Supreme War Council to Newton D. Baker


Supreme War Council to Newton D. Baker


Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930




1918 August 7


General Bliss passes on request for American view of Russian officers serving with troops sent to Siberia.


Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


World War, 1914-1918
World War, 1914-1918--Russia


Morgan Willer




Document scan was taken from Library of Congress microfilm reel of the Wilson Papers. WWPL volunteers transcribed the text.


No. 16
American Section,

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I have received a rather curious request from General Diaz, Chief of Staff of the Italian Army, through the Italian Military Representative here, for information as to what would be the line of action taken by the United States Government on a proposition to have a lot of Russian officers serve with the different Commands of the Allied Troops who may be sent to Siberia. I do not know what particular concern this is of General Diaz, but I suppose it comes up because of pressure originating with the innumerable Russian societies in Europe. In fact, he says that it relates to a proposition of what is called “The League for the Regeneration of Russia,” to have Russian officers now scattered all about Europe serve with these Allied Commands in Siberia. The countries of the various Allies here are filled with Russian officers “out of a job.” They are all anxious to get on the American pay-roll and I fancy that the Governments here, who are supporting a great number of them, would be rather glad to unload as many as possible on us. My own opinion is that it is a very delicate question, and that if we were to tie ourselves up with any of these Russian officers, whether from motives of charity toward them, or any other, we might create a great deal of trouble for ourselves and for the Commander-in-Chief of any American forces that might be in Siberia.

I have had to make a polite response to the letter asking for the information for General Diaz, and I have replied in substance that:

1). My Government has formulated no policy on this subject;

2). It would take no action in such a matter except on the advice of any Commander-in-Chief that it might have with the Allied forces in Siberia:

3). The policy of the United States is to conduct its own military operations with its own forces, officers and men;

4). I would transmit the substance of General Diaz’ request for such action, if any, as might be desired to be taken in Washington.

This is the only form in which I propose to communicate it, and if you could intimate to me whether my above reply is correct, nothing further will be needed.

August 9th.

For some reason the courier from France to Washington does not leave this week. I am informed that he will not go until Sunday. As there are a number of enclosures to go with this I shall hold my letter until that date.

Sunday afternoon I shall probably have to leave for the Headquarters of our 33d Division at Moulliens-aux-Bois. The King of England is staying at General Rawlinson’s Headquarters at Flixecourt, not far away, and he has asked General Pershing and myself to be there on Monday morning next to receive the decorations which he has conferred.

General Pershing was here on Monday and I had an interview with him about various questions which may possibly be taken up at the next meeting of the Supreme War Council. The date of this meeting has not yet been determined but there is reason to think that it will be somewhere about the middle of the month. Mr. Lloyd-George has asked to have it in London but I think that this is not likely. At the present juncture it would be, I should think, impossible for Marshal Foch and the other Commanders-in-Chief to go so far away. I feel quite sure that one question will come up that will concern Marshal Foch and he would have to be present. That question is the one of extending his powers over the forces on the Italian Front so that they shall be the same as those which he exercises over the Allies in France. Therefore, I think it most likely that the Council will meet at some other point in France, probably Versailles.

In my interview with General Pershing I was very glad to hear him say with great cordiality that he was thoroughly pleased with the way in which I had supported him in every question which came up which concerned his command. As I think I told you once before, there has never been any ultimate difference of opinion between him and myself.

I have also had two most interesting interviews with Mr. Hoover. When he arrived in Paris he asked me to come and see him at the Hotel Crillon, where he occupied the same apartment that you had while there. In the course of our conversation he asked me my opinion as to the practicability of establishing some agency which would have supreme control over all of the various Allied and Inter-Allied agencies now existing, such as those which control the food-supply question, the allocation of tonnage for different lines of trade, tonnage for military uses, etc. He believes that if this could be done, demands for food and other things could be greatly reduced, thus releasing much tonnage for carrying out the military program. After giving careful consideration to this, in a subsequent interview, the night before he left for London, I told him that I did not believe such a co-ordinating agency could work successfully; that individual nations refused to surrender certain interests to Inter-Allied control; that existing Inter-Allied Agencies could be controlled only by another Allied Agency or by a Dictator; that I believed the former useless and the latter impossible.

