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View Full Version : Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!



Rising Sun*
04-27-2014, 04:55 AM
I have a sketchy knowledge of lots of the European war in WWII, which I am currently filling in by slowly reading Arthur Bryant's "The Turn of the Tide", which is based on the war diaries of Alan Brooke who, although he later spent most of the war as Churchill's main military adviser as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was a Corps commander preceding the Dunkirk evacuation.

Brooke was ordered home for a new posting while the evacuation was in progress.

The new posting was to return to France to command the 140,000 British troops still there and to create a new British Expeditionary Force from the remnants of the one which had just been defeated, in the midst of the magnificent collapse of the French under whose command he was.

Apparently this was another example of Churchill's genius, to demonstrate to the French that the British would not abandon them, despite the French being on the verge of defeat, and surrender, anyway.

I was unaware that there were such substantial British forces left in France after Dunkirk.

Brooke appreciated that the mission was doomed, but followed his orders. The end result was mass evacuation of the remaining forces.

It seems that Churchill learned nothing from this experience when, to demonstrate support for the Greeks, he did much the same less than a year later.

Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but the fact remains that in both cases senior military advisers foresaw the futility of the action.

Churchill was undoubtedly the best leader Britain could have had during the war, if only for his dogged determination to defeat Hitler; to inspire his people and peoples outside Britain; and to hang on grimly until America came in.

But on significant strategic military events, his reinforcement of failure in France in 1940 (of which I was previously unaware) could have seen troops evacuated from Dunkirk returned to France (Brooke requested Montgomery's division to return). Overall, it demonstrates a determination by Churchill to place his militarily uninformed opinion above those of his advisers qualified to advise him, to pursue fragile political motives at the cost of massive military losses.

In a different context, but motivated by political considerations to bring America into the war and ignoring his military advisers, he did the same in Malaya and presided over the worst defeat of British arms.

The more I learn of Churchill's decisions about and interference in military matters, the more I wonder whether it is testament to his character and leadership that Britain won through, or a miracle that it survived.

leccy
04-27-2014, 06:09 AM
Most only know about the evacuation at Dunkirk, just over half a million men were evacuated from the channel ports though.

The British were a little caught out by the French surrender and units like the 51st Highland Division and 1st Armd Div (arrived were completely separate from the BEF (being an integral part of the French Army) - the 51st being nearly completely lost.

I can see why Churchill was continuing to reinforce British Forces in France (as well as sending the French troops back) - Brookes job was to form the 51st Inf and 1st Armd into a new force to help bolster the French and try to prevent a collapse - the 52nd Inf (landed) and 1st Canadian Inf were also to be part of this Force along with the recently evacuated 3rd Inf Div (requested by Brooke).

Added to this were the various part trained and equipped and not fit for combat Labour Battalions (Rear Area troops and not part of any Brigade or Division) which were hastily rushed into combat or pressed into infantry roles in the Divisions in the area.

leccy
04-27-2014, 06:10 AM
Most only know about the evacuation at Dunkirk, just over half a million men were evacuated from the channel ports though.

The British were a little caught out by the French surrender and units like the 51st Highland Division and 1st Armd Div were completely separate from the BEF (being an integral part of the French Army) - the 51st being nearly completely lost at Valery while the 1st Armd fought heavily around Somme.

I can see why Churchill was continuing to reinforce British Forces in France (as well as sending the French troops back) - Brookes job was to form the 51st Inf and 1st Armd into a new force to help bolster the French and try to prevent a collapse - the 52nd Inf (landed) and 1st Canadian Inf were also to be part of this Force along with the recently evacuated 3rd Inf Div (requested by Brooke).

Added to this were the various part trained and equipped and not fit for combat Labour Battalions (Rear Area troops and not part of any Brigade or Division) which were hastily rushed into combat or pressed into infantry roles in the Divisions in the area.

British units were still engaged with German units after the French surrender and in several places the British refused at first to surrender.

Rising Sun*
04-27-2014, 06:38 AM
Obviously I'm no expert on this campaign, but from Brooke's diaries it is clear that the 51st Highland Div fought valiantly: A Territorial battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (The only British troops later to distinguish themselves in Malaya - the A&S Highlanders, not the 51st Div) lost 23 officers and 500 men in a single day without losing ground. A terrible, tragic waste, but testament to a valiant spirit thrown away in a lost cause.

