President Wilson’s Files

The British Ambassador on Special Mission ( Reading) to President Wilson

paraphrase of a telegram from the prime minister to lord reading, dated march 28th, 1918

Please see the President immediately and beg him to approve the action proposed in this telegram.

A great success has been won by the German forces and although, largely as a result of exhaustion, their advance has been stayed for the moment, there can be no doubt that they will make another terrific onslaught as soon as they possibly can with the object of capturing Amiens, the great railway centre, and effecting a separation between the French and British Armies. It is impossible to say that they will not succeed in their object although we are hurrying reinforcements with all possible speed to the crucial point.

It has unfortunately not proved possible to achieve through the machinery set up at Versailles the perfect co-operation between the British and French Armies which is essential, in spite of all the efforts that have been made to that end. This has been due to the inherent difficulty of welding into a single whole the armies of two or three different nationalities, and in no way to a lack of desire on the part of one Government or the other. In these circumstances a meeting took place yesterday between the British and French Governments and they decided, with a view to this grave defect being remedied, that General Foch should be entrusted with the coordinating authority over all the dispositions of the Allies on the western front. The arrangement is actually worded as follows:

General Foch has been entrusted by the British and French Governments with the task of coordinating the action of the Allied armies on the western front. He will consult for this purpose with the commanders-in-chief who are requested to furnish him with all necessary information.

We feel sure that the President will realise that the extreme urgency of the situation made it impossible to delay action for the purposes of consultation, and we are confident that he will approve [Page 181]the decision which does no more than carry out the policy of unity of control which it had been intended to secure by the Versailles agreement and to which he gave his strong approval. The action of General Foch is of necessity confined for the moment to the coordination of the movements of the British and French Armies, but it is earnestly hoped that the President will agree to the same authority being exercised by him in regard to the movements of the American Army which it is desired shall come into the fight.

Further, it is of paramount importance that American troops should be sent to France with the utmost speed possible and I wish you to urge this on the President. Should the present object of the enemy, viz.: the separation of the British and French Armies, prove successful, the second operation will certainly be an attempt completely to destroy one of these armies while the other is being held. If this second operation also succeeds, he will turn upon the remaining one with the whole of his strength. If, on the other hand, the Allies now succeed in holding the enemy, my military advisers are of opinion that he will go off and help the Austrians to smash Italy, returning afterwards with Austro-Hungarian forces in an attempt to seize the Channel ports before our armies can again be made up to their fighting strength. The late spring or early summer of this year is, in any case, certain to see further fighting of the most desperate nature. France has no further reserves at her disposal. We are scraping men from every possible side. Our military age is being raised to 50 and possibly to 55, and we are considering whether conscription shall not be applied to Ireland. As we have already raised over five millions of men, it is inevitable, however, that the further numbers we can get by this scraping process will be small. It is, therefore, of vital importance that American troops of all arms should be poured into France as rapidly as possible, whatever may be the outcome of the present battle. I beg you to press this fact upon President Wilson with all the force you can. For the present it is not material which is required, but man power to make good the losses in killed, wounded and missing.

Finally, there is the question as to how to make available in the quickest possible time the American forces now in France and those which may arrive later on. I am advised that it is not possible to use many of the American divisions in active operations in their present state of training. As regiments they are, however, excellent. Arrangements for the use of a great part of his force have already been made with General Pershing, and we should like to know if the President would agree to the brigading, during the crisis, of all other units that may become available with French or British divisions, as regiments are fit for incorporation into experienced divisions long before they can be formed into divisions by [Page 182]themselves. We most earnestly trust that he will agree. Before this battle is over every man may count who is capable of fighting, and American troops may be of inestimable service if they can be employed in whatever way they may be of most use. I can see no other way of utilising this splendid material which should be made available for fighting in France this summer when the whole war may be decided one way or the other.

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