Muddle, Indecision and Setback
British Policy and the Balkan States, August 1914
to the Inception of the Dardanelles Campaign
Extract from the book
Lynn H. Curtright
Lloyd George’s proposed campaign in the Balkans was winning over a great many supporters in the last days of January. Frances Stevenson noted in her diary on 21 January that the plan was progressing favourably and. that ”K[itchener]. is keen on it and so is the Prime Minister, but Winston is opposed to it…“ Lord Esher, a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, also testified that Kitchener was showing some support for the proposed Salonika expedition. Esher wrote in his diary on the same day:
If any strategic place is to be adopted, he [Kitchener] would prefer an attack through Serbia; he is anxious about the rumoured concentration of German troops against the Serbians, as he thinks that the crushing of Serbia might prevent any of the Balkan bloc coming in on our side.
Kitchener and Lloyd George met with the Prime Minister that day. The conversation turned to the subject of Serbia and news that 80,000 Germans were, or might be, on their way to join with the Austrians in an attack of that country. Later that day Asquith wrote to Grey, ”I think — & Kitchener agrees — that we ought to give up all our side-shows — Alexandretta etc — if we can give effective help to Servia“. He also asked the Foreign Secretary if it would be possible to send an urgent message to both Greece and Romania asking them to go to the aid of the Serbs.
The extent to which the Prime Minister had come to adopt Lloyd George’s Salonika scheme is shown in an extract from his diary written on 21 January. Asquith wrote:
The main point at the moment is to do something really effective for Serbia, which is threatened by an overwhelming inrush of the Austrians, reinforced by some 80,000 Germans. If she is allowed to go down things will look very black for us, and the prestige of the Allies with the wavering and hesitating States will be seriously impaired. I have urged Grey to put the strongest possible pressure upon Rumania and Greece to come in without delay, and to promise that if they will form a real Balkan bloc we will send some of our troops to join them and save the situation. 1 am sure this is right and that all our side-shows, Zeebrugge, Alexandretta, even Gallipoli, must be postponed for this. The troops must come either from those that we already have in France, or from those which we were going to send there. There is a report that General Castelnau, who is one of the best French generals, is strongly of opinion that things there have reached a condition of stalemate, that neither side can do more than push a little here and retreat a little there. If so, it seems a criminal waste at such a critical time to put in new and good troops into that theatre.
On the following day, 22 January, the Prime Minister again wrote to Venetia Stanley stressing the situation in the Balkans. Lloyd George, Kitchener and Hankey had met with him earlier in the day to discuss the matter. Hankey had calculated that it would take at least six weeks to get a force of 50,000 to 60,000 British troops to Salonika. Asquith wrote to his friend that:
Plans have been worked out at the W.O., the actual transport by sea takes at least a fortnight, stores have to be accumulated, & a large margin allowed for unforeseen delays & accidents.
Alexandre Millerand, the French minister of war, arrived in London on 21 January. He met with Kitchener on the following day to discuss the deployment of Britain's new armies. Kitchener related their conversation to Esher before dinner. As Esher later wrote:
M. Millerand, although he was Joffre’s superior, called himself the Intendent of the Commander-in-Chief, and set out uncritically and untiringly to support him and to supply him with everything he required.
Millerand had relayed to Kitchener Joffre’s total disapproval of the Zeebrugge scheme proposed by French. The Field-Marshal’s plan, rejected by the War Council of 7 January and then accepted by that body on 13 January, was finally put to death at the insistence of Britain’s ally. After discussing Zeebrugge, Kitchener had turned to the Salonika scheme. Esher recorded in his journal:
Lord K. then foreshadowed the Serbian proposition. Millerand was very reserved about this, but said that he was prepared to have the question studied, bait that action at the present time was out of the question; if it came at all, it might come later. Lord K. pointed out that it might then be too late; that the Germans were apparently contemplating an attack on Serbia: if they succeeded, the chance of closing the door to the south would be lost. Diplomacy had failed to bring in the Balkan bloc or Italy. To show khaki at Belgrade would probably have a determining effect upon Roumania. Millerand, however, remained firm, and was adamant on the necessity of reinforcing the French.
