1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kitchener, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Earl

1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Kitchener, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Earl

KITCHENER, HORATIO HERBERT KITCHENER, Earl (1850-1916), British field-marshal (see 15.838). In the autumn of 1910 Lord Kitchener accepted a seat on the Committee of Imperial Defence, and he spent the following winter in the Sudan and E. Africa. In the summer of 1911 he commanded the troops in London during King George's coronation, and he was a few days later appointed British agent and consul-general in Egypt. This modest title concealed a position tantamount to that of supreme authority, and during his tenure of office he introduced many reforms designed to develop the resources of the country and to ameliorate the condition of its people, a task in which he had made great progress when in June 1914, immediately after an earldom had been conferred on him, he proceeded to England on his annual leave. Thus it came about that he was in England when war was declared against Germany. He was asked by Mr. Asquith to accept the Secretaryship of State for War, and he took up his new duties in Whitehall on Aug. 6, the day after mobilization.

In view of the circumstances under which he was assuming this post, Kitchener laboured under certain disadvantages, coming as he did to the War Office for the first time. There was no precedent for a great soldier occupying the position at a moment of supreme national emergency. He possessed no previous experience of the central administration of the army. He was not familiar with the various ramifications of the existing military organization. He had made no close study of strategical problems involved in a campaign in Belgium and northeastern France, nor could he lay claim to intimate acquaintance with the martial resources of the various belligerents. Owing to a misapprehension of the scope of the contest on which the country was embarking, arrangements had moreover been made in advance under which the general staff at headquarters was being seriously depleted in the interests of the Expeditionary Force that was proceeding to the front. But on the other hand his countrymen trusted him and were roused to enthusiasm by the magic of his name, his Cabinet colleagues placed their confidence in him as they would have done in no other conceivable War Minister, and these factors more than compensated for the disabilities from which he suffered. For Kitchener realized from the very outset that the struggle was practically certain to be much more prolonged than those in authority anticipated, and that a far more strenuous effort than had been prepared for would have to be made by the British Empire if it was to conquer. His remark on reaching his office the first day, “There is no army,” was scarcely an exaggeration; for the admirably trained and well-equipped Expeditionary Force stood for no more than an insignificant fraction of the numbers that must be placed in the field, whereas existing means of expansion were totally inadequate.

He perceived that entirely new forces composed of personnel enrolled for the duration of the war must be created, and he straightway issued a stirring appeal to the nation asking for 100,000 men. It was followed by analogous appeals at short intervals, and the response was wonderful. He has been criticised for not making greater use of the existing Territorial organization in the earlier days — the numbers at the front might conceivably have, within narrow limits, been increased more rapidly had he done so. But he was looking far ahead. Realizing that the war would last long enough for his daring and original plan to bear fruit, he was resolved to transform the United Kingdom into a great military Power while the struggle was actually in progress, and complete success eventually crowned his efforts. If clothing and equipping the swarms of new levies presented obstacles at first, the skilfully tapped textile wealth of the country overcame them within a short space of time. But armament from the outset presented a much more perplexing problem. Plants admitting of a vastly increased output did not exist and had to be created, while expenditure of ammunition in the field speedily proved to be far in excess of the estimates which European experts had made in peace-time. Although steps were taken at once to expand munitions manufacture on a great scale, months were bound to elapse before these could possibly produce satisfactory results, industrial troubles indeed aggravating the difficulty.

While this swelling of the national fighting resources constituted Kitchener's greatest and most urgent preoccupation, the Secretary of State for War was also closely concerned in the general disposition of the military forces, and in superintending the plans that were being adopted to achieve victory in the field. India and the colonies were practically drained of regular British troops so as to strengthen the Expeditionary Force. His relations with the French were from the start most cordial, and that the western front represented the vital theatre of war he never doubted; but he found difficulty in restraining the ardour for ventures in the Near East that was displayed by certain Cabinet colleagues who were impatient at the slow progress of the Allies in France and Flanders. He was, no doubt, largely responsible for committing the country to the Dardanelles operations; but in the first instance he agreed to them under the influence of non-professional Admiralty optimism, and a special interest in Egypt perhaps weakened his soldierly reluctance to dissipate fighting forces. As member of a Government whose objections had been over-ruled by French insistence, he was obliged to assent to Macedonian projects in the autumn of 1915. Unwarranted confidence entertained by his fellow countrymen — it was reflected by the attitude of the military authorities in pre-war days — tended however to make his position difficult. Victory had been expected within a few months, whereas a situation of stalemate succeeded the dramatic opening weeks of the conflict. The public as a whole, it is true, never lost their trust in Kitchener, but doubts made themselves heard in some quarters, and these found expression in scarcely veiled attacks upon him in connexion with the shell shortage from which the British armies suffered during the first half of 1915. They helped to focus attention upon an all-important subject, and to bring about the setting up of the Ministry of Munitions, which made such effective use of the foundations laid by Kitchener and his subordinates.

When in the late autumn of 1915 evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula was in contemplation he dreaded the effect which withdrawal might exert in the East, and he proceeded to the Aegean. But there he satisfied himself that no other course was admissible; his proposal to divert the forces that would be made available to Alexandretta was opposed by naval and military experts at home, whose view the Government accepted. He visited Salonika and Athens, where he saw King Constantine, and on his way home spent a few hours at Italian headquarters. Shortly after his reaching England, work in connexion with operations, previously kept largely in his own hands, was transferred to the chief of the general staff, and he thenceforward concerned himself almost entirely with administration. There were already 45 British infantry divisions, produced by voluntary enlistment, in the field on Jan. 1 1916; but some of them were short of training, and it was only after the death of the creator of the “new armies” that they proved their real worth. Amidst his multitudinous labours Lord Kitchener had accepted heavy responsibilities in 1915 in connexion with rearming the Tsar's forces, and it was now arranged that he should visit Russia to discuss matters on the spot. On June 5 1916 he sailed from Scapa Flow in H.M.S. “Hampshire.” The cruiser struck a mine off the Orkneys, and the great War Minister and most of his staff were drowned.

One of the foremost figures of his time, Kitchener inspired multitudes to a singular extent by his personality. Although a soldier by profession, with victorious campaigns to his credit, his title to fame rests upon statesmanship even more than upon martial prowess. He proved a resolute, capable commander on the Nile, at Paardeberg, and during the later stages of the S. African contest. His recovery of the Sudan was a masterpiece of military organization. To him was it due that India in 1914 possessed nine divisions fit to take the field. But his most conspicuous services to his country are to be traced to his grasp of political conditions and to his comprehensive and prescient outlook over public affairs. In the S. African War other generals might have worn down the Boer guerillas as he did, none would have stood so firm for reconciliation as opposed to insistence upon unconditional surrender. His record while virtual ruler of Egypt for four years was worthy of the traditions laid down by Lord Cromer. The crowning triumph of his career — the creation of the “new armies” and the raising of the United Kingdom to the status of a great military Power within the period of a few months — resulted from his instinctive realization of the gravity of an emergency which others, better situated to form conclusions than he was, had failed to appreciate. Thanks to diplomatic gifts of no mean order, he handled delicate international problems with unfailing tact. An accomplished linguist, he understood Oriental susceptibilities and aspirations to an extent given to few. Never sparing himself, he exacted a high standard of application and efficiency from subordinates. He thus achieved far-reaching administrative successes both in peace and in war, and as War Minister in 1914-6 he not only enjoyed public confidence as no other man could have done, but paved the way for the ultimate victory. (C. E. C.)