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11-08-2015, 17:45

David Lloyd George (1863-1945)

David Lloyd George was the head of the British government for a period of six years starting in the winter of 1916. He occupied a key role in the conduct of World War I and in the subsequent peace negotiations. As the nation's wartime political chief, the fiery Welshman helped shape Great Britain's successful response to the German submarine menace; he also could claim credit for the formation of a single Allied high command during the spring crisis of 1918. But in other matters, he failed. He never prevailed in his desire to move Britain's major effort on land away from the western front. And he felt compelled to approve the costly and unsuccessful offensive General Sir Douglas Haig conducted at Ypres in the summer and fall of 1917. His effort to prevent Haig from taking the offensive in early 1918 by keeping troops away from the western front was a dangerous ploy that skirted the edge of disaster. That a politician as incisive and forceful as Lloyd George had to surrender his better judgment to his military leaders indicates the power of the factors that allowed the generals to fight as they chose. At the peace conference, he found himself overshadowed by President Woodrow Wilson and Premier Georges Clemenceau. The future prime minister rose from unusually humble roots: he was the son of a Welsh schoolteacher. Bom in Manchester, England, on January 17, 1863, he made his home in Wales and identified himself closely with the needs and grievances of the Welsh people. Trained as a lawyer, he entered Parliament in 1890. Lloyd George was a brilliant speaker who became a center of controversy during the Boer War ( 1 899- 1 902) when he denounced Britain's Conservative government for provoking the conflict. When his Liberal party replaced the Conservatives after the election of 1906, Lloyd George entered the cabinet. In 1914 he was minister of finance (chancellor of the Exchequer), a post he had held since 1908. It made him one of the handful of political leaders who directed national policy. Like most members of the Liberal government in August 1914, Lloyd George backed British participation in the war following the German invasioo of Belgium. Brilliant service as minister of munitions, from May 1915 onward, was his first great accomplishment. With "men of push and go" whom he chose as assistants, Lloyd George lifted British production to meet the needs of the growing forces in the field. In another sign of his commitment to an energetic war effort, he emerged as a leading advocate of military conscription. Lloyd George also began to present strategic ideas that he clung to throughout the war. Chief among them was the desire to employ most British strength outside France. He saw Germany's allies as a crucial factor in the wartime equation. Defeat them, he asserted, and Germany itself would collapse. Thus, in early 19 1 5, he made the first of many calls for an offensive northward through the Balkans to take Vienna and knock Austria-Hungary out of the war. The rising star of the British cabinet pushed Prime Minister H. H. Asquith aside in December 1916 and formed his own coalition government. He immediately confronted the gravest crisis to date for Britain: the onslaught of German submarines on merchant shipping. With the support of naval officers who dissented from the orthodoxy of their most senior leaders, Lloyd George promoted the adoption of the convoy system. It soon brought losses down to tolerable levels. Lloyd George had less success in dealing with the army and the fixed views of its leaders. He disliked and distrusted General Douglas Haig, Britain's commander-in-chief on the western front. In particular, Lloyd George viewed skeptically Haig's plans for an offensive in Flanders in the summer and fall of 1917. But the prime minister gave in, possibly fearing that his coalition government could not survive a confrontation with the leader of the British army. He soon was horrified to find his countrymen fighting a hopeless battle in the Flanders mud and suffering losses that drained the British army of much of its fighting capacity. One way to restrain Haig was to limit the number of troops the government was willing to send to France. Despite the dangers involved, Lloyd George kept substantial numbers of soldiers away from the western front in the early months of 1918. Another device was to put Haig under an overall Allied commander. But in March 1918, Ludendorff's vast offensive brought crisis to the western front, and the British prime minister was compelled to rush forces to Haig. On the matter of unified command, however, Lloyd George's long-standing support of this measure prevailed. Ferdinand Foch became Allied commander and Haig's superior in April. Shortly after the war's end, British national elections took place. In the heated campaign, Lloyd George campaigned for harshness toward the defeated Germans. He pointed specifically at punishing the kaiser and draining German wealth into the pockets of the victors. At Versailles, pressure from home bound him to the pledge to punish the Germans with heavy reparations. But when he could, he moved away from a peace of vengeance. For example, he opposed, with success, French proposals for taking the Rhineland from Germany. The wartime leader continued to serve in the post- 19 18 era. He confronted a number of explosive issues, among them the creation of an independent Ireland and the conflict between Greece and the new Turkey of Kemal Attaturk. The Chanak crisis of 1922, resulting from the Greco- Turkish hostilities, led to his resignation. He never held high office again. In the postwar period, the former prime minister criticized the harsh treatment Germany had received at the peace conference. He also openly admired Adolf Hitler as an energetic national leader. During 1939 and 1940, the great World War I leader, now in his late seventies, emerged as an advocate of a negotiated peace with Hitler. Rumors flew among his colleagues in Parliament that he saw himself as the future prime minister working out such a deal. He died at his farm in the Welsh countryside outside Criccieth on March 26, 1945.