That evening Asquith, Lloyd George, Grey, Churchill and Haldane dined with Millerand at Kitchener’s house. The Prime Minister wrote in his diary that evening, ”Of course I put to him strongly the Balkan situation and the irreparable disaster which could be involved in the crushing of Serbia“. He also noted that after dinner Lloyd George and Grey pressed the point. It should be noticed that this is the first mention of support for the Salonika expedition on the part of the Foreign Secretary.
Despite this increased support for an expedition to Serbia, however, and Millerand’s promise to take the matter to his colleagues in France, Kitchener gave in to his French counterpart on the following evening. As Esher recorded on 24 January:
At dinner at the French Embassy last night Lord Kitchener arranged with Millerand that he would not press the Serbian scheme just now.
Negotiations between London and the Greeks, meanwhile, were pressed forward. The Foreign Office instructed Elliot on 23 January to deliver the following communication to 'Venizelos. The communication. presented to the prime minister of Greece on the following day began:
In prospect of a serious attempt by Austria and Germany to defeat Serbia completely, it is of critical importance that everyone who can support Serbia should do so. If Greece comes out as an ally of Serbia and participates in the war, 1 know that both France and Russia will readily admit most important territorial compensations for Greece on coast of Asia Minor, and if M. Venizelos wishes for a definite promise, I believe there will be no difficulty in obtaining it. If, therefore, M. Venizelos wishes for a definite understanding on these terms, he should at once let France, Russia, and His Majesty’s Government know, and 1 am sure any proposals he has to make will be most favourably considered.
The communication went on to state that Greek and Romanian participation would ensure the defeat of Austria and the realisation of their national aspirations. It concluded:
To ensure that this participation should be effective, it is most desirable to assure Bulgaria that if Serbian and Greek aspirations elsewhere are realised, she will get satisfactory concessions of territory in Macedonia, provided she participates against Turkey or at least preserves a not unfriendly neutrality.
Elliot had telegraphed to Grey two days earlier, on 22 January, that if there was any idea of asking Greece to surrender Kavalla to Bulgaria he doubted that even Cyprus would be sufficient inducement and that the policy of satisfying Bulgaria in advance seemed doomed to failure. He concluded his telegraph with the statement:
Immediate co-operation of Greece and Roumania can only be secured by ignoring Bulgaria, except in so far as measures of precaution against her are necessary.
When he delivered Grey’s communication on 24 January, however, he privately explained to Venizelos that His Majesty’s Government would welcome Greek concessions to Bulgaria.
Elliot’s opinion that any mention of the cession of Kavalla by Greece would fall on deaf ears proved wrong, however. Grey’s official endorsement of territorial acquisitions for Greece in Asia Minor spurred the imagination of Venizelos who had long dreamt of recreating an Hellenic empire on both sides of the Aegean. Accordingly, he wrote to Constantine on that day that in return for Bulgarian co-operation:
I would not hesitate, however painful the severance, to recommend the sacrifice of Kavalla, in order to save Hellenism in Turkey, and to ensure the creation of a real Megalo Hellas which would include nearly all the provinces where Hellenism flourished through the long centuries of its history.
Elliot reported to London on the following day, 25 January, that after consulting the king, Venizelos had told the British minister that day that ”whether Bulgaria co-operates or not, Greece will do so provided that Roumania also joins“, and added that it was repugnant to him to make the co-operation of Greece a matter of bargain, and he would therefore make no definite stipulations as to territory she is to receive in Asia.