I believe that there is only one solution to Mr. Hoover’s problem and that it is in the power of the United States Government alone to give it. The Allies must agree upon one question as absolutely paramount and agree to subordinate all other questions to it to the utmost possible limit. Therefore I suggest the following for your consideration, as a prely [sic] military proposition.
I believe that the United States should aim at a successful termination of the war in 1919, and should make that the paramount question and in all of its dealings with its Allies should keep that question to the front. You may think that this is purely an academic question; that our Allies will say that they are as much interested in ending the war in 1919 as we can be. That of course, is what they would say; but in practice they may not be ready to do the things and to make the sacrifices which will be necessary to end the war in that time. They all agree that it can be ended only by American troops, supplies, and money. But I can see it in every discussion at which I am present, and in nearly every paper that is submitted to me, that when the end comes they want certain favorable military situations to have been created in different parts of the world that will warrant demands to be made of the United States which they think will be, perhaps, the principal arbiter of peace terms. If these sufficiently favorable military situations are not created on certain secondary theatres by the beginning of the Autumn of next year our Allies may be willing to continue through 1920, at the cost of United States troops and money, a war which may possibly if not probably be ended with complete success, as far as we are concerned, by operations on the Western Front in 1919.

If the mass of the people in Europe knew that the United States was demanding that the Allies should make every effort to end the war in 1919, our Government would be supported by the common people of every nation, and I believe that they would endure any possible sacrifice to carry it through. Now they do not see even a suggested time for the end. The time has come to plan a campaign with reasonable hope that it will be the last one and not merely one that will lead to another. What warrant will our Government have in proposing that its Allies should agree to such a policy?

If the proposed 80 Division Program can be carried through, the United States will have in France before the middle of next year more than the rifle strength of all our Allies on the Western Front combined. If the Allied Commander-in-Chief can now inform the United States that a certain definite military effort on their part will give him reasonable belief that the next campaign will be final, the United States will be in a position to demand of all the Allies the necessary sacrifices without which the tonnage cannot be made available. He has asked of the United States the 100 division Program. When informed that the United States can only contemplate an 80 division Program and that it may be unable even to carry that through, he has apparently accepted that decision without question. Either of these programs, if carried through, would give him a certain numerical superiority in rifles next summer, but no one knows whether either of these programs is asked for on a definite plan for what he expects to be the final campaign or whether it is only to lead to another one for which a like demand will be made.

As you know, the Supreme War Council at its last session directed the Military Representatives, in conference with Marshal Foch and the Allied Commanders-in-Chief on the other theatres to study and report to the Supreme War Council their views as to the military attitude to be taken in the Autumn of this year (after the conclusion of the present active campaign), the following winter, and next year. This at once brings us to the question “Can we expect to be in such a relative position next year as will warrant a serious offensive campaign? And if we believe that we may be in a position to warrant such a campaign, what will be its object? Will its object be merely to push the Germans back a few miles further towards the Rhine, or can we, beginning now, make such preparations as will give us good ground for believing that we can absolutely crush German resistance on this front, end the war here next year, and, therefore, necessarily, end it on all other front?” On the answer to these questions I think very possibly depends the fate of the present Allied Governments in Europe a little later than this date next year, with all the consequences that such a change of Government may have on the final issue of the war.

The Military Representatives are to have a conference with Marshal Foch some time next week. Each of us have submitted to him in writing our views, in anticipation of that interview. We are all of us agreed on what I believe to be the essential points, except that, naturally enough, the Representatives of our Allies cast more side glances at the situation in the Balkans, in Palestine, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere than I do. We are agreed that the war will almost certainly have to be ended on the Western Front. I want, and I think that the United States wants, that the war should be ended there as quickly as possible. My colleagues, evidently representing confidential views that they receive from their own Governments, want to have certain things done in the Balkans, Palestine, Mesopotamia and elsewhere, before the war ends, which in my opinion cannot be done without diminishing the chances of ending the war on the Western Front in 1919. What Marshal Foch’s views will prove to be, when we meet him, I do not now know; but after our conference I am sure that our views and his will be in harmony.

There are certain things that we are all in substantial agreement about.