From Brooke's diary, he and the British were faced with massive problems from the Belgian actions onwards, notably roads clogged with refugees and retreating or deserting French troops. The French come out of this very poorly, although Bryant explains reasons for this to do with French conscription and other factors.

Sent to command BEF2, Brooke was confronted with about 140,000 troops, about 100,000 of whom were rear area troops just clogging up the system, communications and roads without being able to perform their line of supply functions because their materiel had been largely abandoned.

Rising Sun*
04-27-2014, 06:53 AM
Separate point.

Without wishing to disparage those many French soldiers who also fought valiantly, Brooke's observations before combat started were that the French troops were in many instances poorly disciplined and slovenly, and led by senior officers frequently detached from the reality of their inadequate troops in preference for an indolent lifestyle focused on fine dining. The retreating French became in some instances a rabble, as evidenced by the shooting of one of Brooke's senior officers by a French rabble when the officer was, as best as can be established, trying to clear a French road jam of retreating rabble.

I'll put on my very long list of things I should follow up, assuming I live about another four thousand years, the circumstances leading to deficiencies in the French army at lower ranks.

Nickdfresh
04-27-2014, 11:49 AM
I think one's criticisms of Churchill must also be also balanced with his actions of pragmatic realism. For one thing, one of the issues that seems to be a bugaboo with the French is that Churchill essentially refused to sacrifice the Fighter Command of the RAF by not reinforcing the diminishing British (and French) air presence in France despite repeated requests of the Republic and their belief that this was some sort of panacea to the rapid Heer advance. I believe even French PM Paul Reynaud was critical of Churchill for this as the Luftwaffe was pretty much had air superiority rather early.

I think one has to mind that Churchill was also seeking a partial union with France to guarantee continued resistance from her colonies (and Britain) in the instance of total collapse of continental France. If memory serves correct, initially at least, this was still a distinct possibility as Reynaud was defeated in his final cabinet meeting by a close margin with several of his cabinet voting against their inclinations to carry on the war under pressure from the future Vichy cronies like Pétain.

Without some sort of bolstering of the remaining BEF in France, even after defeat was seen as inevitable, it would be hard for Churchill to ask the French for anything.

Ardee
04-27-2014, 01:40 PM
Yes, Nickdfresh made the point that I was going to: there was a proposal to basically merge France and the UK, to allow the fight to continue. One of the things I admire about Churchill is his refusal to admit defeat. In many ways, Britain was "defeated" in all but name, he just refused to admit it. A teacher told me (and I never bothered to actually confirm it) that at one point, on top of all the military setbacks, the UK was technically bankrupt -- there was kind of a national agreement to just ignore it and keep going.

War is far from just the application of military forces: as Clausewitz said it is an extension of politics. And Churchill was a politician. At least in the grand sense, you can't look at the military moves without keeping in mind the political context.

leccy
04-28-2014, 06:01 AM
Britain lacked the fighters it decided it required for home defence (Fighter command stated it needed 60 squadrons for home defence and in 1940 still only had 39) - even during the BoB Gladiators were still in service with front line units (along with various Hind, Hart, Hardys, Shark biplanes in the UK in various roles and many other older designs) -

When Fighter Command was told to send extra fighters it sent more Hurricanes (Bringing fighter strength to 13 squadrons in France out of a UK total strength of around 40 Squadrons - not all equipped with modern or adequate types). 261

More RAF fighters may have prolonged the fighting but with France bankrupting itself building the maginot line it left little money to produce the more effective and better new aircraft designs it had. Too easy for France to blame Churchill when they made the real mistakes earlier - I myself doubt another 10 squadrons would have made much difference 120 more aircraft V the 2000 the Germans had - just would have prolonged maybe but not stopped the defeat.

France demanded a total of 30 extra fighter squadrons during the battle - which would have been just about the total RAF fighter strength (fighter production was only just higher than fighter losses during May and June 1940, French aircraft production was almost negligible with many built being totally obsolete)

Britain was woefully underprepared for a European war, had not looked for one, trained nor equipped for one - the forces were more configured around defence of the Empire against mainly internal conflict.


