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‘Between the Sea Power and the Land Power’: Scandinavia and the Coming of the First World War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009


Among the voluminous papers produced at the Admiralty during the Fisher era in anticipation of a war against Germany there is one entitled ‘Preparation of War Plans’. It is unsigned and undated, but was printed for internal circulation on 24 June 1908 and may thus form part of the work undertaken by the Naval Intelligence Division and the Naval War College in 1908–9 rather than the better-known deliberations of the ‘Ballard Committee’ of 1906–7. Its authorship must remain a matter for speculation, and it may be the product of more than one hand, but the memorandum's breadth of historical understanding suggests that the influence of two men who played a leading part in Admiralty planning at this time: Rear-Admiral Edmond Slade, the Director of Naval Intelligence, and Julian Corbett, the eminent naval historian. The memorandum begins by arguing that British war plans must take into account the political dispositions and commitments of the European powers. Since 1904, it says, these have undergone a profound change, resembling the regrouping of powers which occurred in the mid-eighteenth century. ‘The result on the peace strategy of this country has been tremendous; it has necessitated a complete reorganisation of the whole of our arrangements, and it has forced us to face east, instead of south and west.’ Even though Germany must now be reckoned Britain's chief potential enemy, the situation is still extremely fluid, and the area of greatest uncertainly lies in northern Europe.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 1993

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1 Public Record Office (PRO), ADM 116/1043B, Part i, fos. 639–43. Another copy is in ADM 116/1043B, Part ii, fos. 275–9, where it appears under ‘War Plans 1907–1908’.

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