How Britain Went To War

Saturday 26 July



Leading Whitehall historian Peter Hennessy examines Britain's secret war planning before 1914 and asks what difference the plans made when war began.

Drawing on official papers, sound archive and interviews with historians, Hennessy takes listeners inside Whitehall during the years running up to 1914. He considers what was in the minds of Asquith, his ministers and their officials and top soldiers and sailors as they prepared for a possible conflict and finally took Britain into a major war in August 1914.

He explores the tensions between senior military and naval officers, between the Admiralty and the War Office and within the Cabinet, where ministers resisted state planning, and he shows how the resulting debates and divisions shaped the war plans and influenced their effectiveness.

But as he also shows, these years also saw the creation of Britain's first Secret Service Bureau (the forerunner to MI5 and MI6) and the first ever 'war book', a detailed set of instructions for government departments to follow in transition from peace to war - a vital element of Whitehall planning that has continued ever since.

Producer/ Rob Shepherd for the BBC

BBC Radio 4 Publicity