In the period May 10th to June 20th 944 RAF aircraft operating
from Britain and France were lost. Of these 386 were Hurricanes
and 67 Spitfires. Wood and Dempster,Narrow Margin, p. 200

Rising Sun*
04-28-2014, 08:15 AM
War is far from just the application of military forces: as Clausewitz said it is an extension politics. And Churchill was a politician. At least in the grand sense, you can't look at the military moves without keeping in mind the political context.

Agree entirely, but my concern with Churchill is that he exercised political control of the armed forces but also wanted to be a military commander when it suited him.

This is in marked contrast to the Australian Prime Minister for most of WWII, John Curtin, who determined political / strategic objectives and left it his military commanders, primarily MacArthur and Blamey, to achieve them. My understanding is that Roosevelt took much the same approach.

Churchill's involvement in military matters may be attributed in part to his forceful personality and self-belief, but those are the usual characteristics of political leaders. Where he differed from Roosevelt and Curtin is that he had trained as a professional army officer at Sandhurst and had combat experience as a junior officer in India and Sudan, and briefly as a battalion commander in WWI. At the other extreme, Curtin had been an anti-conscription trade unionist in WWI. In the middle was Roosevelt, who had no military training but was Assistant Secretary of the Navy before and during WWI while Churchill had been First Lord of the Admiralty before and during the first couple of years of WWI. Both Roosevelt and Churchill were enthusiastic and innovative civilian navy leaders.

Curtin kept out of military matters because he knew that he knew little or nothing about them. At the other extreme, Churchill knew a lot about them and couldn't confine himself to a purely political role like Curtin. The problem with Churchill is that as an army officer he never achieved staff rank, let alone commanded a brigade, division, corps or army and was trained at those levels, yet as Prime Minister he chose to ignore advice from those competent and experienced in military matters at high staff rank levels that military action would be futile ( e.g.BEF2, about which I knew nothing until a few days ago, and Greece for the same reasons: commit inadequate British / Commonwealth forces to a doomed campaign to demonstrate support for a government bound to lose the war on its own ground; and diversion of Australian forces to Burma to another doomed campaign to shore up a doomed defence).

Hindsight is a marvellous thing, and it's even easier to exercise sitting here comfortably with none of the many and extreme demands and stresses upon Churchill in the early years of the war when he led the only country and its Commonwealth fighting the overwhelmingly successful Germans, but the criticisms of some of Churchill's decisions aren't derived from marvellous hindsight but from him overriding or ignoring competent high level military advice in pursuit of desperate political objectives which had little or no prospects of success and great prospects of disastrous failure so far as depriving Britain / the Commonwealth of the ability to prosecute the war in future.

I think it was Brooke who recorded in his diary (I recall this from other reading - haven't got that far in the current book) something like: "God knows where we would be without Winston. God knows where we shall be with him.". This summarises the positives and negatives of that great man.

Nickdfresh
04-28-2014, 05:03 PM
Britain lacked the fighters it decided it required for home defence (Fighter command stated it needed 60 squadrons for home defence and in 1940 still only had 39) - even during the BoB Gladiators were still in service with front line units (along with various Hind, Hart, Hardys, Shark biplanes in the UK in various roles and many other older designs) -

When Fighter Command was told to send extra fighters it sent more Hurricanes (Bringing fighter strength to 13 squadrons in France out of a UK total strength of around 40 Squadrons - not all equipped with modern or adequate types). 261

More RAF fighters may have prolonged the fighting but with France bankrupting itself building the maginot line it left little money to produce the more effective and better new aircraft designs it had. Too easy for France to blame Churchill when they made the real mistakes earlier - I myself doubt another 10 squadrons would have made much difference 120 more aircraft V the 2000 the Germans had - just would have prolonged maybe but not stopped the defeat.

France demanded a total of 30 extra fighter squadrons during the battle - which would have been just about the total RAF fighter strength (fighter production was only just higher than fighter losses during May and June 1940, French aircraft production was almost negligible with many built being totally obsolete)

I agree that expending Britain's remaining fighter force would truly have been reinforcing failure and there wasn't much a few additional fighters could do...

