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Monday, 29 August 2011


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I've a question David. The reason I ask is because I don't recall the name of the port - except that it was on Africa's northern coast and the French fleet was at anchor. Churchill (I seem to recall) gave the order to - more or less - have the English fleet destroy [or at least keep it out of the Hun's hands] the French fleet.

How much time elapsed between the decision you describe and the action in North Africa?

Mers el Kabir, about 2 months after Churchill was in the job:

Now that was real 'real-politik'!

Now I suppose I should admit an ulterior motive for the question - though I could not with full honesty recall the complete details when I earlier "proclaimed" an explanation for my remark about the Japanese facing "a single foe" where the Australians and the New Zealanders were concerned. Those brave men were "land forces" which does not detract from the ultimate.

My greater point was that it took a former,er, 'Naval Person' which Churchill obviously had some familiarity with - to determine the degree of imperatives.

That singular meeting David - I think - has more significance than any of us are able to fully even in hindsight appreciate.

Good post.

In the nature of things we shall never know whether Churchill was right or wrong. Suppose the UK strikes a deal with Hitler, Hitler careers east, the two monstrous regimes have a ten years war, Britain doesn't hand all its early scoping work on the A-bomb to the Yanks but develops it itself, succeeds, and ends up in a very powerful position, instead of as a ruined heap. But on the other hand, if the ten years war takes only two years......

As I said, DM, one of the greatest 'what ifs' of history. I suspect that a Soviet-German war in your scenario would have lasted very much less than 2 years. The kerfuffle in the Balkans, instigated by British manipulations, would not have happened and thus the German attack would not have been delayed and they would have reached Moscow before the rains and snow bogged them down. Had Moscow fallen, how long would Stalin have lasted?

If I am right, Germany would have had total control of the European land mass and then he would have turned once again towards Britain, but this time with the Atlantic ports (and the French fleet, as JK mentions above) under his control and he could have slowly strangled us into submission. And that, in essence, was why Churchill was right to fight on, and why Grey was equally right in 1914. On the whole I prefer our gentle decline into a second or even third rate status via historical memories of great and honourable achievements rather than shame-inducing surrenders.

Too David, though few - despite the loss of the viewable surface ships - there are those English SSBNs. Perhaps smacking that French one awhile back was something Churchill imagined "might" occur.

On the whole, I'm kind of glad the fellow chose to be part American. But I do wish "Hank" would weigh in.

Sorry, JK, the meaning of your elliptical first paragraph eludes me - again! SSBNs - eh?

Subsurface ship [submarine] ballistic - nuclear.

A submarine equipped with nuclear-warhead missiles - nuclear powered. Your's are normally based in or around Scotland.

And my SSBN's aren't based anywhere because we cleverly bought a whole bunch of Collins class submarines from some used-car salesman somewhere and I don't think any of them have ever worked for one minute.
I could be wrong but maybe not by much.

Excellent post Duff.
You've earned your payola today.

Thank you, Andra, and rest assured I was not the used car salesman who sold you the subs!

Yes, JK, I know what an SSBN is, but what is the connection to the post?

Hm, on second thoughts I'm not sure that Churchill did play the odds. Once it was clear that the French were not going to put up a dogged performance to match that of their previous round against the Boche, it's not obvious how on earth Britain could get out of its pickle. If it really needed Hitler to decide to attack the USSR before knocking off Britain - simultaneously a year or two too early and a few weeks too late - and later to declare war on the USA, it was a long, long shot. Anything else would have been a long shot too. The prospects were unutterably grim.

That the French would continue to be fickle without an occasional bump. Of course bumping two nuke subs in the southern reaches of the Channel is probably kinda iffy.

I don't think Churchill ever "played the odds", DM, he just followed his instincts. By comparison, Halifax did try and work out the odds and given how grim they were he decided it was a better bet to cut a deal with Hitler. Remember, it was not just the fall of France that had the government worried but the fall of Britain because an invasion was considered to be a serious and imminenet risk. From a realist's point of view Halifax was surely right - although the terms of any peace deal with Hitler would probably have been onerous. Churchill went for the idealistic, or perhaps 'romantic', view and, as we now know, fortune favoured the brave!

'I suspect I might have been very sympathetic to the Halifax policy'

How often that happens when one looks back! And how very few times we recognize it! Good for you.

Another what if. Had Churchill and Hitler both died in 1938, the second would have probably been remembered as the greatest german statesman ever and Churchill as the Alcibiades of the First WW. Agree?


I suspect that if Brittan and Germany reached a peace and Germany attacked the Soviet Union it would be optimistic to call it a ten year war.

As you noted the German Army would probably have captured Moscow. Then what?

That is one big country. Their political apparatus did not depend on being in an historical location, the political center would have gone east. There was much industry East of there. Where it would have hurt is that Moscow was, and pretty much still is , the transportation hub of the country.* The shortest way to send anything is through Moscow.

The Soviets would have had enough cohesion, economy, etc to avoid defeat, and would be too spread out to be defeated, the campaign would have stalemated for years. At least until the Soviets built a new railroad well to east of Moscow to concentrate units at a key location.

Politically neither side could afford to surrender and would not have had the strength to force a victory. But yours and ours could have pumped up our economies selling both sides war supplies.

* While it is hard to see looking at a map that does not show railroads and paved roads, the Soviets had what is called the “advantage of interior lines” as long as they held Moscow. They could easily move things from one part of the line another where the Germans often had to go back to Poland.

Indeed, in the Soviet empire 'all roads, and rails, led to Moscow'. If that had fallen they would have been in a shambles and their C3 would have been minimal. I suspect that their leadership would have fallen out like rats in a sack and if the Germans had had a better policy towards the 'liberated'(!) Russians and given them a 'Vichy'-style government in Moscow then it might have ended up with Russian against Russian.

Ah, the ifs, the buts and the maybes of history!

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