The Life of Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston MP
Chapter Thirteen: Breaking Through
Amid the anxieties and disappointments of the Passchendaele front, politics came to Hunter-Weston’s rescue. In January 1918 he made a remarkable parliamentary debut, delivering what was hailed at the time as ‘the war’s greatest speech’.1 More importantly, the final year of hostilities also brought the resumption of mobile warfare and the return of VIII Corps as a fighting formation. In the battles of the Hundred Days it would no longer be necessary to use his infantry to compensate for the lack of firepower as had been the case at Gallipoli, or to exploit the application of brute force as at the Somme. Instead, control of the battlefield had shifted to the attacker and it was now possible to conduct a material-based offensive without a costly sacrifice of manpower. As an early advocate of the combined arms approach, Hunter-Weston’s command philosophy continued to develop during this period, ensuring that when the final advance began in August 1918 his corps would make a modest yet creditable contribution to the allied victory.
The Speech of the War
The essential background to Hunter-Weston’s triumph as a parliamentarian was the end of the government’s commitment to a ‘large army first’ principle. After Passchendaele, the prospect of continuous battles of attrition without decisive results, coupled with doubts over the long-term sustainability of the British war effort, had led policymakers to attempt to ← 273 | 274 → find a balance between military manpower demands and the competing...
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