First: From 1916 to the beginning of the Campaign of 1918, the rifle strength of the two sides has varied from approximately 250,000 in favor of the Allies through the Campaign of 1917, to approximately 250,000 superiority in rifle strength in favor of the Germans at the beginning of the campaign of this year. I am speaking, of course, of the relative strengths on this Western Front. With this rifle superiority the Allies up to the end of the Campaign of 1917 “blew bubbles” in the German line but without breaking it; with the same superiority in 1918 the Germans “blew bubbles” in the Allied line but without breaking it. But it is generally admitted that the German bubbles were more dangerous to the Allies than the Allied bubbles were to the Germans. This is due to the fact that the Germans have had a comparatively small distance to go from the average positions they have held, in order to reach vital Allied points; while the Allies, to reach corresponding German vital points, must go several times that distance. In other words, it is probable that if in March the Germans had had double their then superiority in rifles (500,000 instead of 250,000) they would have reached vital points and have possibly brought on a decision of the war. Therefore, (assuming the German morale and war supplies hold out for another year), in order that the Allies may push through to vital points, that is to say to points which will cause the whole German line to crumble, the Allies must have at least double the superiority that the Germans would probably have had to have in order to have enabled them to reach vital Allied points this spring and summer. In other words, the Allies must have a superiority of not less than 1,000,000 rifles on the line on the Western Front, which means a more or less approximate superiority in machine guns, artillery, airplanes, tanks, etc.
Second: The French rifle strength will probably diminish to 656,000 by July 1 next. The British rifle strength will diminish to 420,000, and the Belgian rifle strength to 42,000. If our 80 division Program can be carried out, American rifle strength, fit for service on the line on July 1 next, will be 1,184,000. That figure excludes 10 divisions which will not have been here two months and which divisions will include 169,000 rifles. Thus, the total Allied strength in France, fit for service on the line on July 1 next, will be approximately 2,302,000. The total German rifle strength will be approximately 1,378,000. This will give an approximate Allied rifle superiority on July 1 next, of 924,000. But, the Germans have still 32 divisions in Russia. If a situation should be created on the Western Front next summer such that the Germans would feel obliged to transfer these 32 divisions, the Allied rifle superiority would be reduced to 647,000.

In the foregoing I have given no consideration to the British estimate that the Germans will secure by March 1 next, approximately 400,000 recruits from the border Russian states. Nor have I assumed the possibility of a situation developing in Italy which would warrant the withdrawal of Austrian troops from that front to assist the Germans on the Western Front.

If the 100-division Program could be carried out, the Allied rifle superiority on July 1 next would, assuming Germany withdraws no divisions from Russian, be approximately 1,127,000 and, if Germany withdraws all of her divisions from Russia, it would be 850,000.

As I have said, we do not know whether Marshal Foch believes that he can crush German resistance on this front with either the 100-division program or the 80-division program could either of them be carried out. But every day the conditions appear more and more favorable provided we can secure the proper superiority next year, for launching the final and decisive offensive for the purpose of ending the war by the winter of 1919. If Marshal Foch will say to the President that, as Inter-Allied Commander-in-Chief, he has good grounds for believing that he can push the Campaign of 1919 to a decisive conclusion on the 100-division Program or the 80-division Program or with any other definite and fixed military effort which the United States must make, I think that the United States Government has the solution of Mr. Hoover’s problem in its own hands. It can then say to its Allies “Our common Commander-in-Chief believes that with certain assistance from the United States by a fixed date in 1919 he can end the war in that year. Do you want it to end in 1919?” There would be but one answer from all Europe to that question. The United States could then say “We must all sacrifice everything to the limit of endurance in order that we can make the necessary effort.” I believe that only by some such procedure can we get the necessary tonnage to carry out any program that would do more than keep the war going through 1919 with the certainly [sic] of a campaign in 1920. Our losses are beginning now. Next year, instead of hearing of the losses of many hundreds of thousands of our Allies on the Western Front, it will be hundreds of thousands of Americans and a constantly reducing proportion of our Allies. They have lost frightfully in the past, but that does not require the war to be prolonged until our losses equal theirs. It is safe to say that already our American troops have saved the situation here. No Englishman or Frenchman with whom I talk but admits that were not the Americans already here in considerable force the war would be now over, and settled adversely to the Allies. We have already saved France and Europe. We have a right to demand that the hundreds of thousands of young Americans, the present hope of their country and the future hope of the world, who are now ready to give their lives for the common cause, shall not be sacrificed unless it be an absolute necessity. Is it not worth while to save the blood and treasure that must be spent in 1920 if we can, by any possibility, end the war in 1919?

