Britain’s 1945. The political conditions in Britain impeded

Britain’s political climate, economic constraints, and social pacifism significantly influenced military transformation from 1919 to 1945. The political conditions in Britain impeded innovation within the military and significantly influenced economic factors through budget constraints. It is critical that political, economic, and social atmospheres provide resources to facilitate and focus innovation. The political situation demonstrated limited liability while social pacifism contributed to Britain’s inability to establish strategic priority affecting the economic conditions by limiting investment of resources for military innovation.

The British political climate demonstrated limited liability, emphasizing that the British Army would not commit ground forces restraining innovation in tank development during the interwar period. This includes the implementation of the Ten Year Rule which referred to the belief that Britain would not face a major war for at least ten years. Instead, the government believed there would be disarmament due to the international political disposition and various treaties. The belief that there would be no major war coupled with the projected international political climate limited investment in innovation.

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The focus of foreign policy was on domestic and social issues instead of national security. British politicians determined the strategic approach, which refers to how each country planned and operated in the threat environment. Limited liability was the British strategic approach and traditional way of war which emphasized that the British Army would serve as a police force with priorities to protect the British Isles; guard trade routes; garrison the empire; and cooperate in the defense of British allies.i The belief that Britain did not have enemies prevented them from preparing for future conflict. Instead, they cut their army from 3.5 million to 370,000 personnel in 2 years.ii

Social pacifism also contributed to Britain’s inability to establish a strategic priority of developing defense capabilities and focusing on lessons learned from previous conflicts hindering their ability to focus innovation. Even though Britain was successful in World War I, politicians and civilians were not willing to invest in the military. Perceptions of the military significantly hindered their ability to innovate. The government imposed budget constraints forcing reductions in programs across the British military.iii Citizens also believed that nothing was worth the price of war facilitating hostile political attitudes towards the Army. This further limited the availability of resources. The Army was blamed for extensive casualties from World War I. Despite the increasing risk, political and social hostility limited the government and national willingness to fund the British Army. Instead, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were priority for resources including funding, personnel, equipment, and training.iv

Another contributing factor to the social background is the ability to understand the adversary which assists in identifying the specific military problem while focusing innovation on the development of critical capabilities for future conflicts. The military culture must be conducive to reviewing lessons learned instead of twisting doctrine or history to be more favorable.v However, the British Army changed lessons learned to make them appear more favorable which further discouraged innovation. Following World War I, the British Army failed to establish a committee to examine lessons learned until 1932 decreasing transparency of historical events. Although reports were excessively critical of the army’s performance and made recommendations for improvement, information was not disseminated to improve the military. Only senior commanders received the report with information omitted by the War Office which inflated the army’s performance. The chief of the imperial general staff, Field Marshall Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd, did not want to provide actual assessments to the formation because he was not comfortable with the results.vi Records were also altered to depict the British Army as positive. This expanded to doctrinal changes as well. For example, in 1920, Liddell Hart rewrote the basic infantry tactics manual, a chapter was omitted because it was considered offensive.vii

The reluctance to innovate and review accurate lessons learned stemmed from the top of the military. For example, the chief of staff, Massingberd not only altered historical documents but was also a serious opponent of innovation. This social culture transferred to the officer and enlisted ranks. This is portrayed with British officers who were cautious and reluctant to take risk, further hindering the ability to innovate. However, they understood that tanks would play a critical role in future conflicts, they focused on problems with tanks instead of innovation.viii This also extended to enlisted ranks where being a soldiers in the British Army was considered honorable but not as a serious profession and therefore did not require study or ambition. Instead, these qualities were discouraged significantly hindering the implementation of armored warfare during this period. British experiments with armored warfare, between 1926 and 1934, provided a tactical advantage for firepower and maneuver but never reached their full potential due to the military’s focus on the negative impact of armored formations. Instead, the British Army missed the opportunity to capitalize on their armored experiments and decided to motorize the cavalry.ix

Economic factors along with political and social climates significantly impeded the ability of the British military to innovate during the interwar period. Massive postwar debt contributed to the deferment of industrial development and public spending. The government was opposed to increasing taxation which limited economic recovery and defense spending. “Military innovation in the interwar period proceeded with an international geopolitical environment of great uncertainty and strategic ambiguity.”x Although the future opponent was unknown, defense spending linked back to political and social beliefs. British defense spending only accounted for two and a half percent of the country’s budget.xi Although the military budget was already very small, spending was further cut from the army budget in 1937 which completely halted tank production. Due to these factors, the British Army was faced with outdated equipment, untrained personnel, and unprepared divisions. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain refused to raise the budget for the army even though the War Office warned him that the army was not prepared for a war.xii   

The political climate, economic limitations, and social culture continue to influence how the military operates today. As a logistics major in today’s Army, it is critical for me to understand how politician and citizen beliefs may affect resourcing and economics for the military. As a logistics officer, I am required to provide resources and capabilities to the fighting force. If there are economic and budget constraints on the military, it is important for me to understand so that I can field or equip the force. It will also be important for me to prioritize equipping or fielding for units that are deploying when the political, economic, and social cultures impose limitations on the military. Due to limited resources of equipment and supplies, units will most likely receive equipment they are deploying with right before deployment which will require units to quickly training on new equipment. As an organizational leader, it is also important for me to ensure lessons learned are captured for future conflicts or for other unit to learn from. I will be able to influence how my unit learns from the past and can create a learning environment which will enable me to streamline equipping and supplying units I support in my future positions.

Britain was faced with a constricted political climate, excessive economic constraints, and extreme social pacifism during the interwar period which severely hindered military innovation making them unprepared for future conflicts. The strategic approach of limited liability emphasized that the British Army would serve more as a police force to protect the homeland instead of innovating for future unknown conflicts. These factors compounded impeded the military’s ability to innovate specifically in tank development and applies to today’s military as we have faced continuous cycles of downsizing the military followed by increasing the military to include personnel and resources.

i Williamson Murray. “Armored Warfare: The British, French, and German Experiences.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 9.

ii Brian Bond and Martin Alexander, “Liddell Hart and De Gaulle:  The Doctrines of Limited Liability and Mobile Defense” in Makers of Modern Strategy: from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 599.  

iii Geoffrey Till. “Adopting the Aircraft Carrier.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 198.

iv Williamson Murray. “Armored Warfare: The British, French, and German Experiences.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 10.

v Williamson Murray. “Innovation: Past and Future.”  In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 320.

vi Williamson Murray. “Armored Warfare: The British, French, and German Experiences.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 20.

vii Ibid., 21.

viii Brian Bond and Martin Alexander, “Liddell Hart and De Gaulle:  The Doctrines of Limited Liability and Mobile Defense” in Makers of Modern Strategy: from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 600.

ix Williamson Murray. “Armored Warfare: The British, French, and German Experiences.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 22-29.

x Allan R. Millett. “Patterns of Military Innovation in the Interwar Period.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 333.

xi Geoffrey Till. “Adopting the Aircraft Carrier.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 200.

xii Williamson Murray. “Armored Warfare: The British, French, and German Experiences.” In Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, ed. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 11-12.