Page:Minutes of War Cabinet Meeting 1.djvu/5

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As regards the first, the reinforcements could probably not reach Salonica for some two months, and hence would not arrive in time to meet the situation in regard to Greece. As regards the second object, the additional divisions proposed were not enough to enable the Allied forces to hold their present very extended line against such reinforcements as the enemy might send down. He estimated that the enemy might bring fifteen divisions, raising his total force to thirty-five divisions. The utilisation of these larger forces was possible because the Germans now had a new line of approach through Rustchuk, Adrianople, and Dedeagatch. He pointed out that the communications of the Allies, being by sea, could not compete with the superior communications of the enemy by land. Our forces would not be adequate to cope with a great attack by the enemy against our present front. The Allied forces based on Salonica were now strung out on a 200-mile line. They consisted largely of poor troops, and included many nationalities. The Serbians, who had fought well, were to a great extent exhausted. Owing to the defeat of the Roumanians and the attitude of Greece, the situation in the Balkans had undergone a complete change, and the plan agreed at the Chantilly Conference, to knock out Bulgaria by simultaneous operations from the Danube and Salonica, was now out of the question. Sir William Robertson summed up his advice as follows:—

"None of the objects for which we went to and remain in the Balkans can be attained. It is impossible to maintain and employ there a sufficient force to exert a decisive effect on the war in our favour. We ought therefore to withdraw altogether from the country, but as this proposal is probably not practicable for the moment for political reasons, we should, at the most, definitely adopt the policy of holding Salonica defensively. It would be incurring an undue risk to attempt to defend it in the position now occupied by the Allied forces, even if the latter were strengthened by another four divisions, having regard to the possible strength of the enemy attack and the Greek menace. It would obviously be a disadvantage to withdraw from the present position, but to withdraw would be far preferable to being driven back, as that might lead to a real disaster. General Sarrail should therefore decide when to withdraw, being guided by the developments of the situation. Meanwhile, steps should be taken at once to select and prepare a defensive and an appropriate line for covering Salonica and protecting the left flank, so that the troops may be leisurely and smoothly withdrawn to it when the occasion arises."

Sir William Robertson considered that the force at present at Salonica should amply suffice to hold a suitable shorter line against any attack that could be brought against it, provided that adequate measures are taken in time to prepare and occupy it, and that the troops are properly commanded. He added, however, that the whole question was difficult and complicated because a foreign General, over whom we had no control, was in command; that he had no confidence in General Sarrail's ability as a Commander; and in general that he had considerable misgivings, because of his ignorance as to General Sarrail's real attitude and that of the French Government.

The War Cabinet decided that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff should communicate his views to General Joffre. In doing so, he should state that the situation in the Balkans caused considerable anxiety to the War Cabinet, who wished to have a meeting between the French naval and military authorities, but that, as a preliminary to this meeting, the War Cabinet consider it essential that the views