No one, in my opinion, but the United States can bring this question to a head. The Military Representatives cannot do it. But at the next meeting of the Supreme War Council (and there is no time to be lost) the United States Government can ask its three colleagues to join with it in directing their common Commander-in-Chief on the Western Front to state the exact reinforcements which he must have from the United States by a fixed date in 1919 in order to give him reasonable hope that he can end the war on this front in that year. Then, instead of working on the problem of how to secure the tonnage to bring over 100 divisions or 80 divisions, we will work on the problem of how to secure tonnage to bring over the men necessary to end the war next year. With a definite object like that before them, I believe that the people of the Allied nations will make, for the few months necessary, the supreme effort and endure to the last degree the extreme hardship necessary to provide that tonnage. They will not do it so long as they feel we are simply asking for as many men as we can get. That latter is the principle which inspires other interests; the Manchester cotton manufacturer asks for as many thousand bales of cotton as he can get and takes whatever he can get, whether it is as much as he asked for or not. And so far the Food Controllers and all other interests that want shipping. They say that when the military men ask for 100 divisions or 80 divisions or 50 divisions they are doing it without a definite plan; that they simply want to get as many as they can so that they will be able to carry one campaign through and be ready for the following one, and for the one thereafter. But if they knew (what we do not yet know) that what the military men ask for is what is believed necessary to accomplish a definite object, namely to end the war in 1919, I believe that the other interests will be ready, for the first time, with some cheerfulness to yield their demands in favor of the military program.

And so, in a nut-shell, it is this: Do we want to end the war in 1919 or not? If we do, the first step is to get a declaration from the responsible military men as to what effort the United States must make in order to so end the war, and then demand of the Allied world that every other secondary interest,--trade, food clothing, etc.,---be sacrificed to the last limit in order that this effort can be made.

I do not see that any harm can come from our learning from the responsible military men what they hope to accomplish next year with our troops and supplies. It is possible, of course, that Marshal Foch, in reply to a question as to what force he must have in order to reasonably hope to have a final campaign in 1919, would make a demand for an effort by the United States which it could not possibly comply with, but I doubt if he will do so.

At any rate, there is everything to be gained by knowing what our probable status will be, as to the termination of the war, by the maximum effort which we can make, and, as I have said a dozen times, I think the only way to determine what is the maximum effort that can be made is in a statement from the responsible military men that they have good reason to believe that that effort will be a final one. If we had the superiority of 1,000,000 rifles now, it is possible that we might beat the Germans this year. If we do not do it, if they dig in on the former Hindenberg line and can hold it, their position next year will make that superiority necessary and, personally, I believe that it will be enough, provided it can be maintained for a few months.

It is possible that I could bring this result about by submitting a Joint Note which, if adopted by all of the Military Representatives, would be telegraphed to each of the Governments for approval. But I think it quite certain that one of the Military Representatives here will not agree and therefore the whole thing would fall through. Moreover, I should not attempt to introduce the draft of such a Joint Note unless I knew in advance that my Government fully approved it. And, of course, you may not approve it.

The only other way to accomplish it is for one of the four Governments which constitute the Supreme War Council to state that it requests that at the next meeting of the Supreme War Council action should be taken on a line indicated by it. I doubt if any of the three Prime Ministers here will take it up except at the request of the United States.

If the general idea that I have outlined should be approved in Washington, the whole matter would come to a head if the Government of the United States should send a telegram to its three colleagues, expressing its hope that a supreme joint effort may be made in 1919 that will avoid the enormous expense in blood and money that will follow a continuation of the war beyond that year; that it therefore hopes that the other members of the Supreme War Council will join with it in instructing the Inter-Allied Commander-in-Chief to promptly inform the Allied Governments of the force which he must have at an approximate date next year in order to bring the campaign on the Western Front to a final conclusion in that year; all of which is necessary in order that the Allies may determine whether that joint effort may be made, at the cost of no matter what sacrifices provided those sacrifices are endurable.

In that way alone can we know what our maximum effort is probably to be, and exactly what are the sacrifices that must be made in order to accomplish it. And it seems to me reasonable to hope that, with the knowledge that these sacrifices are directed to no vague end but to the termination of the war in 1919, all interests that are now reluctant to make further sacrifices will cheerfully agree to do so for the few months that will be necessary.

Cordially yours,
Tasker H. Bliss

Hon. Newton D. Baker,
Secretary of War,
Washington, DC

Original Format



Baker, Newton Diehl, 1871-1937




Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930, “Supreme War Council to Newton D. Baker,” 1918 August 7, WWP25107, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.