Extracts from Letter of General Bliss


Extracts from Letter of General Bliss


Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930




1918 June 8


Letter from General Bliss describing events of the war.


Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


World War, 1914-1918--United States


Morgan Willer






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


Extracts from letter of General Bliss - June 8, 1918

I told you in my No. 7 (June 1) of my interview with M. Soukine on Friday afternoon, May 31, and of the outline of the plan which he told me had been drawn up in M. Clemenceau’s office, and his statement that he had personally seen it. This plan was for a Japanese intervention in Siberia under conditions that they thought might be accepted by the President. I knew that all military men and high political men had long ago given up the idea of Japanese intervention with a small force such as M. Soukine spoke of. I asked him what he thought would be the attitude of the Russians if, instead of a small Allied force, including some Japanese, a very great Japanese Army should come in. He said that he believed the Russians would bitterly oppose it, and that he himself, if he were at home, would fight it. He informed me to his certain knowledge the plan prepared in M. Clemenceau’s office would be brought up for action before the Supreme War Council at its session the following day. When I saw Mr. Lloyd-George the next morning I asked him if he knew anything about it, and he replied that he had not heard of it. He said that in his opinion the Japanese would have to come in with every man that they could put in the field, even up to the extent of 2,500,000 men, because they must be strong enough to overcome any possible resistance and reach the Germans in the West as rapidly as possible; and after they reached the Germans they must be amply strong enough to fight them.

If such a plan as M. Soukine spoke of was actually prepared, it did not come before the Supreme War Council. On Sunday, the Prime Ministers agreed that the question (in some form which they did not state) should be taken up by the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, France and Italy, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Monday morning. At the meeting of the Supreme War Council that afternoon, M. Pichon made a report the substance of which you will find in the Proces-Verbaux that I send you herewith. The Foreign Ministers agreed that their Governments should approach the Japanese Government on the question of military intervention, putting up to it three questions, satisfactory answers to the first two of which would result in taking the subject up with the Government of the United States. So far as I can see now, the Supreme War Council will not again ask the views of the Military Representatives,--this is as it should be. I have repeatedly said here that the Military Representatives had expressed all of the opinions from the military point of view, that they could express; and that it is doing no good to “fire” Joint Note after Joint Note to the President, simply reiterating in different words what they said before. If there is anything that can be said that will cause the Government of the United States to cordially accept the proposition of intervention it must come from the Governments here, themselves. It is, of course, possible that Japan may reply to the overtures of the three Governments with a proposition that would require new study from the military point of view. In that case, it would again come before the Military Representatives; but as the case now stands I do not see that they have anything further to say.

The question which consumed more time of the Supreme War Council than any other was the question of naval action by the Italians in the Mediterranean. As you know, the Italian Navy has kept itself for the most part shut up in ports where the enemy cannot attack it and where it cannot attack the enemy. This has proved a safe but inefficient procedure. The Inter-Allied Naval Council has for a long time been trying to get the Italian Navy to take more active participation in operations in the Mediterranean. A resolution of the Inter-Allied Naval Council came before the War Council at its meeting on June 1st, with the general purpose of agreeing on a combined Allied Naval Commander in the Mediterranean. It was for the purpose of this discussion that there were present Admiral de Bon, Commanding the French Navy, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, and four Italian Naval Officers, including Admiral di Revel, the Italian Naval Commander-in-Chief. They discussed the matter for the rest of the day. The Italians hung out for a continuance of their present policy; the English and the French were unanimous against it. The meeting broke up late, without any decision having been arrived at, and the three Heads of Government present took the matter up among themselves with a view to settling it themselves in view of the fact that there were irreconcilable differences of opinion among the technical naval men. There is nothing official of record to show what conclusion they arrived at but it is commonly understood that they tentatively agreed upon the appointment of Admiral Jellicoe of the British Navy as Allied Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. This, of course, would have settled what was to be done with the Italian Navy, whether the Italian Commander-in-Chief liked it or not. I assume that his own naval officers then proceeded to “lay down” on M. Orlando, because the next day he challenged the decision (whatever it was) reached by the Heads of the Governments late the previous evening and asked to have the matter rediscussed between the three Prime Ministers and their Naval advisers. All the rest of us then withdrew from the Council Room and the discussion lasted for pretty much all the rest of the day with no decision being reached and that was the status of the question on final adjournment of the Supreme War Council. Presumably, therefore, the Italian Navy will continue to remain “bottled up.”