I do take issue with the Maginot Line expenditures, which on the whole were no where near bankrupting. I think the one of the many strokes of bad luck the French suffered was that they managed to modernize the Armée de l'Air on the eve of the creation of the Luftwaffe, which meant they were instantly a generation behind on fighters and bombers. IIRC however, the production of aircraft actually spiked during the battle meaning that theoretically there were more aircraft available at the Fall than in the beginning. Of course, they were in complete disarray and the French Air Force had to retreat ad hoc causing mass confusion and breaking down any cohesive order of battle...

Ardee
04-28-2014, 08:21 PM
I think it was Brooke who recorded in his diary (I recall this from other reading - haven't got that far in the current book) something like: "God knows where we would be without Winston. God knows where we shall be with him.". This summarises the positives and negatives of that great man.

Or as Isaac Asimov wrote, "It’s a poor atom blaster that won’t point both ways." :)

Part of the issue implicitly being raised is military competence. In my own nation's civil war, if Lincoln had deferred to the military experts any more than he actually did, the USA would be two countries, not one. To mention just one, George McClellan was, according almost all in the day, was God's gift to the military arts. Nowadays: not so much. Hindsight, as you say, is a marvelous thing. But I think you could find a whole host of similar circumstances across history. And examples of the other condition, too.

In the end, either the pluses of both Churchill and his military leaders outweighed their faults, or at least complimented each other in ways that exceeded those flaws. Even with their flaws, they were "good enough."

Rising Sun*
04-29-2014, 05:32 AM
Part of the issue implicitly being raised is military competence. In my own nation's civil war, if Lincoln had deferred to the military experts any more than he actually did, the USA would be two countries, not one. To mention just one, George McClellan was, according almost all in the day, was God's gift to the military arts. Nowadays: not so much. Hindsight, as you say, is a marvelous thing. But I think you could find a whole host of similar circumstances across history. And examples of the other condition, too.


Agreed.

However, the difference with Churchill is that it wasn't like Lincoln (apparently - I don't know about this but am inferring it was more or less the case from your comment) reining in his military commanders, but Churhill's military commanders trying to rein him in.

muscogeemike
04-29-2014, 10:35 AM
I also have great respect for the revered gentleman but here is a further example that he was not always right:

“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime.” As Chancellor of the Exchequar (1924-29), dismissing the idea of a war with Japan and cutting defense spending to pay for social programs.

leccy
04-29-2014, 10:38 AM
Japan was an Ally during WW1 and still friendly to the UK through the 1920's - was a major trading partner as well.

Words have to be taken in context with the time they were said.

Ardee
04-29-2014, 08:30 PM
However, the difference with Churchill is that it wasn't like Lincoln (apparently - I don't know about this but am inferring it was more or less the case from your comment) reining in his military commanders, but Churhill's military commanders trying to rein him in.

Hi Rising Sun – No, it wasn’t quite as you infer it, though with no fault to you. Lincoln was often trying to spur his generals on, not rein them in.

As a simplistic overview: Lincoln was a man with relatively little military experience before the war. He had joined a militia in his early 20’s, and served as an officer therein, but I don’t believe he saw any combat. During the Civil War, he initially deferred to the military experts about how things should be done. As defeats continued to pile up, he began asking questions and offering his own suggestions, which were mostly derided by those who “knew better” (albeit, I also have memories of a book with a political cartoon showing Lincoln being led around by the nose by his generals). Part of the problem was the “competent” military experts of the day were rooted in outdated Napoleonic tactics and practices. In the end, Lincoln was often proven correct, and (speaking offhand) I believe he even originated the winning strategy of the war (i.e., controlling the Mississippi River and its transportation/trade). It wasn’t until Lincoln found a compatible partner in Gen. Ulysses Grant that the North began to have significant progress. Prior to the Civil War, Grant was certainly not viewed as a military expert, nor his service as exemplary. In his own words, the pre-war Grant viewed himself as a failure at everything he tried to do.

