|Posted by: Paintybeard||
A review of "We March Against England"
Posted on: 18/01/2017 01:41:29
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 347
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013
I've just finished reading "We March Against England", so here are a few thoughts while they are fersh in my mind.
The author makes a very good case that the Germans had a perfectly good chance of making a succesful landing in Southern England in September 1940 and that, once ashore, defeating them would have been very challenging for the forces available to the British.
He also does a nice job of drawing together all the threads of German strategy against England in the second half of 1940. This is greatly assisted by a very full Order of Battle for all three services of both nations along with a series of maps showing the deployment of these units.
Still, I do have a few quibbles. These are more political than military. For instance on page 27 it is stated: "...The British population was infused with pacifist thinking...and terrified of terror bombing..." No evidence for these and similar statements are provided. And the records I know of, (mainly from the Mass Observation organisation,) seem to show that the British population were quite prepared to carry on fighting and were stoic (or at least ignorant) about what bombing was likely to be like.
Also Dr Forczyk seems to have some animus against everything Winston Churchill does. We all know that most of Churchills military decisions were frighteningly counter-productive, but his political instincts were usually very good. So when on the one hand tha author points out that Churchill was still finding his feet as British premier, but then repeatedly faults him for not at least going through the motions of negotiating with Hitler I think he misses the point: It was exactly because Churchill had been out of power and was the only major political leader who had consistantly denounced Hitler and appeasement that he was chosen as British Prime Minister in May 1940. If he had almost immediately started to negotiate with the Nazis the entire reason for his presence evaporates. And as the Labour leader Atlee has explicitly stated that they will only work with Churchill the National government collapses.
Additionally I think that Churchill was astute enough to know that, contrary to what Dr Forczyk believes, it ewould be impossible to keep such negotiations quiet. And, once known, such a move would be far more damaging to the British will to keep fighting than a dozen Dunkirks. Moreover, even if the British could be kept in the dark the news of such a move would soon be common knowledge in America. That would be a huge boost for the"America First" movement and make the re-election of Roosevelt in1940 much more difficult. And even if he is still president getting lend-lease agreed, destroyers for bases and all the other steps preparing for American participation would be much less likely to happen. So I think Churchill knew EXACTLY what he was doing when he followed his natural instict to never negotiate with Hitler.
Despite these few caveats I do recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it yet and conclude by saying that i'm very much looking forward to "Fall Rot"
Posted by: Black 5
Total Posts: 23
Joined Date: Thursday, 24 October 2013
Glad you liked We March. I've been getting a fair amount of push-back from British readers, which I sort of expected. I think history is viewed through national lenses. When I was in grad school, these were called perceptional prisms and I recall writing some papers from different perspectives, such as Anwar Sadat's perspective in the 1973 War.
For what it's worth, my perceptional prism is not American. It's Roman, circa 110 AD. I think the world made better sense then than it does today and it's the lens that I use to look at things around me.
Anyhoo, I have no animus against Churchill and I do believe he was one of the greatest democratic leaders of the 20th Century. He had many strong points as a leader, but he was also prone to hasty decision-making, for which he was long criticized for in the House. As I mention in the book, his decisions to seize Swedish destroyers, to send a large task force to Dakar in September 1940 and hundreds of tanks to Egypt when England was faced with potential invasion were all extremely bad, counter-productive decisions. Putting his son in law in charge of the rocket program, bad idea. Look at Brooke's diary and the criticism is all there, too.
The attack on the French fleet at Mers-el Kebir was the worst of Churchill's mistakes. I do find it hard to fathom how English readers today can still fail to appreciate how awful it was to attack a former ally who had made no provactive moves against England. As I noted, looking through the War Cabinet minutes, it is clear that Churchill was not simply removing a potential threat of the Germans seizing French warships, he also wanted to seize French gold, colonies and other financial assets. This was not how democracies are supposed to make war. Churchill refused to accept Darlan's promise - made face-to-face - not to allow the Germans to get his battleships and there was nothing to suggest that this could/would happen. At the very least, Churchill could have delayed taking any active measure unless the French fleet tried to sail through the Straits of Gibraltar. By attacking the French fleet, Churchill made it much harder for de Gaulle to recruit men to fight with the Free French and ensured that Vichy troops would fire on American troops - killing hundreds - during Torch in '42. Brilliant. Thanks a lot, Winston.
