Category Archives: Churchill

Defender of the Realm

The Last Lion - Defender of the Realm

I just finished listening to the audiobook (via Audible) of “The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965” by William Manchester and Paul Reid.  I had not read the book.

Very sad that it had to end!  A wonderful, fittingly magnificent effort.  My dog was also quite pleased to be getting in some extra walks lately while I listened along.

At approximately 3,200 minutes, I can say that not a single boring minute passes by; each one contains at least one interesting part of the great story, a story that is wonderfully told.  Manchester/Reid do an excellent job at presenting Churchill himself, and I felt that the book left me with a greater understanding of what drove him in politics and statecraft.  The challenges and objectives of the many other players involved in the story are also well described.  The book works very well as a history of the Second World War and its aftermath.

If I didn’t “laugh out loud”, I did at least chuckle aloud more than once.  I admit that I was brought to tears during the description surrounding VE Day – the end of the war, the crowds, the speeches, the imagery of people all over the British Isles lighting victory fires on high hills as they had done since ancient days.  Thankfully, I was sitting at home during this part of the book and not out walking the dog.  😎

One aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed with the discussion of the various technologies of the day; how they developed, what they could and could not do, and how they were used.  I found “DotR” to be a useful resource in this respect.

Clive Chafer does a wonderful job with the reading.  I particularly enjoyed when he drops down into his ‘Winston’ voice.  I can’t say how accurate the voice is, but you definitely know when he is quoting WSC and, of course, what is said is often quite interesting and entertaining.  Although I am relatively new to the audio-book experience (I think this was my third one), it occurred to me that there must be ‘star’ readers developing in the industry, and Mr. Chafer must be among them.  When looking at listening options in future, seeing Clive Chafer’s name on an audiobook will help make the choice for me.

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Raise a glass ~ Winston Churchill was born 139 years ago today

Churchill_waves_to_crowds

Remember him, for he saved all of you: pudgy and not very large but somehow massive and indomitable; baby-faced, with snub nose, square chin, rheumy eyes on occasion given to tears; a thwarted actor’s taste for clothes that would have looked ridiculous on a less splendid man. He wore the quaintest hats of anyone: tinted square bowlers; great flat sombreros squashed down on his head; naval officer’s caps rendered just slightly comic by the huge cigar protruding beneath the peak. On grave and critical occasions he sported highly practical Teddy-bear suits few grown men would dare to wear in public. He fancied oil painting, at which he was good, writing, at which he was excellent, and oratory, at which he was magnificent. His habits were somewhat owlish (a bird he faintly resembled), and he stayed up late at night, often working mornings in bed with a lap tray for his desk. (Once, after the war, when I called on him at 11:00 A.M., he inquired whether I wished a drink, ordered me a whiskey and soda, then, reaching for the empty glass beside him, told his manservant: “And bring me another.”

– From World War II by (the late NY Times Foreign Affairs columnist) C.L. Sulzberger

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Churchill and Sea Power

Churchill

Finished reading this book last weekend and am recommending it.  Received as a Christmas gift from my wife, it was good to get back to some Churchill ~ it’s been a while really.  Disclosure: I know the author, who teaches history at Dalhousie University here in Halifax.  😎

Professor Bell does a great job here presenting an objective look at Churchill and his involvement with sea power throughout his long career in and out of government.  From the Dardanelles, to the very tricky business of between-the-wars naval estimates, to Force Z (sunk off of Singapore in the Second World War), and many other aspects of naval history, management and operations during the first half of the 20th century.

I didn’t come away with any concerns or criticisms of the book.  Each major area is addressed, and the author does a good job summarizing each chapter.

And the author keeps a fair bit of powder dry for the epilogue which was nice.

 

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Pearl Harbor ~ the ‘Allies knew’ meme

With the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor recently past, I am often reminded of different claims that the allies (Churchill or, particularly, Roosevelt) knew about the attacks, yet did nothing to stop them because, you know, they just wanted war and death and blood and global imperialism by having the US fleet destroyed, etc.  Thankfully, there are some objective historians who can present the facts as they are, as Ron Hegelmo does here.

As for claims that Japanese messages should have been decoded, Hegelmo notes:

Duane Whitlock, unlike Mr. Nave, was there, on Corregidor, working on the Japanese codes. “I can attest from first-hand experience that as of 1 December 1941 the recovery of JN-25B had not progressed to the point that it was productive of any appreciable intelligence,” stated Whitlock-“not even enough to be pieced together by traffic analysis….It simply was not within the realm of our combined cryptologic capability to produce a usable decrypt at that particular juncture.”

 In the early 1990s the U.S. Navy transferred all its cryptologic archives from Crane, Indiana to the National Archives in Washington. This includes 26,581 JN-25 intercepts from 1 September to 7 December. All of these are available for public review. Frederick Parker, who studied 2413 of these intercepts, argues in the film that had they been read at the time, they would have provided clear evidence of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor.

 Rusbridger and Nave, in their book, claim they were read, but offer no evidence.