It's easy to say a politician should leave things to the experts, but the problem with military expertise is that it often isn't there when you need (or even want) it. ;)

Rising Sun*
04-30-2014, 09:36 AM
Hi Rising Sun – No, it wasn’t quite as you infer it, though with no fault to you. Lincoln was often trying to spur his generals on, not rein them in.

As a simplistic overview: Lincoln was a man with relatively little military experience before the war. He had joined a militia in his early 20’s, and served as an officer therein, but I don’t believe he saw any combat. During the Civil War, he initially deferred to the military experts about how things should be done. As defeats continued to pile up, he began asking questions and offering his own suggestions, which were mostly derided by those who “knew better” (albeit, I also have memories of a book with a political cartoon showing Lincoln being led around by the nose by his generals). Part of the problem was the “competent” military experts of the day were rooted in outdated Napoleonic tactics and practices. In the end, Lincoln was often proven correct, and (speaking offhand) I believe he even originated the winning strategy of the war (i.e., controlling the Mississippi River and its transportation/trade). It wasn’t until Lincoln found a compatible partner in Gen. Ulysses Grant that the North began to have significant progress. Prior to the Civil War, Grant was certainly not viewed as a military expert, nor his service as exemplary. In his own words, the pre-war Grant viewed himself as a failure at everything he tried to do.

It's easy to say a politician should leave things to the experts, but the problem with military expertise is that it often isn't there when you need (or even want) it. ;)

Thanks for that.

American Civil War is one of those areas where my knowledge is about the level of popular knowledge apart from isolated bits which generally have come to me through interest in other areas (e.g. Andersonville POW camp and Wirz as part of POW mistreatment in later wars).

Rising Sun*
04-30-2014, 10:11 AM
Japan was an Ally during WW1 and still friendly to the UK through the 1920's - was a major trading partner as well.

Words have to be taken in context with the time they were said.

Japan was an ally during WWI, but adverse post war treatment of Japan by the other major allies was one of the festering sores which led directly to Japan's involvement in WWII as an enemy of its former allies.

It started at Versailles when Japan sought, quite reasonably, as an equal ally to have its people in allied nations treated as equals, which the white races would not do. The West was arrogantly and largely ignorant of the effect this had in Japan but, combined with things such as the White Australia Policy http://www.independentaustralia.net/australia/australia-display/the-path-to-war-australia-britain-and-japan,3222 and American treatment of Japanese immigrants, it reinforced the correct perception in Japan that the West looked down on the Japanese as a people of lesser worth, albeit being willing to trade with them. The Japanese perception is expressed at http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/Kawa1.html

So far as Britain was concerned, the 1920 dissolution of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance Treaty, which is what involved Japan in WWI in providing critical support by dealing with the Indian and Pacific oceans to release the British fleet for Atlantic operations against Germany, was another slight to Japan, as was the British involvement in the the Washington Naval Treaty negotiations in 1921-22 where the Japanese perceived the British as 'rewarding' Japan's support in WWI with an unfair restriction on Japanese capital ship building relative to Britain and the US.

The necessity of trade with Britain and other Western countries doesn't alter the reality that Japan felt that it and its people in Western countries were exploited, oppressed and unfairly treated by the West. As indeed they were, with few better examples than the shameful confiscation early in the Pacific War of Japanese farms in California and their subsequent sales below value to competing American farmers who had been complaining for years about what they saw as unfair competition from the Japanese.

JR*
05-01-2014, 05:27 AM
A few thoughts on this interesting thread. Regarding Churchill's reinforcement of failure in France, it is worth noting that he was under very heavy pressure from the pro-war leaders of the French government - who, in turn, were under increasing threat from a defeatist element that could not, for political reasons, be excluded from government - to supply ever-more help to the failing French army, and was (as has been commented) most anxious to secure this group by helping as much as possible so as to keep France in the war, both in Europe and overseas. It could actually have been worse - one factor in his refusal to send even more fighter assistance to France was the adamantine resistance of Fighter Command chief Sir Hugh Dowding to such a move; without this, the RAF advance expeditionary force might easily have been further reinforced. He made other serious mistakes - easy, again, to say in hindsight, but there is a strong argument that he would have been better to allow Wavell to employ the main force of his Middle Eastern Command to crush the Italians in North Africa when he had the chance, rather than diverting resources from North Africa to Greece and the Balkans. There were others.

