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Letters by a modern St. Ferdinand III about cults

Gab@StFerdinandIII -

Plenty of cults exist - every cult has its 'religious dogma', its idols, its 'prophets', its 'science', its 'proof' and its intolerant liturgy of demands.  Cults everywhere:  Corona, 'The Science' or Scientism, Islam, the State, the cult of Gender Fascism, Marxism, Darwin and Evolution, Globaloneywarming, Changing Climate, Abortion...

Tempus Fugit Memento Mori - Time Flies Remember Death 

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Review: Max Hastings 'Finest Years, Churchill as War Lord 1940-45

Churchill trying to manage an inept British army.....

by StFerdIII

 Highly Recommended, Finest Years, Churchill as War Lord 1940-45.

I have read almost every single book, and article published about and by W.S. Churchill. This one volume work by Hastings' on Churchill's war leadership, while a dense read, is probably in the top half-dozen of the tomes lying within the massive library of Churchilliana. The reason this book is so valuable and interesting is that Hastings lets the facts lead to his conclusions. While he never denies Churchill's skill, genius, determination and importance in Britain's fight for survival against the barbaric Marxist-pagan cult of national socialism from 1939 to 1945, he does not close his eyes to the vanities, peculiarities and weaknesses of the most important Briton in the modern age. Tough, insightful, well-written, and extremely well researched, this book is both a source material and a useful addendum to the Churchill novice, or the scholarly student of Churchill's career.

Some of the 'new' items of information that readers will discover would include the following:

-The pathetic and woeful nature of the British Army and its leadership during the war. [Hastings has written many works on this theme]

-Appeasement and 'ignoring reason' [to quote Hastings], was a strong current in the British elite who for the most part especially from 1940-42, wanted to make a 'deal' with Hitler.

-The endless plots during the war hatched against Churchill in order to remove him, or curtail his power, fomented by his own party.

-Churchill's political base was the labouring, unionized 'class', not the educated elite.

-Paradoxically given the above, the number of strikes and days lost in Britain reached record levels during the war.

-The grand and widespread appeal of Communism in Britain during and after the war. Pro-Russian sentiment was a political and cultural fact during this period.

-Churchill and Roosevelt's romanticized relationship was a myth. By 1943 Roosevelt felt little need to heed or discuss great matters with Churchill and by 1944 the Americans were of the firm opinion that Churchill and the British were more of a threat to 'self determination', 'democracy' and a new global order, than Russia and Stalin. The Big Three of the war, was the Bigger Two by 1994.

-Churchill knew little, and took even less interest in, the war in the Pacific and Asia; and the struggle against Japan.

-Always enamoured of romantic 'side shows', Churchill exasperated his Chiefs of Staff with many inane plans which were tendentious to the overall objective of meeting and destroying the German war machine, head to head. Escapades which failed or diverted resources, planning time and focus included the eastern Mediterranean, northern Norway, most of the Italian campaign, and landings in Burma.

Hastings does not deny Churchill's sublime role and irreplaceable value as a political leader, orator, work-horse extraordinaire, key actor in the Big Three of Russia, the US and the UK; and the embodiment and expression of Britain's past glory. But he is surely right to criticize the obvious weaknesses of this great man including: his impetuosity, weird work habits which exhausted everyone around him, endless orations and opinions on even the most minor points of discussion, his reliance on military theatre instead of having the British forces fight the Germans directly without a massive superiority in men, machines and air cover; and Churchill's overly romantic and by 1943 anachronistic view of the world and Britain's place in it.

Yet for all of this he was indispensable. Without Churchill it is highly likely that Britain would have fallen, and the Nazi assault on Russia would have commenced a few months earlier, making the taking of Moscow almost a certainty based on how poorly the Red Army fought in 1941. At that point there would have been little use for Hitler to declare war on the US. Europe to the Urals and all the industry and resources of the 'lebensraum' to the east, not to mention the industrial heartlands of western Europe would have become the property of the Nazis. Europe would have been an armed concentration camp, with its assets and natural resources fed to the Nazi war machine.

Churchill's problem as Hastings takes much pain to point out was the base fact that Britain's army was decidedly inferior to that of the German Wehrmacht. Man for man the Germans were better. In fact Hastings makes the claim that the British soldier was decidedly inferior in the second World War, in comparison to those who fought in the First. The British never beat the Germans on equal terms in the Second conflagration. This lack of quality obsessed Churchill. It might be the main reason why he delved in political 'theatre' and avoided a head-on clash with the Wehrmacht.

As Max Hastings himself wrote in the Financial Times:

The navy and air force proved the most effective of Britain’s forces. British and American armies for the rest of the war required a handsome superiority of men, tanks and air support to beat Germans. A large part of the story of Britain in the second world war, it seems to me, is of Churchill seeking more from his nation’s warriors than they were capable of delivering. Most men were doggedly willing to do their duty. But after 1940, neither the country nor the army proved capable of ascending the heroic summits the prime minister aspired to.