The first paragraph of your cable No. 60 to me, signed by yourself and McCain, was regarded by everyone here as very important and most eminently satisfactory. This session of the Supreme War Council was called, primarily by the French in order to discuss the features in the Milner-Pershing-Foch agreement at Abbeville in regard to the coming and allocation of American troops after the month of May, which were unsatisfactory to the French. It would almost certainly have resulted in interminable discussion with no more satisfactory results than had previously been attained.

As soon as I received your cable I took it to General Pershing who was at his house in town, and told him that it seemed to me that for the first time it put the matter on a perfectly satisfactory basis; that it was evident that you and the President had decided to accept whatever arrangement he made with the military authorities (including Lord Milner) here; and that I proposed to ask the Prime Ministers to withdraw the subject from discussion at the Supreme War Council and leave the matter entirely in the hands of the people indicated in the first paragraph of your cable. He agreed with me and said that there was no doubt at all that he and General Foch and the others could reach a satisfactory result. I showed the cable to the Prime Ministers and they saw at once that it was no longer a question for their consideration. Pershing, Milner, and Foch got together and reached the agreement which has already been cabled to you and a copy of which is one of the Proces-Verbaux that I send herewith.
In addition to the Italian Naval question, there is another illustration which I may give you of the difficulty which the Allies find in coming to cordial agreement about important military and naval matters.

It appears that General Foch, in connection with the present critical situation, issued an order directing the transfer of certain British Divisions in which American infantry units are now incorporated, from the British Front to a point toward the extreme right of the French line, toward the Swiss frontier. This was to enable the relief of certain French Divisions which would then be put on the line opposing the present German drive. Marshal Haig, taking advantage of the provision in the Agreement of Beauvais, protested to his Government that such a move endangered the British Army, and, meanwhile, he declined to obey it. This resulted in an important secret conference held here yesterday between Lord Milner, Marshal Haig, and General Foch. Whether any agreement was reached or not, I do not know, but the British Representative has promised to keep me informed.

If General Foch’s proposition be as it is said here to be, it is difficult to understand it. It is generally believed that the Germans are preparing a final effort which will take the form of a drive from the North to the South, somewhere on the line Montdidier-Noyon, combined with a powerful thrust from the East to the West. General Foch, himself, told me, the day before yesterday, that he expected this movement to begin at any moment. If such a combined movement should succeed, it would give the Germans possession of all-important railroad lines and it might very possibly open a direct route to Paris. If it succeeded, it could only do so by crushing all of the French DIvisions that are included in the angle of the present line at Noyon and back of the more or less straight line running from about Montdidier to Viller-Cotterets. If this should take place everything would depend on the troops further to the North,--the few French Divisions still north of the Somme and the entire British Army.

(Later) The British Military Representative has just been in my office to give me the result of yesterday’s secret conference to which I referred above. It appears it has been agreed, much against the wish of the British, that the American infantry now in five British Divisions, should come South, to go in as regiments in French Divisions, somewhere toward the extreme right of their line, toward the Swiss Frontier. This may result in the relief of a few French Divisions there for use on the present battle-front. It further appears that there was a misunderstanding as to an order suppose to have been given by General Foch directing the transfer to the South of certain British Divisions. General Foch directed that a study be made of the possibility of doing this in the event that the Germans should move all of the Reserves with the army of Prince Rupprecht, who commands all of the German forces north of the Somme. The British agreed that if these German reserves were moved to the South they will have to send forces of their own below the Somme.