I do point out in the book that Churchill did make good calls in 1940, such as backing the R&D effort which pegged the German X-Gerat signals and helping to re-invigorate the British Army. Unleashing Bomber Command was also his doing, although I think he gave Bomber Harris too much of a blank check.
As for negotiations, I know that seems anethema today. You might recall the Len Deighton thriller 'XPD' years ago, which was built around a fictional top secret meeting between Hitler and Churchill. I think all your points are valid. Yet I also believe that Britain needed a respite from air and sub attacks in 1940 and playing Hitler along through neutrals, even for a 6-8 weeks, would have helped Fighter Command enormously and saved thousands of British lives. I'm Polish and I know that resistance, not negotiation is in our blood, so I can appreciate the British stiff upper lip attitude. But I also think that the Byzantine approach to warfare - fight when strong, negotiate when weak - makes sense at times.
I should have sourced the comments about British fear of bombing. Again, in a lot of the War Cabinet minutes while Chamerblain was in, there are repeated references to not wanting to initiated bombing of Germany because of concern that the British public would not hold up well under bombing. Can't remember which members pushed this (Hore-Belisha, Fairfax...), but it was clearly part of the government thinking until Churchill took over. Hitler was also worried about affect of bombing on German morale, too.
Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 347
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013
Hello again Black 5
Firstly thank you for taking so much time to reply so fully to my ramblings,
Yes, I've read and greatly enjoyed "XPD", I think Deighton is a much better writer than most modern thriller writers. In fact I'm old enough to remember the fuss when this book first came out. The author had made the story convincing enough that quite a lot of people thought that the meeting with Hitler really did take place.
I agree that Churchill often showed poor judgement (or misplaced loyalty) when choosing subordinates. Giving Lindemann a special place as scientific adviser aleays struck me as a spectacularly bad move.
However I can't agree that sending the tanks to Egypt is a bad move. Over-ambitious and risky, perhaps, but not actually bad. Wavell uses these machine to make a spectacular success of Operation Compass. (Which is one of the very few sucesses Britain will enjoy over the next couple of years.) Surely that is better than their sitting in England for an invasion that never comes? (I admit that is using the benefit of hindsight.0
I was crefully avoiding mentioning Mers-El-Kebir, but now you've brought the subject up I shall climb onto my sopabox! It's probably an example of my wearing British blinkers, but I do think that Britain was justified in taking all measures to ensure that the Navy (her one source of real strength) was as strong as possible. Quite simply, in a modern, toal war with an invasion pending, How can Churchill be expected to take the risk of believing the worrd of a foreign admiral? It would strike me a dereliction of duty if he did. Even assuming Darlan is sincere when he gives his pledge, if Petain decides to improve his position with Hitler by ordering Darlan to hand over some ships is Darlan likely to disobay his President? (And even if he does Petain can soon dismiss him and appoint someone more amenable.) As you say Churchill MIGHT have waited until the French came west of Gibraltar, but is it really a good idea to hand the initiative to your enemy? And might not those ships that would be tied up at Gibraltar be better used elsewhere?
Perhaps it is the result of being a (rather elderly) Briton, but I find it astonishing that so many people seem to be suprised that the British could bee ruthless when it came to the crunch. We are a small island nation with few advantages and only managed to become a world power for a couple of centuries by fighting hard and frequently fighting dirty. Our first naval commanders were basically pirates. We routinely commandeered ships and seamen from other nations. In 1807 we attacked a fairly friendly neutral power (Denmark) just in case Napoleon was going to make use of their warships. At the beginning of WW1 we stole battleships form Turkey and Brazil... Need I go on? Frankly I think that Darlan must have been incompetant (or at least very ignorant0 not to realise that this is how the British fight and were in total earnest.
Well, that's enough hot air from me. As I say, I very much look forward to "Fall Rot" and wish you well trying to be Trajan in the modern world.