A former great General drowned today in 1916
On the 5th June 1916 Field Marshal Herbert Horatio Kitchener drowned in the North Sea. He had been the man who avenged Gordon, retaking Khartoum and conquering Sudan, the Commander in Chief in South Africa and now Asquith’s Secretary of War.
When the Great War broke out all of Britain wanted him to lead it. He was a winner and morale was boosted. No one thought he could fail. But times had changed. Warfare had changed. The Great War was a long war and hundreds of thousands died and millions were affected. In 1916 he was now seen as an old man out of his depth.
A Chief of the Imperial Staff was appointed, taking much of Kitchener’s management of the war from him. He was sent to the Eastern Front to access the situation there, when on his way on board the Armoured Cruiser Hampshire, the ship hit a mine. Few survived.
The American historian Fromkin said of him: “If he had died in 1914 he would have been remembered as the greatest British general since Wellington. Had he died in 1915 he would have been remembered as the prophet who foretold the nature and duration of the First World war and as the organiser of Britain’s mass army.”
For all the promise and hope, he was unnecessary by 1916 and a thing of the past, which takes him out of the running for contender of best British general.
Kitchener appeared unnamed in that iconic “Britons – [his picture] Wants You” WWI recruitment poster, with the result that more people today may be familiar with his face than with his name.
Another behind-the-times general was Vladimir Sukhomlinov, who served as Russia’s Minister of War until 1915. I’ve heard that, while he held that post, he believed that he had learned everything there was to know about war in a cavalry charge he had led against the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, and that he was allegedly proud of the fact that he had not read a military textbook in 25 years.