A private and confidential telegram from Elliot to Grey on the same day was more revealing, however, of the attitude of Venizelos. Elliot reported that the Greek prime minister was so convinced of the importance of securing the co-operation of Bulgaria that he had proposed to King Constantine that Greece cede Kavalla to Bulgaria. Constantine had rejected the proposal, but Venizelos told Elliot that he, as prime minister, would promise the cession of Kavalla by solemn compact guaranteed by the Entente Powers. The cession would, however, only be carried out at the end of the war and if Greece received expected gains in Asia Minor.
Venizelos had also asked Elliot that nothing be said to the French or Russian governments of his position on Kavalla. He told the British, minister that the king was ”much pleased and impressed“ that the communication had said nothing of the cession of territory by Greece and that:
Any outside insistence on cession of Cavalla would only stiffen his resistance while Monsieur Venizelos hopes to bring him over to it as a spontaneous proposition.
Venizelos' official reply, dated 25 January, was given to Grey by the Greek representative at London on 27 January. The text specified the need to determine the attitudes of Bulgaria and Romania before Greece could intervene in the Allied cause. The reply alluded, however, to the effect which a small contingent of Entente troops would have on the possible fluctuations in the attitude of Bulgaria. The Greek representative strongly urged the Foreign Secretary to press Romania to intervene simultaneously with Greece, and he said that if even 5,000 British troops were sent to Salonika it would assure that Bulgaria would not move. Furthermore, he argued, the effect on Romania would probably be decisive, and it would have a great moral effect on Serbia. Grey dispatched a summary of the conversation to Elliot at Athens and added:
Incidentally, I found that the Greek Minister was fully aware that discussions had taken place here respecting the sending of an army corps to Salonica, though the subject of sending troops there at all had never been mentioned to him at any time by me.
Elliot telegraphed from Athens on the same day that he had met with Venizelos that morning and discussed the allusion to possible co-operation of Allied troops with the Greek army. Elliot had suggested that with Entente troops it would not be necessary for Greece to await the entry of Romania into the war. Venizelos, however, disagreed. He stated that Greece would require an agreement with the Romanians, concluded by formal treaty, that if Greece went to the assistance of Serbia and were attacked by Bulgaria, Romania would attack the latter. This was in addition to his requiring two British or French army corps to co-operate with the Greek army. He further stated, however, that he could not promise that King Constantine would agree.
From Paris, meanwhile, Ambassador Bertie had telegraphed to Grey on 25 January that the Serbian representative there had informed him that the German government had told the Romanians that it was essential that German troops should join hands with the Turkish army by crossing through Serbia and Bulgaria. The Serbian minister felt sure that Bulgaria had an understanding with Germany and Turkey, and that Serbia ought to have assistance from the Entente Powers, such as military aid from France and England through Salonica, or from Russia by military pressure on Bulgaria so as to force her hand and prevent her from attacking Servia or joining Turks.
Bertie replied that France and England were too much occupied in the western theatre to be able to send troops to Salonika. Bertie wrote in his diary that day:
If only Roumania would make up her mind to come out on the war path! The Servian Minister wants France and England to send troops to Servia, via Salonika, just as though they had not more than enough to do in France and Belgium. If Russia chose she might coerce Bulgaria into good behaviour: a few thousand men landed at Varna would suffice to persuade the Bulgarians to side with the Entente.
Sir George Barclay had telegraphed from Bucharest on 22 January that the British Military Attaché there, as a result of an interview with the secretary-general of the Romanian war ministry, was also convinced that Romania would not move unless Bulgaria or Italy joined as well. He was further convinced that the Entente should therefore promise Bulgaria that, three months after her entry into the war, she would be allowed to occupy Macedonia up to the line of 1912.
In a major effort to win the active support of Romania, Venizelos telegraphed to the Greek representative at Bucharest on 25 January instructing him to deliver a confidential communication to Prime Minister Bratianu. It began.
In case Roumania, considering it would not be in the interest of the Balkan States to allow Serbia to be crushed by Austria-Hungary and Germany, … were disposed to support Serbia, Greece declares herself ready to take part in the war to help Serbia in co-operation with Roumania.
