23.4.41

The Greeks appear to be packing up. Evidently there is going to be hell to pay in Australia. [1] So long as it merely leads to an inquest on the Greek campaign, and a general row in which the position of Australia in the Empire will be defined and perhaps the conduct of the war democratised somewhat, this is all to the good.

[1] The anxiety felt by Australians and New Zealanders that their troops had been lost pointlessly was, perhaps, the reason for Churchill’s giving, in his history of the war, the total losses as percentages: 55.8% for United Kingdom troops, 25.1 for Australians, and 19.1 for New Zealanders (The Second World War, III, p. 206). The percentage lost of those in Greece at the time of the attack (which Churchill does not calculate) were 34% UK troops lost; 17.33% Australians; and 13.55% New Zealanders. See also 3.5.41. A New Zealander, General Bernard Freyberg, VC, took command in Crete. Peter Davison

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11 Responses to 23.4.41

  1. Barry Larking says:

    Churchill’s interference was crucial and disasterous. He failed three times to enter Sandhurst yet had nevertheless an inflated opinion of his military abilities based on ancestry; John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was in his family tree, therefore he must be equal to the task; a bit like saying “I’ve never been to medical school but my great great great grandfather was a brain surgeon so, sit down, this is going to be a piece of cake”. He continued to interfere in the following months. It is forgotten now how unpopular Churchill was, particularly with the ‘officer class’ before and during the war. There were serious attempts to unseat him in Parliament in the months ahead because his management of the war was so bad, even allowing for the limited options available to the United Kingdom. Quite why this man tops polls of the Greatest Britons of All Time defies objective explanation.

  2. M G says:

    “Quite why this man tops polls of the Greatest Britons of All Time defies objective explanation.”

    @Barry Larking Maybe because in the end we won, that is to say, he finally led us to victory. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

  3. Matty says:

    @ M G

    I think he’s arguing that Britain won the war in spite of Churchill rather than because him. Although even if we accept that it that begs the question of whether, without Churchill, Britain would have gone to war given that the defeatist Halifax would most likely have formed a government instead and come to a peace agreement with Hitler.

  4. M G says:

    On the other hand, if we’d have listened to Churchill before the war, about the rise of Germany’s military might, we would have been a lot better prepared. We’ll never know. All things considered, I think he was the right man for the job, although, as said, that opinion is soley based on the fact that it had a victorious outcome.

  5. Barry Larking says:

    “@Barry Larking Maybe because in the end we won, that is to say, he finally led us to victory. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

    From June 1941 fully three quarters of the German and allied forces were in Russia where they were destroyed in whole and detail by the Red Army. By the end of the war Churchill had conceded so much of the United Kingdom’s sovereignty to the United States it was know (not in a nice way) as the “51st State”.

    Winston Churchill had no developed idea of the world after 1899; 1901 if you prefer. His claim to fame lies in his speeches which, as Orwell shrewdly pointed out, few really understood, “but sounded good”. Much of his political life was marked by failure and a personality fault similar to the one which gave him faith in his military heritage. Post War he was obdurate in his belief that the British Empire should be maintained, against all moral sense if not political reality.

  6. Barry Larking says:

    “Although even if we accept that it that begs the question of whether, without Churchill, Britain would have gone to war given that the defeatist Halifax would most likely have formed a government instead and come to a peace agreement with Hitler.” – Matty

    You will recall, I am certain, that it was Neville Chamberlain’s administration which declared war on Germany. Churchil was brought into this government where he joined Halifax. Later, in his own right as Prime Minister, he appointed Chamberlain and Halifax to Cabinet. Appeasement is a’dirty’ word but rarely a policy examined in detail. No other potentially friendly major powers were interested in joining a further destructive European War and the British colonies, especially Canada and Australia who would be needed to supply much of the man power, were against also. Paul Kennedy has pointed out that appeasement was practised successfully against a belicose United States at the end of the 19th c., concessions made over the Canada-U.S. border following war talk in Washington. No one then thought this shameful. Halifax and those who like himself could see that, whatever the outcome, Britain would loose much more than she could afford are frequently derided, less carefully studied. The post war depression (‘Austerity’) was inflicted on Britain not by Germany nor Russia but the United States Treasury.

  7. Stephen says:

    This was of course the second time that Churchill had consigned Australian troops to a disastrous campaign in this part of the world, following on from the Gallipoli debacle in ww1. Churchill’s disingenous use of casualty statistics overlooks the fact that Australian forces were denied (and frankly did not actively seek) autonomous strategic control within the overall allied campaign. But Greece was a terrible set back for the numerically smaller Australian infantry, and Crete was still to come. Lest we forget.

  8. Barry Larking says:

    Bristish losses at Gallipoli were several times those of Australia. Afterwards the Aussies were not so keen to towe the line. At the time of the Chanak ‘crisis’ they refused point blank to provide cover for Britain. Crete was defended in part by New Zealanders. I well recall Kapser Weinberger’s response to New Zealand when in the 1980s, as a sovereign state, New Zealand refused to accept ships or aircraft entering the country’s teroritory if carrying nuclear weapons; “We’ll make them pay” he said. I am giving nothing away by revealing that a large number were murdered at the end of the conflict on Crete. Young New Zealanders were old bones in the ground while Weinberger’s great nation was, as between democracies and fascism, neutral.

  9. gnb says:

    Hey Barry- Guadalcanal?

  10. Barry Larking says:

    Corrections needed. That would be ‘Kasper’. There are others since my typing is much less agile than my brain. Apologies.

    Stephen: You are completely correct about ‘Lest we forget’. The contribution of Commonwealth countries (including the smallest) is frequently marginalised or overlooked entirely. Only in recent years have memorials to their losses been raised in London.

  11. Stephen says:

    Barry – true. And I think it’s actually “Caspar”. Just like the friendly ghost.

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