The controversy began when the commander in chief of the British army, Field Marshal Sir John French, told his personal friend, the war correspondent Charles à Court Repington,
that a critical shortage of high-explosive shells was responsible for the failure of the British attack at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.
On 14 May that conversation appeared in The Times in an article that quoted French as saying: “We had not sufficient enough high explosives to lower the enemy’s parapets to the ground…
The want of an unlimited supply of high explosives was a fatal bar to our success.” The finger of blame was pointed at the War Office under Lord Kitchener, who had apparently failed to supply the ammunition required. Behind the scandal was Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times and an opponent of Kitchener. He was encouraged by David Lloyd George, then Liberal chancellor, who believed Kitchener incapable of preparing the country’s munitions factories for all-out war.
On 25 May the pressure wrought by the ‘Shell Scandal’ told. Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government collapsed and a Ministry of Munitions was created under Lloyd George, who marginalised Kitchener. Repington was found guilty under the Defence of the Realm Act of disclosing secret information in another story, and was fined.
Answered by: Dan Cossins, freelance journalist