Autumn 1917 (Age 43)

The horror of the attacks at Passchendaele, which began 12 October is best described by Churchill himself: “The British offensive against Passchendaele unrolled its sombre fate. The terrific artillery pulverized the ground, smashing simultaneously the German trenches and the ordinary drainage. By sublime devotion and frightful losses small indentations were made upon the German front. In six weeks at the farthest point we had advanced four miles. Soon the rain descended, and the vast crater fields became a choking fetid mud in which men, animals and tanks floundered and perished hopelessly.”

Fully aware of the consequences of what was happening on the Western Front, Churchill asked: “If we lose three or four times as many officers and nearly twice as many men in our attack as the enemy in his defence, how are we wearing him down?”

On the Eastern Front, Russia was collapsing from within. In October Lenin returned from exile and on 6 November Bolshevik mobs joined by soldiers and sailors, and the workers’ Red Guards, stormed the Czar’s Winter Palace in Petrograd. With civilian and military casualties well over ten million, Russia wanted peace but a civil war between the Bolsheviks and Kerensky’s government ensued. Hostilities between Russia and Germany would end with the December signing of a treaty at Brest Litovsk in Byelorussia.

Churchill was also frustrated over the inappropriate use of tanks on the Western Front. They had been useless at Passchendaele because the battlefield had been a quagmire. As the Passchendaele battles ended, a new offensive began at Cambrai. Tanks contributed to a penetration of six miles, more than any previous British offensive, and the capture of more prisoners with considerably fewer casualties. The War Cabinet began to show more interest in what Churchill called “moving power.” He later claimed that if he had been able to convince them of the potential of the tank in 1915, the war would have ended that year.

Ironically, these attacks coincided with the execution of the notorious spy, Mata Hari, who had provided valuable knowledge about tanks that allowed the Germans to develop gas and other weapons to repel them.

On 10 December Churchill made a speech at Bedford on Allied War Aims. Acknowledging that the country was facing its greatest danger since the battle of the Marne had saved Paris, he said that they could not rest until Prussian militarism is unmistakably beaten and the German people are saved from its evil spell.”

He made several visits to France and to the Front, usually flying across the Channel. Since most airplanes were required at the Front, the machines at the disposal of politicians were often not safe. He had several narrow escapes and once almost crashed into the Channel before limping back to safety.

Prime Minister Lloyd George wanted Jerusalem for his Christmas present and General Allenby led his forces into the city on 9 December. Although Palestine was now British, the Government had already informed Jewish leaders that it would support Zionist aspirations for a permanent national homeland in Palestine. Although Churchill spoke within Cabinet circles for British disengagement from Palestine, he was not formulating British policy.

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