Tasker Howard Bliss to Newton D. Baker
Dear Mr. Secretary
On Thursday night, and again on Friday morning, I received an urgent request from General Foch to go to his Headquarters in order to have a conference on Friday night with himself and General Pershing. I left here at noon and it required six hours to make the trip which ordinarily could be done in 2. The roads were encumbered with countless ammunition and supply motor trains, hospital trains, etc., all moving toward the battlefield. I had taken a very round-about way, much further to the West than on any of the previous trips I have made to General Foch's Headquarters, but it seems impossible at this stage of the game to get beyond the region of moving troops and supply trains.
The Conference illustrated one of the peculiarities of the French mind. Their military men seem unwilling to act except upon a definite agreement drawn up in black and white, with every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed, and then signed. General Foch has noted that the Resolution of the Supreme War Council, approved by our President, relating to the sending of American infantry, says that this movement is to continue only while the emergency demands it. General Foch is convinced that the emergency will last until at least the end of July. The object of his Conference was to get General Pershing to accept this view and to agree that American infantry should have precedence, to the exclusion of all other units, until at least that date. As this was a matter which concerned General Pershing alone, I said nothing. After a long discussion without, apparently, getting anywhere, General Foch appealed to me as to what the Military Representatives meant when they prepared the Joint Note in regard to the movement of American infantry. I replied that they meant just what the Resolution said, to-wit: that in view of the existing emergency American infantry should have precedence in transportation to France, with the assumption that this movement would continue as long as the emergency continued. I said that so far as I could see he and General Pershing were in substantial accord except as to a mere form of words which did not in reality amount to anything; that he, General Foch, wanted General Pershing to agree that the emergency would last to at least a fixed date, which General Pershing was unwilling to do because no one could tell what might happen to-morrow that would relieve the emergency; that, he, General Pershing, agreed that the movement should continue as long as the emergency existed; in other words, that General Pershing was, in reality, more liberal in his view than General Foch demanded, because General Pershing's attitude was that the movement should continue as long as the emergency lasted, even if it lasted longer than the month of July; and that he, General Foch, had secured an understanding with General Pershing that went even further than General Foch had asked. The Conference broke up with, apparently, that general understanding.
The two principal things that have occupied the attention of the Military Representatives during this past week are the following:
(1) The British War Cabinet has asked the Military Representatives for its recommendation as to the attitude that should be taken by Great Britain with respect to Holland in view of the following. It appears that Germany has made the following demands on Holland, through their Minister at the Hague:(1) New boots, clothes, etc., taken from Holland by prisoners transferred from Germany to be allowed to pass the frontier more freely;(2) Civilian goods to be given free transit over the Limberg railway into Belgium;(3) Holland to recognize the right of Germany to transport every class of commodity in accordance with the terms of the Rhine Convention;(4) The transit, without any restriction, of sand and gravel to Belgium, via Lobith to be resumed. Germany to be prepared to send up to 200,000 tons a month and 250,000 tons a month to be exported from Holland to Belgium;(5) Troops and ammunition to be given free passage over the Limberg Railway.
It is said that the German Minister has not communicated the 5th demand as yet, because he is opposed to the policy which dictates this demand. It appears that the first two demands have been accepted. The British War Cabinet wants to know whether Holland should be advised by the Allies (1) to submit to the German demands, or, (2) to resist even to the point of war. We are to decide to-day on the following suggested opinion of the Military Representatives:"The Military Representatives having considered the above question are of opinion that:(i) The interests of the Allies are best served by Holland remaining neutral.(ii) The vital interests of the Allies are:(a) To prevent large quantities of material such as rubber, food, fats, etc. from falling into German hands;(b) To prevent any part of the coast of Holland which can be used in any way as naval bases from being made available for German naval enterprises."With these conditions in view the Military Representatives are of opinion that Holland should be advised not to go to war with Germany unless the Central Powers attempt to violate that part of Holland which lies west of the New Holland Water line of defenses and inundation which stretches from LOEVESTEIN on the MAAS through UTRECHT to MUIDEN."The second thing that we have been considering is the utilization of the 45,000 to 60,000 Czech troops in Russian and Western Siberia who were on their way to ports of Eastern Siberia. The general view of the Military Representatives is that it is still possible to make arrangements with the Russian Government by which these troops (who will not fight with Russia but who will fight with the other Allies against Germany) shall be transported to Archangel and Mourmansk, thence to be carried by water to the Western Front. Personally, I think that now the question has been put up (by the British Government) the above is about the only answer that we can make, although I doubt whether much material result will come from it.Later: After a prolonged discussion this morning the Military Representatives decided that it was not appropriate for them, at this juncture, to adopt a Joint Note to the four Governments on the Dutch question put up to us by the British War Cabinet. We agreed on a presentation of the "pros" and "cons" in a statement addressed to our British colleague, General Sackville-West. This presentation of "pros" and "cons" leads to the natural inference that it is better under present conditions for the Allies, if Holland can preserve her neutrality and have it respected by Germany, even though the latter makes use of the Limberg Railway. If the British Government, after receipt of the letter from General Sackville-West chooses to take the matter up through diplomatic channels with the other Governments (she may have already done so, but we do not know it), she will do so. I shall advise you latter of the terms of General Sackville-West's letter.We are all looking forward to your return to France according to the desire expressed by you while here.
To:The Hon. Newton D. Baker
Secretary of War,