Venizelos then took a new position, however, on how Bulgarian benevolence was to be achieved. The communication stated that:
Greece has declared to the Serbian Government that she does not oppose concessions which Serbia might be disposed to make to Bulgaria, on condition that the latter takes part in the war against Turkey, or at least observes a not unfriendly neutrality, and also on condition that Serbia realises her aspirations in the direction of the Adriatic.
Bratianu had long insisted that such an offer to Bulgaria was necessary to assure her benevolent neutrality, while Venizelos had recently opposed the aggrandisement of that country as a threat to the future balance of power in the Balkans. It remained for Serbia, however, to make the offer.
Bratianu’s reply, which the Greek minister at Bucharest telegraphed to Athens on 28 January, began by totally ignoring the new stand taken by the prime minister of Greece. Bratianu stated that he could not adhere to a combination directed against Bulgaria. and that it did not suit him that a union should be formed against that country. Such an alliance, however, was not being proposed by Venizelos in his communication. The Romanian prime ministers reply, as reported by the Greek minister at Bucharest, continued:
He notes with satisfaction that we have no objection to concessions which Serbia might make to Bulgaria subject to conditions stated, and thinks, moreover, that our fears on the subject of an excessive aggrandisement of Bulgaria are fallacious. Bulgaria will never find field open to her in Balkans, for she will only increase on parallel lines with Serbia, Roumania, and Greece, the latter being able to expect to obtain Epirus, the islands, and perhaps other territories. The Prime Minister regrets that this truth is not recognised in Serbia, where a very unconciliatory spirit is shown; and he will abstain from taking any engagement towards her such as that proposed, which, by eliminating dangers of her situation, would be likely to confirm her uncompromising attitude.
The Greek minister concluded his report with the statement, ”I noted with satisfaction that for the first time the Roumanian Prime Minister said nothing of concessions on our part to Bulgaria.“
Bratianu might well have deliberately confused Venizelos’ proposal to delay committing his country, which he considered unready for war. This interpretation is substantiated in Grey's telegram to Barclay of 27 January. Grey had met with the Roumanian representative to Great Britain that morning. The Foreign Secretary told him that if Romania and Greece acted together and simultaneously, the neutrality of Bulgaria would be assured. The Romanian minister replied, however, that his country had been unable to obtain sufficient equipment and had been unable to purchase ammunition anywhere.
In London, the days preceding the War Council of 28 January witnessed an increased support for an offensive in south-eastern Europe. A six-page memorandum entitled ”After Six Months of War“ was written by Esher on 27 January. Concerning the Balkan theatre it stated:
As the war becomes more static, and as the deadlock increases, it becomes more urgent to introduce some fresh and stimulating element into the conflict. As the fire smoulders, it becomes more urgent to poke it in the centre. It is for this reason that the indrawing of the Balkan States becomes more urgent day by day. This is not the place in which to discuss or even to suggest methods of political and military strategy which might be used for such a purpose. It is, however, vital to keep in mind the necessity of using every means, diplomatic, or other, within that broad sphere that is gathered round the navigable waters of the Danube, and to remember that, as has been often pointed out, English power exerted to the full has depended for three centuries upon her capacity to make herself felt in that central and historic sea that has been called ”the old womb of Empire“.
At the end of his memorandum, Esher summed up his arguments:
The conclusions I venture to draw from this attempt to appreciate the present conditions of the war are these:
1. A war of attrition, though less favourable to Germany than to her foes, entails sacrifices upon the Allies, the pressure of which might bring about proposals for a premature and disastrous peace.
