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Introduction: Sea Power in the Age of Churchill
1. Apprenticeship: 1901-1914
2. Learning Curve: The First World War
3. Adjusting to the Post-war World, 1919-24
4. The Treasury Years: The Ten Year rule, the Japanese 'Bogey', and the 'Yankee Menace'
5. Disarmament, Rearmament, and the Path to War: The 1930s
6. First Lord of the Admiralty, 1939-1940: The Phoney War and the Norwegian Campaign
7. The War against Germany and Italy, 1940-1941
8. Courting Disaster: The Deterrence of Japan and the Dispatch of Force Z
9. The Battle of the Atlantic, the Imports Crisis, and the Closing of the 'Air Gap'
10. The Defeat of the Axis Powers
11. Churchill's Last Naval Battle
Epilogue: The Verdict of History
Posted January 16, 2013
This is the first book I have read specifically about Churchill and it was an excellent and very informative read. I am a retired naval officer and I came away from the book thinking that a man who professed to love the navy did not understand the application of sea power. He seemed to try to use it as if it were an army and applied the same rules for its application. This book also left me with the impression that Churchill like Reagan has one of the most inflated and undeserved reputations. I guess his reputation is mainly due to style over substance because of his speeches during the blitz.
During World War I as first Lord of the Admiralty he wanted to send the Royal Navy into the confines of the Baltic to launch an invasion of Germany with the support of Russian armies despite the fact that Russia was not interested. His idea of sending the fleet that was maintaining the blockade of Germany and its battle fleet which was keeping the Germans from reaching the ocean did comprehend the essential strategic mission being accomplished by the Royal Navy. However that mission was not an offensive one that made headlines and he was willing to sacrifice it for headline grabbing action.
His biggest mistake was to believe that battleships could force open the Dardanelles without army support. If he understood the history of ship versus fortification battle he would understand that his fleet could not silence the Turkish batteries and could only hope to run past them like Farragut at New Orleans. Once past the straits the straights would still be closed to transports or merchant ships and his fleet would be beyond support and would have to eventually make the run back down the straights.
In the 1920s he was the Minister of the Exchequer and severely restricted military expenditures by enforcing the idea that no war would be fought for 10 years so the military could let immediate preparedness for war end. This was a constantly moving 10 years which resulted in the severe diminishment of the arms manufacture industry. Yet in the 30s as Germany began to be perceived as a threat he bashed the policy that he himself enacted. I have reached the conclusion that Churchill like many people with executive power focus on furthering their mission to the exclusion of how it affects the big picture in the pursuit of self-promotion. An example of this can be seen in Donald Rumsfeld being appointed to run the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1969. No one today thinks of Rumsfeld as an advocate of minority opportunities but he did his job, which obviously was not a cause he believed in, so well that Nixon had to throttle him back because he was too aggressive in pursuit of those goals.
In World War II Churchill to his credit recognized the vulnerability of Germany to having its iron ore imports from Sweden being cut off. He wanted to invade Norway to cut the summer sea route of the ore but did not want to occupy Sweden to cut off the more important summer route of the ore. Unless both routes were closed the goal would not be achieved. After reading this book I have concluded that had an occupation of Norway and Sweden prior to German invasion of Norway followed by a cross Baltic invasion of Germany would have been far more effective than invading France. There would have been climate and terrain issues to have been considered but had this supply of iron ore been cut off Germany would have collapsed much sooner. Churchill’s interference in naval operations during the Norway campaign helped make the operation a failure.
The operations that Churchill supported in World War II once again showed he did not understand the application of sea power. He sent HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to Singapore as a political act to deter Japan from war in the Pacific but did not consider the consequences for those ships if Japan went to war any way. Churchill did not understand that in war capital ships only had value as part of a balanced fleet. Japan paid no attention to the British capital ships in designing their plans and easily sunk the warships at great loss in lives.
His concept of launching the Torch invasion of North Africa which he conducted to whittle down the German forces prior to a cross channel invasion did not take into account that British control of the Mediterranean effectively removed the German forces as an asset for Hitler in the defense of Europe. Once the Suez was safe the Germans in Africa were as good as in prison camps but still being fed by Germany. His peripheral operations against Italy and the Balkans drained off allied resources and delayed the invasion of Europe which resulted in the USSR occupying all of Eastern Europe.
Lastly his favoring strategic bombing of Germany resulted in Coastal Command not having adequate numbers of long range aircraft which prolonged the battle of the Atlantic resulting in Britain almost losing at sea and costing thousands of more lives for a bombing campaign that has since been proven to have been overrated in its impact on Germany. Churchill was one of these guys who if you told him funding was for an offensive of any kind he would always favor that over defensive funding on misplaced principal. Churchill like Reagan was tremendously overrated. Churchill did not understand sea power which is really sad when you consider his professed love of the navy.
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