In general, I have a sense that his strategic sense, throughout his life, was very much informed by his experiences early in life as a junior officer, and a cavalry officer at that. He had a rather old-fashioned attachment to a particular concept of securing and attacking on the flanks, the latter tendency of which may be in large responsibility for the WW1 Gallipoli fiasco, and the less obvious, but perhaps even more disastrous, diversion of forces from the Western Desert to Greece and the Balkans. Of course, political considerations would also have played their part in both instances and, as has been said, Churchill was essentially a politician. The business about downplaying the possibility of war with Japan in the context of implementing cuts in military spending was very much what a Chancellor of the Exchequer could be expected to do, particularly in a government tied to the old-fashioned concept of achieving a strictly balanced Budget.

The comparison with Lincoln is interesting. Lincoln was little given to interfering with the detailed running of the Union forces in the Civil War - although he did display very sound strategic sense when he did express views on such matters. His great problem for much of the early part of the war was that of persuading his "military experts" actually to fight, and to do so in a manner reflective of their alleged skills and of the substantial material advantages enjoyed by the Union. This was complicated by the problem that, because of the very rapid expansion of the Union Army early in the war, and of the defection of a disproportionate number of the more skilled professional officers to the Confederacy, the cadre of Union Army generals were often pure "political" generals, or by generals as interested in their political constituencies and/or political prospects as they were in fighting. That complex figure of McClellan is a notable case. McClellan clearly disliked Lincoln; saw himself, indeed, as a political rival to Lincoln with Presidential prospects; and enjoyed a degree of political support even within Lincoln's cabinet. Also, while he was widely perceived as a person possessing great military skills, he appears to have been an innately cautious commander, a caution perhaps amplified by a desire to avoid embarrassing defeats that might undermine his political prospects. Whatever about the latter, his innate caution can hardly be doubted. I recall the story from the Peninsula, where McClellan and his staff were holding a serious and lengthy column as to whether they could transport their army across a particular river - was it too deep ? Eventually, presumably impatient with the whole proceeding, a cavalry officer and protégé of McClellan rode his horse into the middle of the ford, the water rising only half-way up the horse's legs. "There, General," shouted the officer, "that's how deep it is !" That officer, typically, was George Armstrong Custer.

While McClellan may have posed an exceptional problem for Lincoln in the matter of "encouraging" or firing, the same problem recurred to a greater or lesser extent with other "professional" commanders of the Union armies, several of whom seemed to Lincoln to be lacking in aggression and/or prone to attack in the wrong circumstances and/or to win or lose largely through accidents. Then along came Grant who, pre-war, was a military has-been with serious cigar and alcohol problems. Small victories led to greater opportunities the early highlight of which was the Union's "victory in the West" culminating in the capture of Vicksburg (a masterly campaign on Grant's part; I wonder if Manstein was thinking of it in the Crimea in 1942). Lincoln's attitude to his high commanders very much comes out in his attitude to Grant; he was quite happy to let the General get on with it, provided that he fought and generally won - even if the body count sometimes proved rather high. I like the story about the delegation of "good people" (one of many) that met Lincoln to complain, among other things, about Grant's affection for the Demon Drink, and demanding the dismissal of such a "disreputable" officer. Tiring of this, Lincoln interrupted one of the "good people" in full flow with the question, "Sir, do you know which brand of whisky General Grant favours ?" The flustered delegate had to deny knowledge, prompting Lincoln to remark, "Well Sir, that is a pity. If I knew, I would send some cases of it to all my generals. It might persuade them to fight. All I care about is that General Grant fights and that generally, Sir, he wins..". He had a point. Whatever about his love of whisky and cigars, Grant (and his protégés Sherman, Sheridan etc.) certainly fought, and generally won, and took the leading part in finally securing the Union victory.

Lincoln and Churchill both came to symbolize and embody the will to victory of their peoples. How well would the militarily semi-skilled but "interventionist" Churchill have dealt with, say, the McClellan situation ? How well would the militarily unskilled and "non-interventionist" Lincoln have dealt with Britain's WW2 military dilemmas ? Now, there is a huge but distinctly unhistorical question ! Best regards, JR.