....British diplomat Oliver Harvey wrote in his diary on November 14 1942: “The Russian army having fulfilled the allotted role of killing Germans, our chiefs of staff think by 1944 they could stage a general onslaught on the exhausted animal.”

Such cynicism became institutionalised at the top of the war machine. The Americans professed exasperation about this perceived British pusillanimity but themselves became party to it. In July 1943, when Britain had been at war for four years and the US for 20 months, just eight western allied divisions were fighting the Germans – in Sicily, where they lost a mere 6,000 killed. The Red Army, meanwhile, was engaged in the titanic confrontation at Kursk, which eventually involved 4 million men on the two sides and cost half a million lives. Even in 1944-1945, seldom less than two-thirds of the German army was engaged in the east. The Russians did most of the dying essential to destroy Nazism, only belatedly assisted by British and American land forces.”

This might be overstated but rings true in part. Without Russia Britain would not have 'won' the war. Certainly without America Britain was likely doomed. But none of this detracts from Churchill's decisive role in history and the war. He is the prime exhibit that individuals do shape history and that history is not some shapeless mass of Marxian dialectic.

If in 1940 the British had struck a deal [of servitude] with the Nazis, the entire German army and air-force would have been liberated for the attack on the East. The Russians would certainly have succumbed to Hitler's invasion – saved as they were by the winter – if the British had not delayed the German conquest by 3 critical months and distracted the Luftwaffe to Greece and the Balkans in the spring of 1941. As well tonnes of supplies nourished Russia, though Hastings makes the rather implausible claim that they had no real effect until 1943. Other sources will give a different view on the magnitude and importance of these supplies. They were not marginal as Hastings tries to maintain. The Russians also never had to fight in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and in the sea lanes of the Atlantic. The British had to fight a very different war than the Russians, who historically have never been shy to sacrifice enormous numbers of men in military campaigns.

Overall however, this book is valuable and realistic. Churchill was indeed the man of the hour. But even the great men of history need to have their place squarely fastened into the reality of the moment. Without Russia and the US, Britain's majestic defiance might not have amounted to much. But without Churchill she was surely doomed.


Other Reviews


Excellent historian Wheatcroft writing in the New York Times

For all Churchill’s exalted words about the “English-speaking peoples” fighting for freedom together, the fact is that Anglo-­American forces played a subsidiary role in the European war. During 1943, while 70,000 Western servicemen, including bomber aircrew members, died fighting Germany, two million Russian solders were killed. Even after D-Day, Russian casualties were far higher; approximately nine of 10 German Army fatalities occurred on the Eastern Front, where the war was decided.

Then there is a delicate subject, the sheer military inadequacy of the British Army: both its incompetent regular officers and its unenthusiastic wartime draftees. Over and again we learn that British troops “showed themselves less effective warriors than their opponents,” as they were consistently outfought by numerically inferior Wehr­macht forces. Although Hastings is no great admirer of Montgomery, he more than any other British general recognized the limitations of his citizen-soldiers, with “many men willing to do their duty, but few who sought to become heroes.”

Slowly and ruefully, Churchill himself came to understand this. That was part of the reason he dragged his feet so hard over the invasion of Europe. His delay caused much vexation in Washington, although the feeling was mutual. The British bitterly resented being lectured to by Americans who, having sat out the conflict for more than two years, were advocating premature landings in 1942 or 1943 that would very likely have been bloodbaths, with mostly British casualties.”

Jonathan Sumption's review in the Spectator:

Britain created large armies from a small professional core in both world wars of the 20th century. But they never became a really effective fighting force. Its history left it without a military tradition analogous to its great naval tradition. Its liberal traditions ruled out coercion on the scale which would have been required to create one. English public opinion envied the scale and ferocity of Soviet resistance to Hitler, but it had no idea of the ubiquitous execution squads and the ruthless indifference to casualties which had been necessary to achieve it.

Max Hastings’ views about the British army in the second world war are well known, and are pungently repeated here. Its ranks were filled with ‘many men willing to do their duty, but few who sought to become heroes.’ Its leaders, with a handful of exceptions, were risk-averse blockheads, devoid of imagination or initiative. Hastings’ brutal dismissal of Wavell, Auchinleck, Alexander, Richie and Freyburg makes entertaining reading. Even Montgomery, the most successful British general of the war, was ‘egoistic and crass’, defects which made him a liability in an international army calling for high levels of diplomacy in its senior commanders. Brooke was an outstanding chief of staff and an essential foil to Churchill, but Hastings thinks that his caution would have let him down if he had been allowed a major command in the field.

This is a rich and rewarding book, the fruit of many years of reflection on the conduct of war. It is enlivened by countless insights on matters great and small, and by a spare, trenchant style which holds the reader’s attention throughout its 600 pages.”



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