The looming war, Grey, Asquith and the invasion of Belgium

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by gmiller, Jun 24, 2010.

  1. gmiller

    gmiller New Member

    Grey's main concern had always been to preserve the balance of power in Europe by supporting France. Military conversations with France about the British army supporting France in the event of war with Germany had been continued for years, although Grey, deviously, had not notified the Cabinet of them. At this stage Grey was not concerned about Belgium at all. The Cabinet was divided about entering the looming war on the side of France so, after August 1st, Grey brought up the possible German invasion of Belgium in an attempt to sway the Cabinet to his way of thinking. Despite this, and despite the British public's desire to support Belgium, there still remained a strong anti-war faction in Cabinet which had became seriously divided.

    Asquith did not agree with Grey about the reality of the German threat. He did believe that, in the event of war between Germany and France, Germany would invade Belgium but considered that the Treaty of 1839 could be used as a pretext to support Belgium ONLY if Britain found that it was in her interests to support Belgium against an invader. The majority of the Cabinet were unsure, or did not agree, that Germany would attack France via Belgium and agreed to follow Gladstone's 1870 policy of non-intervention; this mood persisted even after the Russian mobilisation. Asquith was not unhappy about this as he was still vacilating.

    When war between Russia and Germany became inevitable the problem of what to do if Germany invaded Belgium became much more serious. For centuries British policy was that no Great Power should control the Channel Ports. There was also the Anglo-French agreement of 1912 that the British Navy should protect the French coast while the French navy would concentrate in the Mediterranean.

    On the morning of August 2nd, Lichnowski, the German Ambassador, called on Asquith and made a plea for British neutrality. Asquith replied that Britain would remain neutral as long as Gernany did not violate the Belgian neutrality when attacking France. On that day Cabinet met twice and on the first occasion Grey announced that Britain "... had both moral obligations of honour and substantial obligations of policy in taking sides with France" this caused uproar and the division of Cabinet into war and non-interventionist groups, although with a third undecided group. Asquith was in the undecided camp, he would only enter the war camp if Germany upset the balance of power by invading Belgium or attacked France by using the English channel.

    When Cabinet resumed in the evening, Germany had invaded Luxembourg and it was obvious that they would invade Belgium. Despite some objections Cabinet agreed that an invasion of Belgium was unacceptable. On 3rd August Grey made his famous speech to the Parliament and warned that Britain's interests and honour would suffer if she allowed Germany to trample on Belgium's neutrality and if she did not come to the aid of France.

    Britain then sent the ultimatum to Germany on August 4th that unless she vacated Belgium by 11 pm, then Britain "...would be obliged to take all steps in their power necessary to uphold the neutrality of Belgium". There was no German response....

    See George Cassar, 1994, "Asquith as War Leader", and Richard Hamilton & Holger Herwig, 2004, "Decisions of War 1914-1917"
  2. Rigby44

    Rigby44 Member

    If one studies British Foreign policy from Elizabeth I to George VI you will find a common theme of opposing any power that sought to occupy Belgium and the Scheldt Estuary

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