2. That England, owing to her intangibility, may underrate the sufferings of her Allies.
3. That a decision can best be achieved by violent and ”eccentric“ attack.
4. That as an amphibious Power England alone is, in a position to deliver it.
5. That the moment has come.
Regardless of the increased support for military action through Salonika, however, the proposed naval operations at the Dardanelles remained the most popular of the alternative campaigns. Yet some members of the War Council, including Fisher, were opposed to any action in that theatre that was not supported by troops. Fisher, had voiced his objections in two letters to Admiral Jellicoe, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, which he wrote on 19 and 21 January. In the first letter he complained:
Now the Cabinet have decided on taking the Dardanelles solely with the Navy, using 15 battleships and 32 other vessels, and keeping out there three battle cruisers and a flotilla of destroyers — all urgently required at the decisive theatre at home! There is only one way out, and that is to resign! But you say ‘no’, which simply means I am a consenting party to what I absolutely disapprove. I don't with one single step taken, so it is fearfully against the grain that I remain on in deference to your wishes. The way the War is conducted both ashore and afloat is chaotic! We have a new plan every week!
In the second letter Fisher continued his protest. He, stated:
I just abominate the Dardanelles, operations, unless a great change is made and it is settled to be a military operation, with 200,000 men in conjunction with the. Fleet.
These late-surfacing protests on the part of the First Sea Lord against the naval expedition led Churchill to write in World Crisis:
It was not until the end of January, when negotiations with the French and Russian Governments were far advanced, when many preparations had been made, when many orders had been given and when many ships were moving with his full authority, that Lord Fisher began to manifest an increasing dislike and opposition to the scheme.
Hankey, an old friend of Fisher, met with the Prime Minister on 20 January to discuss the Admiral’s resentment of the way Churchill always out-argued him in the Council. This intercession by Hankey led Asquith to write in his diary that day, ”Though 1 think the old man [Fisher] is rather difficult, I fear there is some truth in what he says“.
On 25 January Fisher sent a copy of a memorandum he had written with the help of Hankey to the Prime Minister. In his memorandum he objected to the Dardanelles scheme on the grounds that the fleet could better be used in the Baltic, that the Grand Fleet would be too weakened and that success at the Dardanelles could not be assured without troops. Fisher also sent a copy to Churchill with a cover letter which stated:
I have no desire to continue a useless resistance in the War Council to plans I cannot concur in, and 1 would ask that the enclosed may be printed and circulated to its members before the next meeting.
Fisher had closed his memorandum with the statement:
Being already in possession of all that a powerful fleet can give a country we should continue quietly to enjoy the advantage without dissipating our strength in operations that cannot improve the position.
In World Crisis Churchill answered the First Sea Lord’s memorandum, ”But the naval policy emerging from its last sentence would have condemned us to complete inactivity“.
The possibility that the First Sea Lord might resign was a constant problem for the Prime Minister in those last days of January. To prevent its happening Asquith met with both Fisher and Churchill on the morning of 28 January before the War Council. Fisher was persuaded to attend the Council. Churchill, in return, agreed to abandon the naval bombardment of Zeebrugge.
When the War Council met at 11:30 A.M., discussion began with the need to better co-ordinate planning among the Entente Powers. Lloyd George stated that he was going to Paris to meet with the French and Russian finance ministers, and while there could bring up the issue. The Council agreed and concluded:
Mr. Lloyd George to avail himself of any favourable opportunity which may present itself while he is in Paris to start the idea of a central body to provide the Allies with facilities for consultation with a view to greater co-ordination of effort.
The Council then moved on to a discussion of the Dardanelles operations. Churchill brought the matter up. Fisher protested that he had understood that the question would not be raised that day. Asquith countered that the question could not well be left in abeyance. Kitchener, Balfour and Grey all then spoke in favour of the project. The morning meeting then closed after a discussion of the Baltic project with Churchill stating that, of the monitors needed to seize an island, six would he ready by May and fourteen by July.
