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Thread: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

  1. #1
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    Default Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.
    Last edited by leccy; 04-27-2014 at 06:12 AM.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.
    Last edited by Ardee; 04-28-2014 at 07:49 PM.
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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
    Last edited by leccy; 04-28-2014 at 06:30 AM. Reason: Added some RAF fighter losses
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    Quote Originally Posted by Ardee View Post
    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.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 04-28-2014 at 08:18 AM.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    Quote Originally Posted by leccy View Post
    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...

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    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."
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    Quote Originally Posted by Ardee View Post
    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.
    ..
    A rational army would run away.
    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    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.
    IN the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
    Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise
    An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
    With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes
    At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
    They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

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    Default Re: Talk about reinforcing failure! Churchill strikes again!

    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    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.
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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