|Churchill on the Western Front, December 1915|
In late May 1917 Churchill returned to the Continent, where he met Marshal Foch, Sir Henry Wilson, and Sir Douglas Haig, among others. One of the others was Lord Esher, liaison officer between the British and French War Offices and a pillar of the political establishment. A letter from Esher to Haig outlines the views that many had of Churchill at the time: "A true appreciation of Winston Churchill — of his potential uses — is a difficult matter. The degree to which his clever but unbalanced mind will in future fulfill its responsibilities is very speculative. He handles great subjects in rhythmical language, and becomes quickly enslaved by his own phrases. He deceives himself into the belief that he takes broad views, when his mind is fixed upon one comparatively small aspect of the question.
"The power of Winston for good and evil is very considerable. His temperament is of wax and quicksilver, and this strange toy amuses and fascinates L George, who likes and fears him ... To me he appears not as a statesman, but as a politician of keen intelligence lacking in those puissant qualities that are essential in a man who is to conduct the business of our country through the coming year. I hope therefore that he may remain outside the Government."
The prime minister, Lloyd George, wanted to bring his old friend Winston Churchill back into the Cabinet. Following the advice of Lord Beaverbrook that the anti-Churchill sentiment could be overcome, he appointed Churchill as minister of munitions on 17 July.
The response was as expected and was as intense in the government coalition as anywhere. The Morning Post warned that "neither the War Office nor the Board of Admiralty is likely to be safe from his attention" and both the First Lord of the Admiralty and the secretary for war threatened to resign. A delegation of Tory MPs demanded the intervention of Andrew Bonar Law but the Tory leader did not think it was worth risking the dissolution of the coalition. Churchill expressed surprise at the vehemence of the concerns, particularly because it came from more than his political opponents.
|Supporters of Churchill's Return to Office: Lloyd George and Beaverbrook|
The Morning Post was the most outraged of the press. The appointment, it stated, "proves that although we have not yet invented the unsinkable ship, we have discovered the unsinkable politician." It still blamed the Dardanelles on Churchill, "whose overwhelming conceit led him to imagine he was Nelson at sea and a Napoleon on land."
At this time the Churchills changed residences. In London they moved back to 33 Eccleston Square and purchased an Elizabethan house called Lullenden, near East Grinstead in Kent. Churchill left his country home that summer only to campaign in Dundee in a by-election, required because of his ministerial appointment. He was re-elected by a margin of over 5,000 votes.
Clementine noted that the depression which had afflicted Winston since the Dardanelles quickly disappeared with the challenges of his new office. But the 12,000 officials of the Ministry of Munitions were not a sufficient challenge. Although he had promised that he would make weapons, not plans, he quickly threw himself into every aspect of the war, much to the expectations and consternation of his Cabinet colleagues.
He used his position to influence military strategy and tactics in a number of ways. When invited to the War Cabinet as an observer, he was never reticent in expressing unsolicited opinions and he directed the distribution of materials in a fashion to influence policy.
He visited the front and toured the devastation of the Somme. While his relations with General Haig were cordial, the British commander had "no doubt that Winston means to do his utmost to provide the army with all it requires, but at the same time he can hardly stop meddling in the larger questions of strategy and tactics; for the solution of the latter he has no real training, and his agile mind only makes him a danger because he can persuade Lloyd George to adopt and carry out the most idiotic policy."
|Churchill Visiting a Factory as Minister of Munitions|
Churchill's encouragement of the production and use of tanks was later noted by a Royal Commission:"It was due to a receptivity, courage and driving force of the Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Churchill that the general idea of the use of such an instrument of war as the tank was converted into practical shape." In April the United States had declared war on Germany and all of Europe awaited the arrival of American troops — 48 divisions were heading for Europe. It was Churchill's challenge to produce many of the weapons they would require. In doing so he met the chairman of the United States War Industries Board, Bernard Baruch, who would become his lifelong friend.
Source: The Churchill Centre (link)