Second Lecture by Mr. Hilaire Belloc – 1915

On May 7th Mr. Hilaire Belloc came to Godolphin to deliver a second lecture on the War. He said his lecture would fall into two parts: (a) the present political situation in Europe and (b) the conditions under which peace might be arrived at, and the difficulties in the way of attaining a satisfactory peace.

(a) Mr. Belloc said that the situation would be finally judged by numbers; other things being equal numbers decide the issue in war, because when one body is brought up against another five men can tackle five, and the majority that is over can be used as you like. It is true that a small defensive can occupy a larger offensive, but that cannot last forever.

“Other things being equal” applies with peculiar force to this war.

(1) It is a war after long peace; all combatants are more or less equally prepared. Such inequalities as may exist are as nothing compared to the inequalities that exist when a civilised nation fights an uncivilised.

(2) The size of the campaign. As numbers increase the chances of the smaller against the larger party get better; the quicker brain has great advantage in deciding where to mass the men.

But this is only true up to a certain point; as numbers grow beyond about 100,000 the importance of numerical superiority again increases, for the men can only be massed comparatively slowly.

The enemy began the campaign in the West with a proportion of eight to five, and on the East held the Russians with an equal number of men. In the West the Germans crossed the Rhine, but failed to achieve their purpose, but were ultimately forced back practically to the line that they now hold. They attempted to break through, but failed, and in these attempts, owing to the close formation they adopt, they lost heavily.

In the East the attempt was made to pin the Russians behind the Vistula, and to do this it was necessary to take Warsaw. The Russian trenches held out crescent-wise before Warsaw, and by February 2nd the Germans found they could not break through. They still would not give up the hope of taking Warsaw, and tried to outflank the Russians. The Russian numbers were growing, and pressure on the Carpathians was increasing. The Germans attempted to relieve this pressure, but were beaten, and on March 22nd Przemysl surrendered. The whole German scheme had failed, and now the Germans no longer had a numerical superiority.

So far then the war has gone in favour of the Allies, but there is still the possibility of the Germans breaking out. What danger is there of this? The answer to this question depends on a comparison of the German rule of recruiting and ours. German recruitment is recurrent; that of the Allies is very slow at first, but then rises steeply.

Germany at the beginning of the war had some 2,400,000 men to be trained; the training capacity of the German Empire is about 800,000. There would thus be three lots of reinforcements, each coming forward at an interval of about three months, and the last would appear about the end of April. The present offensive is, therefore, due to this last reinforcement; when that is exhausted the Germans have no more.

The Allies’ reinforcements must come in very slowly till the spring, and then with increasing rapidity; a large number will be supplied by the end of June. The Germans must, therefore, use great hammer blows, seeking to break through, before we can bring our reinforcements to bear.

The present offensive in the West north of Ypres has failed; in the East the Germans have achieved considerable success. They have made a number of dents in the Russian line, but the line is still unbroken.

It is probable that the Russians will have to fall back on Ratoka, and abandon the Carpathian passes, but unless the Germans break through nothing conclusive has been done. The German Empire remains in a state of siege.

Now to turn to the Dardanelles. If we succeed in gaining control of the Straits of Russia will be able to equip quickly; Roumania’s decision will be made in our favour, and Turkey’s action will be stopped. The results will be so great that though the odds against us are tremendous, if we succeed we shall think the attempt has been worth the risk. Control of the Dardanelles practically means control of the Narrows, and as the Gallipoli Peninsula dominates the Asia Minor coast, it is the Gallipoli Peninsular that must be secured. Before this is done three things must be accomplished.

(1) A force must be landed. That task has been achieved, in face of odds so tremendous that all Europe held its breath while it was being attempted.

(2) The first defensive ridge, that of Achi Baba, stretching from sea to sea, must be forced.

(3) If that is gained there is yet another valley, and beyond a natural escarpment, rising abruptly, as do the Chilterns, and in horse-shoe form. On top of that is the Plateau that dominates the Narrows. When that is gained the Allies’ purpose will be accomplished. But as yet the Allies are still attempting to gain the Achi Baba heights.

To sum up, numerical superiority show on our side, the Russians are getting their equipment, the enemy are using their last recruitment, and if they are to break out it must be before the end of June.

(b) The difficulties in the way of attaining a satisfactory peace.

Now to turn to the question of peace. There are two main dangers against which we shall have to contend. The first is the misunderstanding of the military situation by civilians or neutrals; the second, the influence of Courts and International finance.

The influence of the Courts is largely German; Greece did not come in two months ago because the Court is Prussian; the Russian Court itself is half German, and has the traditions of the German type of monarch and German methods of government behind it. We are fighting to get rid of this Hohenzollern influence.

Then finance is cosmopolitan: the financiers have tremendous power, and when they see their opportunity they will exert this power to the utmost; they will come in with all their weight to press for an inconclusive peace.

But the danger of an inconclusive peace is still greater on account of the influence of misled opinion. There is the feeling that after months of war the enemy is still in the country of the Allies; the heavy casualties when the offensive begins may lead people to feel that the war must be stopped; much of the noblest opinion in the country, too, must be in favour of peace. Yet if peace is made while Prussia remains unbroken, Great Britain will go under. Prussia will not tackle France again, nor Russia, but England is dependent on her sea empire and on commerce; she is vulnerable, and Prussia desires her destruction. Unless Prussia is crushed or broken in this war she will gather her strength for another attack in which Great Britain will stand against her alone.