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The slow progress of the war, culminating in the Italian disaster, gave rise to a general feeling of dissatisfaction, which was not allayed by Mr Lloyd George's impulsive speech at Paris. The blame was attributed to a faulty military policy, and to want of close accord between the Allies in the preparation of their plans. To remedy this an Inter-Allied War Council was established, the precise functions of which have not been clearly defined. The desire was to attain to something approaching the unity of command which the enemy have enjoyed since the German General Staff assumed the supreme control of all the armies of the Central Alliance. It does not need much consideration to realise that an equivalent unity of command is unattainable among the Allies, whose plans must be founded on agreement, and not on the predominance of one Power. It appears to be the chief function of the Council to facilitate such agreement, with the aid of expert opinion, which, if it is to be of value, should be arrived at in consultation with the General Staffs of all the Allied Powers, and based on information furnished by them.
Thus, while it may be hoped that the Council will be of service in promoting accord, and in obviating the inconvenience which has been caused by the heads of the General Staffs having been withdrawn from their regular duties to attend periodical conferences, it is advisable not to expect too much. There is no reason to suppose that the Council, had it existed, would have felt less confident about the situation on the Italian front than the Commander-in-Chief on the spot, than whom it could have been no better informed, or that, in opposition to his opinion, it would have recommended the despatch of a force to Italy. Had such a request been made, it would have been met by the Allied Governments without the intervention of a Council comprising the heads of those Governments, advised by representatives of the Allied General Staffs. It is still more obvious that no Council could have anticipated the Russian Revolution or provided against its disastrous effects.
Some of the criticisms which appeared in the press attacked the root of the Allied policy. The writers, with the faith that removes mountains, contended that the offensive on the western front was a mistake, and that a better plan would have been to concentrate in Venetia for the invasion of Austria. To such critics it appeared easier to move and supply armies in the Alps than in the plains of France, and to capture rock-fortresses than earthworks. They thought nothing of the difficulties of the situation on the Julian front, already referred to; difficulties which would increase as the armies advanced on their march to Laibach or Vienna-places suggested as appropriate objectives. The protection of the lines of communication through hostile territory would soon absorb a large portion of the fighting force; and, even if unlimited forces were assumed to be available, a state of equilibrium would shortly result from the inability of the scanty communications to forward the necessary supplies. Other critics, carrying the principle of the “single front? to the limit of absurdity, advocated the rapid transfer of troops from France to Italy, and even to Salonika, for offensive purposes, forgetting that such movements take time, and that, the enemy's means of transit being both shorter and more numerous, the move would be anticipated on each occasion. Needless to say, these are fundamental conditions, which would remain obdurate even if the Allies could attain the complete unity of command enjoyed by the enemy. It follows from these considerations that henceforth, until the enemy's power declines, the Allies must adopt a defensive attitude in Italy, and seek a decision on the western front, where their lines of communication, besides being in home territory, are shorter, and where, in other respects, they can meet the enemy on more favourable terms.
The moral of the German troops on the western front is said to be good—better, in fact, than it was a year ago. It has been impossible, in the swamps of Flanders,
, to subject them to such punishment as they sustained last year in the battles on the Somme. Their successes in Italy, and the collapse of Russia, have done much to efface the memories of Vimy and Messines. The drafting of the best men from Russia, together with the relegation of the inferior elements to that front, has helped to maintain both their moral and general standard of physique. Reports of disaffection in the Bavarian divisions must be regarded with suspicion in view of the way in which these troops have acquitted themselves at Passchendaele and Cambrai. Indeed, the Bavarians have been much in evidence wherever serious fighting had to be done. German airmen have shown, if anything, increased boldness, and have, on several occasions, adopted our tactics of flying low to attack troops on the ground. On the whole, it is necessary to face the fact that the Germans are far from being beaten, and to prepare for a strenuous time in the new year. Unhappily the Government have been too slow in taking steps to develop our remaining resources in man-power; and there is no time to lose if we are not again to let slip the best months of the campaigning season, and to feel the want of the powerful striking force, with ample reserves, which will be needed to take an effective part with the American armies and our valiant French Allies in sustained and decisive operations. THE
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