre.

Joffre was an engineer officer who, after various employments in Madagascar under Galliéni and in Morocco, had gained a reputation as a well-balanced, silent, solid man, and who in 1911 occupied a seat on the Superior Council of War. It would have been difficult to find any figure more unlike the British idea of a Frenchman than this bull-headed broad-shouldered, slow-thinking, phlegmatic, bucolic personage. Nor would it have been easy to find a type which at the first view would have seemed less suited to weave or unravel the profound and gigantic webs of modern war. He was the junior member of the War Council. He had never commanded an army nor directed great manœuvres even in a War Game. In such exercises he had played the part of Inspector-General of the Lines of Communication, and to this post he was at that time assigned on mobilization.

Joffre received the proposal for his tremendous appointment with misgiving and embarrassment which were both natural and creditable. His reluctances were overcome by the assurance that General de Castelnau, who was deeply versed in the plans and theories of the French Staff and in the great operations of war, would be at his special disposal. Joffre therefore assumed power as the nominee of the dominant elements in the French Staff and as the exponent of their doctrines. To this conception he remained constantly loyal, and the immense disasters which France was destined to suffer three years later became from that moment almost inevitable.

General Joffre's qualities however fitted him to render most useful service to the various fleeting French Administrations which preceded the conflict. He represented and embodied 'Stability' in a world of change, and 'Impartiality' in a world of faction. He was a 'good Republican' with a definite political view, without being a political soldier, or one who dealt in intrigue. No one could suspect him of religion, but neither on the other hand could anyone accuse him of favouring Atheist generals at the expense of Catholics. Here at any rate was something for France, with her politicians chattering, fuming and frothing along to Armageddon, to rest her hand upon. For nearly three years and under successive Governments Joffre continued to hold his post, and we are assured that his advice on technical matters was almost always taken by the various Ministers who flitted across the darkening scene. He served under Caillaux and Messimy; he served under Poincaré and Millerand; he served under Briand and Étienne; he was still serving under Viviani and Messimy again when the explosion came.

Reference has already been made in the first Volume to the immense miscalculations and almost fatal errors made by General Joffre or in his name in the first great collision of the war. The withering winds of French criticism have pitilessly exposed the deformities of Plan XVII. The Germans, as General Michel had predicted, made their vast turning movement through Belgium. They brought into action almost immediately thirty-four army corps of which thirteen, or their equivalent, were reserve formations. Of the 2,000,000 men who marched to invade France and Belgium 700,000 only were serving conscripts and 1,300,000 were reservists. Against these General Joffre could muster only 1,300,000, of whom also 700,000 were serving conscripts but only 600,000 reservists. 1,200,000 additional French reservists responded immediately to the national call, encumbering the depots, without equipment, without arms, without cadres, without officers. In consequence the Germans outnumbered the French at the outbreak by three to two along the whole line of battle, and as they economized their forces on their left, they were able to deliver the turning movement on their right in overwhelming strength. At Charleroi they were three to one.

The strategic aspect of General Joffre's policy was not less stultified than the administrative. The easterly and north-easterly attacks into which his four Armies of the Right and Centre were impetuously launched, were immediately stopped and hurled back with a slaughter so frightful that it has never yet been comprehended by the world. His left army, the Fifth, and a group of three Reserve Divisions, sent at the last moment to its aid, together with the British Army, were simultaneously forced back and turned. They only escaped complete envelopment and destruction by the timely retreat which General Lanrezac and Sir John French executed each independently on his own initiative, and also by the most stubborn resistance and effective rifle fire of the highly trained professional British Infantry. To General Lanrezac, for his complete grasp of the situation and courageous order of retreat, the gratitude of France is due.

It was for the tactical sphere that General Joffre and his school of 'Young Turks,' as they came to be called in France, had reserved their crowning mistakes. The French Infantry marched into battle conspicuous on the landscape in their red breeches and blue coats; their Artillery Officers in black and gold were even more sharply defined targets. The doctrine of the Offensive, raised to the height of a religious frenzy, animated all ranks, and in no rank was restrained by any foreknowledge of the power of magazine rifles and machine guns. A cruel shock lay before them. The Third French Army marching towards Arlon blundered into the Germans in the morning mist of August 22, four or five of its divisions having their heads shorn away while they were still close to their camping grounds. Everywhere along the battle front, whenever Germans were seen, the signal was given to charge. 'Vive la France!' 'A la baïonnette,' 'En Avant' — and the brave troops, nobly led by their regimental officers, who sacrificed themselves in even greater proportion, responded in all the magnificent fighting fury for which the French nation has been traditionally renowned. Sometimes these hopeless onslaughts were delivered to the strains of the Marseillaise, six, seven or even eight hundred yards from the German positions. Though the Germans invaded, it was more often the French who attacked. Long swathes of red and blue corpses littered the stubble fields. The collision was general along the whole battle front, and there was a universal recoil. In the mighty battle of the Frontiers, the magnitude and terror of which is scarcely now known to British consciousness, more than 300,000 Frenchmen were killed, wounded or made prisoners.


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Table of Contents

I. The High Command,
II. The Blood Test,
III. Falkenhayn's Choice,
IV. Verdun,
V. Jutland: The Preliminaries,
VI. Jutland: The Encounter,
VII. The Battle of the Somme,
VIII. The Roumanian Disaster,
IX. The Intervention of the United States,
X. A Political Interlude,
XI. General Nivelle's Experiment,
XII. At the Ministry of Munitions,
XIII. The Munitions Budget,
XIV. The Autumn Struggle,
XV. Britain Conquers the U-Boats,
XVI. The German Concentration in the West,
XVII. The Twenty-First of March,
XVIII. The Climax,
XIX. The Surprise of the Chemin des Dames,
XX. The Unfought Campaign,
XXI. The Turn of the Tide,
XXII. The Teutonic Collapse,
XXIII. Victory,
J British, French and German Casualty Returns,
K Ally and German Battleship Strength, 1917,
L Ministry of Munitions Council, 1917–18,
M Munition Minutes, 1917,
N Mechanical Power in the Offensive,
O Tank Minutes,

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