Rising Sun*
05-01-2014, 06:55 AM
In general, I have a sense that his strategic sense, throughout his life, was very much informed by his experiences early in life as a junior officer, and a cavalry officer at that. He had a rather old-fashioned attachment to a particular concept of securing and attacking on the flanks, the latter tendency of which may be in large responsibility for the WW1 Gallipoli fiasco...

In fairness to Churchill, Gallipoli strategically was an excellent idea had it succeeded in its purpose of allowing the other Allies to supply Russia through the Black Sea, which could have had a major effect on the war.

This aspect is generally not understood in Australia, where Gallipoli has great significance as the first great test of our troops. There is an assumption that the purpose of the campaign was to defeat the Turks, but ignorance of the fact that the defeat was intended for the wider strategic purpose of supporting Russia in the war.

There is also general ignorance of the fact that the Dardanelles / Gallipoli land campaign wasn't the first choice, but was a consequence of the failure of a naval attempt to force the Dardanelles and recognition that the Turkish land batteries and mines in the channel made naval success impossible unless those batteries were neutralised by a land campaign.

Compared with the negligible wider strategic gains which could have flowed from Churchill's WWII decision to demonstrate support for the Greek government by diverting North African troops to Greece, the Dardanelles campaign had a lot to commend it. Both campaigns ended in failure, but only the Dardanelles one offered a chance to change the course of a world war had it succeeded. There was a lot more to justify the Dardanelles decision than the Greek one.

herman2
05-01-2014, 04:19 PM
If Churchill were alive today do you think he would garnish the same type of respect and loyalty that he did back then? I mean, with our over conservative strict anti smoking by-laws, I really really wonder if society could see through the ambiguity and frivolous stance that smoking has, when it comes to times of war. I mean, if Churchill were smoking his stogie in the war room do you really think there would be some do gooders that would object? Churchill was a man of integrity and I bet there are some out there that can't even see this because they are anti-brain washed, brain dead on smoking and the causes of cancer bla bla bla when they cant see the brilliance of a man who did what it took to lead Britain at the time.

Ardee
05-01-2014, 10:03 PM
The comparison with Lincoln is interesting. ... His great problem for much of the early part of the war was that of persuading his "military experts" actually to fight, and to do so in a manner reflective of their alleged skills and of the substantial material advantages enjoyed by the Union. This was complicated by ... the defection of a disproportionate number of the more skilled professional officers to the Confederacy, the cadre of Union Army generals were often pure "political" generals, or by generals as interested in their political constituencies and/or political prospects as they were in fighting. That complex figure of McClellan is a notable case. McClellan clearly disliked Lincoln; saw himself, indeed, as a political rival to Lincoln with Presidential prospects; and enjoyed a degree of political support even within Lincoln's cabinet. Also, while he was widely perceived as a person possessing great military skills, he appears to have been an innately cautious commander, a caution perhaps amplified by a desire to avoid embarrassing defeats that might undermine his political prospects. Whatever about the latter, his innate caution can hardly be doubted. ....

Hi JR. Not sure I want to risk going too far off the WWII topic, but it can also be fun.... The American Civil War is sometimes referred to as the first modern war, with everything from rifles to submarines to railroads and telegraphs. Warfare itself was undergoing profound change. McClellan, as you say, had a healthy dose of caution: he routinely overestimated Confederate forces, stating his army was in fact considerably out numbered, etc. There was also a Napoleonic influence in how the Armies would advance, engage, and then retire after heavy engagements to recover -- allowing considerable time to pass before the next campaign. I think at least some of the reluctance to fight you mention for the north has connection to this notion of maneuver in order to fight major decisive battles. In any case, Grant changed that, believing in long-term closure with the enemy, finally bringing Union superiority of numbers and resources to bear in battles of attrition (shades of WWI). But I'm not sure if I'm reading you right when you talk about political generals and a disproportionate number of skilled officers going south. Yes, Union regiments were raised by rich men with political ambitions -- Gen. Sickles, who with his incompetence nearly won the battle of the Gettysburg (and maybe the war) for the south is a classic example. But the Union also had a high number of professional soldiers trained at West Point (the US Military Academy), and I believe the Union had considerably more generals with professional West Point backgrounds (and as top students!) than the south. McClellan certainly had political ambitions, and ran against Lincoln for the Presidency -- but I'm not sure when those ambitions developed. Were they there before the war, or did they emerge from the constant egging on he got from Lincoln's detractors? I'd have to spend time researching to find out, if you're not sure. McClellan was certainly contemptuous of Lincoln, but he was also a West Pointer, and in theory at least, one of the best military minds around. In reality, perhaps one of his more helpful (if uncomfortable) contributions to the military was the cavalry saddle that bears his name. (Okay, that's unfair -- he is actually credited with instilling the Union Army with the discipline, training, and organization that it needed to win.)