The British Military Representative also told me that Lord Milner expressed great anxiety on the part of his Government to have a regiment of American troops sent to Murmansk, as contemplated in one of the Joint Notes passed by the Supreme War Council at its last session. He says that there are no British troops that can be sent there. Lord Milner sent word that he had hoped to have a conference with me but that he had had to leave for London immediately after the conference of yesterday. I fancy that this is what he wanted to talk about. The British also think that if we could make a strong effort at Red Cross assistance in Siberia, it would have a most excellent effect on Russian sentiment.

It is possible that before this reaches you the Military Representatives may have adopted a Joint Note on the subject of the procedure that ought to be followed by the several Governments in respect to action on their Joint Notes. In order that you may know just what is in question I will state the following:

I inclose a study made by the American Section here on the subject of the present offensive of the Germans. The day before yesterday I took it to General Foch’s Headquarters and discussed it with him and General Weygand and find that it is in substantial accord with their own views. I feel quite sure that before this reaches you one of the most critical events of the war will have been decided.

(Later) Under instructions of its Government here, the British Section is quietly preparing for a move. They are gradually sending their personnel further West. I do not want to make any movement in this direction before it should prove to be necessary but, of course, have made all of my plans on the supposition that it may become necessary. I have arranged with General Pershing’s Chief Quartermaster for motor transportation for my personnel and such records as should not be destroyed except in the last emergency. Of course, there is always, in doing this sort of work, a rapid accumulation of material which it is not absolutely necessary to preserve and which would do a great deal of harm if it got into the wrong hands. This I am quietly destroying, as the British have been doing. I have agreed with the British Representative that in case a move should be necessary his section and mine will stick together. If we move at all, it would almost certainly be to the westward, probably to some place in the vicinity of Tours. It would be necessary that we be in cable communication with our Governments. I, personally, do not believe that it will be necessary to move but it would be foolish not to contemplate the possibility. The Germans are already in a position from which, if they could get up their long-range naval guns they could bomb Paris. If they can make a little further advance, we all expect that this is what will happen, accompanied by the most intense bombing by avions. That is what has been steadily going on along the rear of the Allied front against which the German thrusts have been made. The newspapers and reports lay great stress on the claim that the Allies have two aeroplanes to the Germans one. This may be true, but it does not mean that they have the mastery of the air. The Germans, apparently, use one aeroplane as efficiently as the Allies do two or three.

Since the Supreme War Council Session at Abbeville at the beginning of May, that city has been effectively smashed by German bombing expeditions. At Abancourt, the English had what was perhaps the largest ammunition dump in France. On the night of the 19-20 of April the Germans bombed this and practically destroyed it with all the ammunition. They have bombed Marshal Haig’s Headquarters, General Foch’s Headquarters, and Beauvais and every important town in the rear of the Allies has been badly shattered. One of my officers returned last night from a trip as far as St. Omer. He tells me that the Germans in that vicinity are constantly bombing every place where they suspect aerodromes to be located or ammunition dumps, or troops to be concentrated.

Two nights ago Boulogne was heavily bombed. Of course, the German hope would be that by terrorizing Paris they may cause the overthrow of the present Government. Signs are not wanting of French political pressure that may be brought to bear on the military conduct of the campaign. Yesterday M. Clemenceau had to yield to this to the extent of organizing a Committee, largely political in character, charged with the defense of Paris. I know that General Foch’s view is that if it should be necessary to temporarily lose Paris he would let it go and not be diverted from the real purpose of his campaign, and thereby plan into the hands of the Germans, by attempting to hold it. And in any event, the loss of Paris, temporarily or not, would have a tremendously depressing effect upon the French. It is for that reason I do not like to see the initiation of a movement which looks to a re-concentration of a large part of the American forces down towards the Swiss frontier. I should very much prefer to see them on the left flank of the French line and where they could, if necessary, operate with the British. However, a few days will probably show what there is in this. -- (signed) Tasker H. Bliss.

Original Format



Baker, Newton Diehl, 1871-1937





Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930, “Extracts from Letter of General Bliss,” 1918 June 8, WWP25062, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.