Chapter LXXXVI: A Shell for the Navy?
The post-Abyssinian War review of the British Army was not a welcome experience for the Imperial General Staff and senior officer corps who's problems with the review started with the fact it was happening at all. It was the view of many in the Army that any such analysis of the war should have been an in-house affair, conducted by a few Staff officers and used for low level lesson learning and, more importantly, to justify more funding and army expansion. Views such as that encapsulate the key problem facing army reformers, quite simply the war had been won, victory doesn't inspire the deep soul searching and humility necessary for the fundamental reconsideration of cherished doctrine and the enthusiastic adoption of new ideas. Instead, while recognising that the war had been a close run thing, requiring stripping many theatres to their bare minimum, the key point much of the officer corps wished to draw was that the army should be larger, but not necessarily much different. What little impetus there was for reform, outside of the ranks of the hard-core modernisers, came from wounded pride at the prominent position give to the role of the Royal Navy in the conflict. Sir Edward Grey's infamous line "The British Army should be a projectile to be fired by the Navy" had bothered the Army from almost the moment it was uttered, reflecting as it did the relative rankings of the two services within the political establishment. Thus the view that it was the Navy that had won the war, with the Army serving as little more than glorified marines, rankled immensely, especially as it contained more than a grain of truth. It had been the Navy that had brought the Army to North Africa, supplied it when it arrived, stopped supplies reaching the Italians through blockade, kept the Italian air force grounded through lack of fuel, moved troops along the coast when the road network couldn't, led the amphibious assaults that had so daringly 'leap frogged' along the coast and provided bombardment when the artillery couldn't. Even the most myopic of Army observers were forced to concede that without the Navy the war would have been longer, bloodier and riskier, hardly the best of conclusions for a service that had wanted a decisive victory to prove it's worth. It was however at least partially fertile ground for a review to work with, any reform that could reduce reliance on the navy would be warmly welcomed.
The choice of chairman for the review was a delicate one, technically the Ministry could appoint anyone they wanted and then compel the Army to co-operate and follow any recommendations. However the then Minister for War, Duff Cooper, realised that this would be furiously resisted by a service already upset they had been denied an in-house review. It would therefore be key to appoint someone who would be respected by the army hierarchy but would also be independent of the pressure that same hierarchy would apply, this combination of requirements naturally suggested a retired senior officer. The problem then became which one, for the choice of officer would doubtless heavily influence not only the content of the review but how enthusiastically (if at all) the recommendations were taken up by the Army. At one extreme were the old guard reactionaries who believed the campaign have proven foot infantry and the lightly mechanised cavalry were more than adequate and the only question was how many more divisions Britain needed, for these gentlemen the only possible choice was the recent Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) Field Marshall Montgomery-Massingberd. At the other extreme the mechanisation theorists and the Royal Armoured Corps who's arguments revolved around the need for wide-spread all arms mechanisation and the need for a more modest expansion to save funds for new modern equipment, this faction mostly fell in behind Montgomery-Massingberd's predecessor as CIGS, the Baron Milne. The War Office took the political decision that neither of these candidates could be suitable, for the simple reason that their appointment would alienate the opposing faction, hardly an ideal way to get the whole Army on side. Instead a list of requirements was drawn up and compared against the possible candidates, top of the list was rank, the appointee had to be a Field Marshall to have the necessary gravitas compared to the alternatives, experience in Desert Warfare, an open mind on mechanisation and a degree of detachment from the infighting inside the Imperial General Staff completed the list. After consulting the exceptionally short list of retired Field Marshall's alive and fit enough to do the job one name stood out; Field Marshal Philip Chetwode.
Field Marshal Chetwode. Aside from his Great War service Chetwode had been most well known for his work in India, in particular for his founding of the Indian Military Academy and for giving the institution the credo which is still inscribed on the entrance hall to this day; "The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time."
Chetwode obviously fulfilled the rank qualification and, thanks to long service in India as Chief of the General Staff in India and then Commander-in-Chief India, had missed out on much of the acrimonious arguments over mechanisation; not even the most zealous of Fuller's followers had advocated a fully armoured Indian Army, if only for the quite terrifying costs involved. Yet his time in India had not kept Chetwode entirely ignorant of the advances in military technology, the campaigns on the North West Frontier had seen the use of light tanks, tractor towed artillery, motorised supply trains and considerable co-operation with the Royal Air Force. It was however his Great War service that confirmed the choice, after a decidedly average time in command of a cavalry brigade on the Western Front he flourished when transferred to the Near East. One of the few senior officers to emerge with much credit from General Murray's less than stellar handling of the campaign Chetwode was promoted from commanding the Desert Column to command of XX Corps, more importantly his 'Notes on the Palestine Campaign' became the blueprint for Field Marshall Allenby's subsequent victories. While 'The Bull' deservedly took much of the credit, a plan is no good unless it can be successfully put into action, Chetwode's role in that success had not been entirely erased or forgotten. For the War Office then he ticked all their boxes and was thought to be the best shot at a unity candidate as his record could be read to support pretty much any position; the reactionaries saw a senior officer who had fought in battles as far back as the relief of Ladysmith and had been in uniform since before most of the tank advocates had been born, clearly such a man wouldn't be distracted by fancy toys from the true business of soldiering. Conversely the modernisers saw the man who had produced the plans for Allenby's Palestine Campaign, a campaign characterised by rapidly moving columns, air power and strikes at rear areas, then used those same ideas on the North West Frontier in India, proof positive he would clearly recommend the whole Army adopt the same.
The War Office however knew this initial good will could not last and managed to negotiate the services of the Cabinet Secretary, Maurice Hankey, to serve the review. Quite aside from his vast experience of military matters gathered from service on almost every military committee in the Empire, it was hoped Hankey would be able to smooth over the inevitable problems and provide a detached Civil Service perspective on the problems. In the event Hankey's skills would be called into service almost as soon as the review began, one of Chetwode's first request being for the full version of the obscenely late analysis of Britain's performance in the Great War. Almost inexplicably delayed until 1932 the then CIGS, Baron Milne, had finally ordered an analysis of the lessons learned, if they were the correct lessons and if they had been applied correctly to the manuals and training programmes of the Army. Unfortunately by the time the report emerged Baron Milne had retired and Montgomery-Massingberd had taken his place as CIGS. Montgomery-Massingberd, disliking the conclusion of the analysis and not wishing anything 'negative' to be circulated, restricted the report to the highest levels of the Imperial General Staff and instead issued a thoroughly mutilated 'up beat' version to the officer corps. By requesting the full, unedited, report Chetwode was opening a can of worms that the reactionaries had hoped to leave sealed, much to the War Office's alarm. However it should not have been a surprise to them, one of the reasons they had selected Chetwode was his skill at thoroughly 'appraising the situation' and the lessons of the Great War were an obvious part of that. There was however little that could be done, having made a fuss over picking an independently minded man to head the review the War Office had little choice but to back him, a situation Chetwode would take full advantage of.