At four o’clock that afternoon there was a meeting of the subcommittee which had been called for in the conclusions of the War Council of 13 January to consider where troops might best be deployed in future. This subcommittee was made up of Kitchener, Lloyd George, Balfour, Churchill and Murray, with Hankey as secretary. Kitchener chaired the meeting and opened by reading a staff examination which favoured Salonika. Lloyd George suggested a second landing at the Bulgarian port of Dedeagatch and a combined Anglo-Bulgarian attack on Adrianople in Turkey. He noted that if Bulgaria could be so engaged, won over by the presence of British troops, there would be two rail routes open to Nish. Also concerned with the question of transportation, Hankey inquired into the serviceability of Serbian roads. Kitchener optimistically informed the meeting that the roads were "all right.
Looking beyond the initial arrival of British troops, Churchill suggested that special river monitors or gunboats should be provided for use on the Danube. Lloyd George asked if they could be built in sections and transported by rail from Salonika. Churchill responded that it was quite practicable and suggested that a dozen be built.
Returning to the more general subject. Balfour commented that from what he drew from this and previous discussions, the Adriatic ought to be ignored, the naval bombardment of the Dardanelles ought to be attempted, and a force ought to be landed at Salonika. Lloyd George repeated his view that a British army At Salonika would bring in all the Balkan states, and he mentioned Venizelos’ willingness to join with Romania in the Allied cause. Kitchener agreed that the British presence would determine the attitude of the Balkan states, but he was not yet sure that the right moment had arrived. He thought, however, that ultimately 500,000 men could be sent to Serbia and maintained there if the Dardanelles were opened.
Kitchener then asked Churchill about the nature of a naval mission under Vice-Admiral Ernest Troubridge which had recently gone to Serbia. The First Lord answered that a small detachment with some torpedoes for attacking Austrian gunboats was already in Serbia, and he was presently sending further naval detachments with eight 13.7-inch guns. Admiral Troubridge was to command the whole force.
When Lloyd George asked how soon an army corps could be sent to Salonika, Kitchener answered that there was no pressing necessity for its being sent as the Austro-German invasion had been made impossible because of snow. Churchill, however, countered that the dispatch of a brigade would show the earnestness of Britain’s intention to send more. This statement in favour of sending a brigade is the first recorded evidence of any support for the project on the part of the First Lord. He further stated, however, that they need not go further than Salonika, and Lloyd George agreed. But the Chancellor contended that an army corps ought to be offered to Serbia at once.
Churchill then stated that, in his opinion, the Germans intended to press towards the Balkans. He asked, therefore, why two Territorial divisions were being sent to France. Kitchener sided with him, and after some discussion it was agreed to ask the Prime Minister to assemble an immediate meeting of the War Council for the purpose of discussing whether instructions should not be sent to Sir John French informing him that the Zeebrugge offensive operation was not to be undertaken, and that the reinforcements intended to enable him to undertake this operation would not be sent.
Asquith therefore called a meeting of the War Council for 6:30 that evening. Kitchener opened the meeting with a summary of the subcommittee’s discussions of that afternoon. Hankey recorded:
Lord Kitchener gave a summary of the proceedings of the Sub-Committee, which had met in the afternoon. They had, he said, discussed the different theatres of war in which troops could be used. There had been a general agreement that Salonica was the best place of disembarkation for troops intended to co-operate with Serbia. A difficult question arose, however, as to when we should make it known in the Balkans that we intend to send troops. There was danger in undue delay, as, if we did not move in time, Serbia might be crushed, and we might fail to draw in the other Balkan States. At the moment, however, there was no great need for active assistance to Serbia, as there was little danger of immediate invasion, owing to the snow. Moreover, we had at present no troops to spare. Later it might be desirable to send troops to Serbia; but if we continued to pour all our men into France, there would be none available for the other operations contemplated …
The discussion of Kitchener’s report soon turned to the attitude of the French government. Grey stated that he had understood from Millerand that France was counting on four more British divisions. Kitchener countered that troops could be held in England at the disposal of the French in case of emergency, and Lord Crewe interjected that, so far as the War Council were concerned, there had been no understanding that additional troops were to be sent except for the specific purpose of the Zeebrugge advance. Churchill then added caustically that Britain had given more military assistance. to France than she had ever promised, and that General Joffre was not, Britain’s master and could not dispose of British troops.