But what also struck me about your post was your comment on McClellan's excessive caution -- his egotism, his desire to compile a massive, overwhelming force before he would commit to battle, and his constant delays in the face of political pressure to attack the enemy. Does that remind you of anyone Churchill had to work with? ;)

Ardee
05-01-2014, 10:13 PM
If Churchill were alive today do you think he would garnish the same type of respect and loyalty that he did back then?

Smoking had an entirely different social context then versus now. Churchill may have had the moxie to pull off his habit in public today and make it work. If not, he was a good enough politician that he'd probably do what today's smoking politicians do -- i.e., not smoke in public. In the war room? Out of the public eye, he's the boss and could do what he wants. With today's ventilation systems, it might not even be an issue (and you can also look at JR's story about Lincoln, Grant and Whiskey above). Beyond that -- I fear you may be wandering even further off topic than JR and I were!

leccy
05-02-2014, 02:48 AM
A few thoughts on this interesting thread. Regarding Churchill's reinforcement of failure in France, it is worth noting that he was under very heavy pressure from the pro-war leaders of the French government - who, in turn, were under increasing threat from a defeatist element that could not, for political reasons, be excluded from government - to supply ever-more help to the failing French army, and was (as has been commented) most anxious to secure this group by helping as much as possible so as to keep France in the war, both in Europe and overseas. It could actually have been worse - one factor in his refusal to send even more fighter assistance to France was the adamantine resistance of Fighter Command chief Sir Hugh Dowding to such a move; without this, the RAF advance expeditionary force might easily have been further reinforced. He made other serious mistakes - easy, again, to say in hindsight, but there is a strong argument that he would have been better to allow Wavell to employ the main force of his Middle Eastern Command to crush the Italians in North Africa when he had the chance, rather than diverting resources from North Africa to Greece and the Balkans. There were others.


Hindsight is always a bugbear and often used to blame people for making mistakes at the time which are obvious with use of hindsight.

The RAF was just not strong enough to face the Luftwaffe on the mainland in 1940, even when the French Airforce was at its strongest it would have required the full RAF to be deployed to inadequate bases in France to even come close to matching its strength. Much of the RAF and a major proportion of the French Airforce was obsolete and totally outclassed by the majority of the German airforce.

Politically there was no way the 500+ RAF fighters in 39 Squadrons (a mix of Hurricanes, Gladiators, Defiants, Blenheim's and still a few Harts with Spitfires just starting volume production(although slow still to produce) could be sent, 13 Squadrons were sent in the end consisting mostly of Hurricanes with some Gladiators and Blenheims (the Blenheim 1F seem to be mixed with the bombers though) with others operating from the UK. Losses were high and mostly due to the airstrips being over run.

Air power on its own would be no good, it could not make up for the strategic and tactical deficiences or lack of training and equipment on the allied side.

There is doubt that the British Commonwealth Forces could have defeated the Italians in North Africa, the troops were willing to fight and were on a roll but the equipment was struggling and the supply lies were stretched past breaking point, increasing amounts of reliance was placed on captured Italian supplies and vehicles - Italian tanks, vehicles, supplies, artillery were all pressed into service to make up for increasing shortfalls.

Italian units were not the walk over most assume and were still fighting hard in places even if the tactics were poor, the equipment was generally equal to or superior to much of the British supplied equipment (especially since it was increasingly being supplemented by italian equipment). They were closer to their main bases while the British Commonwealth were stretched far from theirs.