The World Crisis, Winston S. Churchill
The World Crisis
Winston S. Churchill
21:31 h History Lvl 11.02
The World Crisis is Winston Churchill's account of the First World War, published in six volumes (technically five, as Volume III was published in two parts). Published between 1923 and 1931: in many respects it prefigures his better-known multivolume The Second World War. The World Crisis is analytical and, in some parts, a justification by Churchill of his role in the war. Churchill is reputed to have said about this work that it was "not history, but a contribution to history".

The World Crisis

The Rt. Hon. Winston S. Churchill


From October 25, 1911, to May 28, 1915, I was, in the words of the Royal Letters Patent and Orders in Council, “responsible to Crown and Parliament for all the business of the Admiralty.” This period comprised the final stage in the preparation against a war with Germany; the mobilisation and concentration of the Fleet before the outbreak; the organisation of the Blockade; the gathering in 1914 of the Imperial forces from all over the world; the clearance from the oceans of all the German cruisers and commerce destroyers; the reinforcement of the Fleet by new construction in 1914 and 1915; the frustration and defeat of the first German submarine attack upon merchant shipping in 1915; and the initiation of the enterprise against the Dardanelles. It was marked before the war by a complete revision of British naval war plans; by the building of a fast division of battleships armed with 15–inch guns and driven by oil fuel; by the proposals, rejected by Germany, for a naval holiday; and by the largest supplies till then ever voted by Parliament for the British Fleet. It was distinguished during the war for the victories of the Heligoland Bight, of the Falkland Islands and the Dogger Bank; and for the attempt to succour Antwerp. It was memorable for the disaster to the three cruisers off the Dutch Coast; the loss of Admiral Cradock’s squadron at Coronel; and the failure of the Navy to force the Dardanelles.

Many accounts of these matters have been published both here and abroad. Most of the principal actors have unfolded their story. Lord Fisher, Lord Jellicoe, Lord French, Lord Kitchener’s biographer, Lord Haig’s Staff, and many others of less importance, have with the utmost fullness and freedom given their account of these and other war-time events and of the controversies arising out of them. The German accounts are numerous and authoritative. Admirals von Tirpitz and Scheer have told their tales. Sir Julian Corbett, the Official Historian, has in a thousand pages recorded the conduct of the naval war during the whole of my administration. Eight years have passed since I quitted the Admiralty.

In all these circumstances I feel it both my right and my duty to set forth the manner in which I endeavoured to discharge my share in these hazardous responsibilities. In doing so I have adhered to certain strict rules. I have made no important statement of fact relating to naval operations or Admiralty business, on which I do not possess unimpeachable documentary proof. I have made or implied no criticism of any decision or action taken or neglected by others unless I can prove that I had expressed the same opinion in writing before the event.

Many of the accounts which I have mentioned above enjoy the great advantage of having been written some considerable time after the events with which they deal, when the results of schemes and operations set on foot in the early days of the war could be clearly seen, and when the ideas and impressions of 1914 and 1915 could be reviewed in the broad and certain experience and science of 1918 and after. There are no doubt obvious conveniences in this way of treating the subject. Actors in these great situations are able to dwell with certainty upon those of their opinions and directions which have effectively been vindicated by the subsequent course of the war, and they are not, on the other hand, obliged to disturb the public mind by dwelling on any errors of neglect or commission into which they may possibly have been betrayed. I have followed a different method.

In every case where the interests of the State allow, I have printed the actual memoranda, directions, minutes, telegrams or letters written by me at the time, irrespective of whether these documents have been vindicated or falsified by the march of history and of time. The only excisions of relevant matter from the documents have been made to avoid needlessly hurting the feelings of individuals, or the pride of friendly nations. For such reasons here and there sentences have been softened or suppressed. But the whole story is recorded as it happened, by the actual counsels offered and orders given in the fierce turmoil of each day. The principal minutes by which Admiralty business was conducted embody in every case decisions for which, as the highest executive authority in the department, I was directly responsible, and are in all cases expressed in my own words. I am equally accountable, together with the First Sea Lord at the time, for the principal telegrams which moved fleets, squadrons and individual ships, all of which (unless the contrary appears) bear my initials as their final sanction.

The number of minutes and telegrams published in these volumes is, of course, only a fraction of the whole. Restricted space and the fear of wearying the reader have excluded much. But lest it should be thought that there have been any material suppressions, or that what is published does not truly represent what occurred, or the way things were done, I affirm my own willingness to see every document of Admiralty administration for which I am responsible made public provided it is presented in its fair context. Sometimes a dozen or even a score of important decisions had to be taken in a single day. Complicated directions and recommendations were given in writing as fast as they could be dictated, and were acted upon without recall thereafter. Nothing of any consequence was done by me by word of mouth. A complete record therefore exists both of executive and administrative action.

If in the great number of decisions and orders which these pages recount and which deal with so many violent and controversial affairs, mistakes can be found which led to mishap, the fault is mine. If, on the other hand, favourable results were achieved, that should be counted to some extent as an offset. Where the decision lay outside my powers and was taken contrary to my advice, I rest on the written record of my warning. Should it be objected that in any of these matters, many of them so highly technical, a landsman and layman could form no valuable opinion, I point to the documents themselves. They can be judged as they stand, but lest, on the other hand, it should be thought that I am seeking to claim credit which is not mine, it must be remembered that throughout this period I enjoyed the assistance, loyal, spontaneous and unstinted, of the best brains of the Royal Navy, that every treasure of every branch of the Admiralty and the Fleet was lavished upon my instruction, and that I had only to apply my own reason and instinct to the arguments of those who I believe stood in the foremost rank of the naval experts of the world.

Taking a general view in after years of the transactions of this terrific epoch, I commend with some confidence the story as a whole to the judgment of my countrymen. It has long been the fashion to disparage the policy and actions of the Ministers who bore the burden of power in the fateful years before the War, and who faced the extraordinary perils of its outbreak and opening phases. Abroad, in Allied, in neutral, and above all, in enemy States, their work is regarded with respect and even admiration. At home, criticism has been its only meed. I hope that this account may be agreeable to those at least who wish to think well of our country, of its naval service, of its governing institutions, of its political life and public men; and that they will feel that perhaps after all Britain and her Empire have not been so ill-guided through the great convulsions as it is customary to declare.

Lastly, I must record my thanks to Vice-Admiral Thomas Jackson and others who have aided me in the preparation and revision of this work, especially in its technical aspect, and to those who have given me permission to quote correspondence or conversations in which they were concerned.
LONDON, January, 1923.

Winston S. Churchill

Chapter I
The Vials of Wrath

“To put on record what were their grounds of feud.”


It was the custom in the palmy days of Queen Victoria for statesmen to expatiate upon the glories of the British Empire, and to rejoice in that protecting Providence which had preserved us through so many dangers and brought us at length into a secure and prosperous age. Little did they know that the worst perils had still to be encountered and that the greatest triumphs were yet to be won.

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