The Prime Minister asked how long it would take to transfer an army to Salonika and how soon useful operations could be undertaken in Serbia. Kitchener answered that the actual voyage would take two weeks, but that three weeks ought to be allowed from the day the decision was made. He further stated that operations in Serbia could begin in the middle of March, allowing some weeks for the army to move up from Salonika.
Balfour asked if it would be of any use to send cavalry only to Serbia. Kitchener answered that it would require a great deal of transport but one and a half to two divisions would provide a proper proportion of cavalry to the Serbian army and might be a clever solution.
Churchill however, argued that Kitchener was mixing up a strategic and a political move. The First Lord preferred that a brigade be dispatched to Salonika, stating that Disraeli had once stopped the Russians from advancing on Constantinople by sending 11,000 men to the Mediterranean. He thought a brigade would be sufficient to draw in the Greeks.
Grey agreed. He stated that the Greek minister at London had expressed the opinion that if 5,000 troops were sent to Salonika. Bulgarian opinion would be so influenced that the operation of Bulgarian bands in Macedonia would be checked. But Kitchener cautioned that if a brigade were sent too soon, and before it could be followed up, it would soon become a ridiculous object.
The Secretary of State for War then read out the draft of a telegram. which he proposed to send to Field-Marshal French. The draft stated that since Zeebrugge was off, the reinforcements intended to render it feasible would not be sent. But Haldane thought that the matter was too difficult for a telegram and therefore suggested that Hankey be sent over to France to explain the matter personally. Kitchener, however, suggested that Churchill go, and Churchill expressed his willingness to do so.
Grey then read the draft of a telegram which he proposed to send to Venizelos asking whether 5,000 troops would be of value. Lloyd George suggested that it would be better to ask the Greek prime minister how many troops were required to be of any value. The Council, however, rejected the Chancellor’s suggestion.
Before moving on to the question of the Dardanelles operations, the Council approved the building of gunboats for the Danube, and Churchill told of the Admiralty's decision, insisted upon by Fisher, to abandon the proposed naval bombardment of Zeebrugge. He then stated that the Admiralty had decided to push on with the naval attack at the Dardanelles. Admiral Oliver said that the first shot would be fired in about two weeks, but he brought up the need for the use of Port Mudros on the island of Lemnos as a base for the operations. Lemnos was one of the Aegean islands that Greece had taken from Turkey in the Balkan wars, one of those islands whose legal ownership remained in dispute. Asquith asked if the use of Lemnos would mean a breach of Greek neutrality, to which Grey answered that the Germans had already protested the use of Mytilene by Allied ships and that he would sound the Greek government on the matter. Lloyd George suggested that it be done through Rear Admiral Mark Kerr, the British admiral lent to the Greek navy. Churchill said that he would do so.
The War Council had finished their business, and Hankey recorded their conclusions. Churchill was to visit French as soon as possible for the purpose of explaining to him that the reinforcements he anticipated would not be sent. Furthermore, the Council concluded:
He was to explain to Sir John French the importance of a diversion in the Balkans designed to draw the various Balkan States into the war, and to consult with him as to the best way of inducing the French Government to adopt a similar view.
Second, Grey was instructed ”to sound M. Venizelos as to whether he shared the Greek Minister in London’s view that 5,000 British troops at Salonica would be of value“. Third, the Admiralty were to order twelve monitors, to be built in sections, capable of being transported to Salonica and sent thence by rail to Serbia, where they would be fitted together for service on the Danube.
Last, the Admiralty were to sound the Greek government as to their willingness to allow Lemnos to be used by the Allied fleets. After six months of war, Britain had finally decided what action she would take in the Balkans.