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World War I: Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener

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World War I: Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener

Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Horatio Kitchener - Early Life & Career:

Born June 24, 1850, Horatio Herbert Kitchener was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Henry H. Kitchener and his wife Frances Anne Chevallier-Cole. Though born Listowel, Ireland, Kitchener's family was of English descent. In 1864, the family moved to Switzerland as Kitchener's mother was suffering from tuberculosis. The mountain air failed to improve her health and she died later that year. In the wake of his mother's death, Kitchener returned to Britain and entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. Eager to see action, he took leave in 1870, and joined a French ambulance company during the Franco-Prussian War.

Contracting pneumonia after a balloon ascent, he was brought back to England by his father. Completing his studies, he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers on January 4, 1871, but was reprimanded by the Duke of Cambridge for violating British neutrality and fighting with the French. Three years later, Kitchener was dispatched by the Palestine Exploration Fund to aid Claude R. Conder in surveying the region. Completed in 1877, the eight-volume survey later became the basis for many modern maps of the region. After a brief stint as vice-consul in Anatolia, he was transferred to Egypt in 1883.

Horatio Kitchener - In Africa:

Arriving with the British rank of captain, Kitchener was also given the Turkish rank of bimbashi (major). The following year he participated in the expedition to Khartoum to relieve Major General Charles Gordon's besieged garrison from a Mahdist army. Arriving on January 28, 1885, the expedition found that the defenders had been overwhelmed two days earlier. After retreating back to Egypt, Kitchener was made Governor of the Red Sea Territories with the rank of colonel. Wishing to re-take the Sudan, the British consul-general of Egypt, the Earl of Cromer, tapped Kitchener to lead the Egyptian army in 1892.

Appointed sirdar (commander-in-chief) of the Egyptian Army with the rank of major general, Kitchener began a rigorous training program designed to build an effective fighting force. Equipping his men with modern weapons, Kitchener began advancing up the Nile in March 1896. Building a railroad as they advanced, Kitchener's army brought the Mahdists to battle at Omdurman on September 2, 1898. Though some of his commanders criticized Kitchener's tactics, he won a stunning victory and the Sudan was quickly retaken. Proceeding south, he was able to present a firm, but diplomatic front during the Fashoda Incident.

Horatio Kitchener - The Boer War:

For his success in the Sudan, Kitchener was knighted and elevated to Baron Kitchener of Khartoum. Remaining in the Sudan, he worked to rebuild the country through the construction of schools and mosques, as well as worked to ensure the religious freedom of the inhabitants. With the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, Kitchener was dispatched to South Africa following early British reverses. Serving as chief-of-staff to Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, Kitchener worked to reorganize British logistics and transport. In February 1900, he led a highly-criticized assault during the Battle of Paardeberg.

With the defeat of the Boer armies, Kitchener succeeded Roberts in November 1900, and worked to suppress the remaining enemy guerrillas. In an effort to end the conflict, he negotiated a reconciliatory peace treaty with the Boers only to have it rejected by London. As a result, Kitchener embarked on a brutal scorched earth campaign to end the Boer insurgency. Burning farms, British troops forced Boer families into concentration camps to prevent them from aiding the guerrillas. Conditions in these camps quickly deteriorated and the British were harshly criticized by the international community.

Continuing to lobby for a compromise peace treaty, Kitchener was finally rewarded in 1902 with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging. With the end of the conflict, Kitchener, now a full general, was made Viscount Kitchener. Transferred to India where he was named commander-in-chief, he worked to reform the Indian Army. Coming into conflict with the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, Kitchener was able to compel his resignation. Promoted to field marshal in 1910, Kitchener lobbied for the position of Viceroy of India, but to no avail. Instead he was posted to Cromer's old position as Agent and Consul-General in Egypt.

Horatio Kitchener - World War I:

Made Earl Kitchener on June 29, 1914, he was immediately tapped by Prime Minister H.H. Asquith to serve as Secretary of State for War when World War I commenced two months later. One of the few who believed that the war would last several years and cause heavy losses, he initially directed Britain's overall war strategy as well as oversaw recruitment and munitions acquisitions. One of his first actions was a massive recruitment campaign to dramatically expand the British Army. Soon a distinctive poster featuring his face appeared all over Britain encouraging people to enlist.

Dubbed the "New Army," Kitchener's efforts represented the first time that Britain had fully committed its manpower to building up its land forces. With the Western Front quickly settling into trench warfare, Kitchener advocated landing troops at Iskenderun in present-day Turkey. He argued that such an attack would cut the Ottoman Empire in two as well as sever critical rail links. Rebuffed, he was talked into supporting Winston Churchill's attack on Gallipoli. As the fighting progressed, Kitchener found it increasingly difficult to work with other members of the war cabinet and relations became strained.

In 1915, his political reputation was badly damaged as the Gallipoli campaign began to collapse and the Shell Crisis hit. The latter, a scandal resulting from a belief that the British Army was short on shells, led Asquith's government to collapse. In the coalition government that was formed, Kitchener was retained but responsibility for munitions production was transferred to David Lloyd George. Following the crisis, he travelled to the Mediterranean to inspect the conditions at Gallipoli and other installations in the region. It was hoped that Kitchener could be persuaded to remain in the area as commander-in-chief.

That December, Sir William Robertson was named Chief of the Imperial General Staff on the condition that he was granted the right to speak for the army in the Cabinet. As a result, Kitchener was reduced to overseeing manpower and recruitment. Though declining in influence, Kitchener was selected, along with Lloyd George, to travel to Russia in May 1916 on a diplomatic mission. Shortly before departure, Lloyd George was forced to back out and the decision was made to send Kitchener alone. Traveling north, he boarded the cruiser HMS Hampshire at Scapa Flow on June 5, 1916.

Putting to sea, Hampshire struck a German mine around 7:30 PM that same day as it sailed towards Russia. Sinking west of the Orkney Islands in a heavy gale, only twelve of the crew were rescued. Beloved by the public, Kitchener's death stunned Britain and was viewed as a disaster for the war effort. Several conspiracy theories were subsequently advanced regarding Kitchener's death, the most notable being that Hampshire was sabotaged by the famed German spy Fritz Joubert Duquesne. German records indicate that Duquesne was awarded the Iron Cross for his actions.

Selected Sources

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  7. Horatio Herbert Kitchener - World War 1 Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener

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