Well, here is the evidence: The 2413 pre-Pearl Harbor intercepts had been decrypted by Navy cryptologists after the war while they were waiting to be mustered out of the service. While Parker makes a strong circumstantial case that the attack would have been discovered had these messages been read, cryptologists at that time would not have been looking just at the 2413 intercepts; they would have been looking at all 26,581. Would they have been able to discern the relevant information from all that noise?

As for the Churchill as warmonger meme that inevitably pops up from time to time, you cannot do better than reading the response to such claims from way back in the summer of 2004 in Finest Hour (issue 123) by Michael McMenamin, in which he tackles many other inaccuracies raised by certain far right and far left critics.  So, read from the link below if you’re interested.

Finest Hour 123 can be found here in PDF form among many other excellent past issues.

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The Few

a Spitfire flies past US Navy destroyer Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81); a wonderfully cool shot

Seventy-two years ago, brave heroes were taking to the skies to fend off the brutal German attacks.  Following great sacrifice, in winning the Battle of Britain, they forced Hitler to abandon his plans to invade Britain.  Without them, Hitler would have taken the Isles.  He would have turned his full attention on Russia.  There would never been a D-Day.  Europe would never have been liberated.  Quite likely, Nazi Germany would have eventually developed an atomic bomb.  Today’s world would be (in Charles Krauthammer’s words) dark, tortured, unrecognizable.

[Posted in 2004] Watched the 1969 film, “Battle of Britain” yesterday.  Great story, great cast.  Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Robert Shaw, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Trevor Howard and Susannah York.  Even a young Ian “Lovejoy” McShane.  [It’s also stands as a lament to the great British film studios of not that long ago.]

I liked it, it seemed like a pretty good telling of the epic battle.  The aerial shots were great, for the most part (naturally, the special effects were very ‘1969’).  Some beautiful shots though.  The film also correctly emphasizes the use of the system of spotters and coordinated information relay that helped get the Spitfires in the air as quickly as possible to attack the invaders.  There’s a stirring scene at the end of the film, a series of scenes really — a major aerial battle, with the British defenders sparring with the attacking Luftwaffe; a grim but stirring aerial ballet wonderfully put to music (William Walton’s “Battle in the Air”).

A nice tribute at the end of the film, showing the nationalities of the airmen who made up ‘the Few’.  The Poles, Czechs, Canadians and other non-RAF groups were allowed to participate once the situation seemed desperate.

Origin  (Pilots/Killed in Action)
RAF & other Commonwealth (1822/339)
Fleet Air Arm (56/9)
Australia (21/14)
New Zealand (73/11)
Canada (88/20) [note, I think I read on Wiki somewhere there were 112 Cdns involved]
South Africa (21/9)
Southern Rhodesia (2/0)
Ireland (8/0)
United States of America (7/1)
Poland (141/29)
Czech (86/8)
Belgian (26/6)
Free France (13/0)
Israel (1/0)
TOTALS (2365/446)

The film ends, oddly to me, with a quote from Churchill on the screen: his ‘end of the beginning’ quote.  Not only is it misquoted, it is misplaced, as he said those words over two years later after the 8th Army’s victory over Rommel in North Africa.  Churchill’s ‘the Few’ quote is featured at the beginning of the film; without reference to Churchill, but I suppose that it’s obvious.  From his address in the House of Commons, August 20, 1940, I include the preceding words:

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion.  Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

As in just about every one of Churchill’s speeches from this period, the lines that have leapt into the realm of the classic are accompanied by so many other stirring words that go unremembered.  As classic as these lines are — the few, their finest hour, we shall fight on the beaches — the speeches and addresses from which they come are themselves classic and deserve to be remembered and cherished for the role they played in allowing Britain to fight on.

For instance, other lines from the August 20, 1940 speech include:

Two or three years are not a long time, even in our short, precarious lives.  They are nothing in the history of the nation, and when we are doing the finest thing in the world, and have the honor to be the sole champion of the liberties of all Europe, we must not grudge these years or weary as we toil and struggle through them.  It does not follow that our energies in future years will be exclusively confined to defending ourselves and our possessions.  Many opportunities may lie open to amphibious power, and we must be ready to take advantage of them.  One of the ways to bring this war to a speedy end is to convince the enemy, not by words, but by deeds, that we have both the will and the means, not only to go on indefinitely, but to strike heavy and unexpected blows.  The road to victory may not be so long as we expect.  But we have no right to count upon this.  Be it long or short, rough or smooth, we mean to reach our journey’s end…

and,

I do not think it would be wise at this moment, while the battle rages and the war is still perhaps only in its earlier stage, to embark on elaborate speculations about the future shape which should be given to Europe or the new securities which must be arranged to spare mankind the miseries of the third World War.  The ground is not new, it has been frequently traversed and explored, and many ideas are held about it in common by all good men, and all free men.

I include this part because it speaks to Churchill’s prescience once again; I think his prescience comes, at least in part, from his being such an astute historian.  Anyway, here we are, the Battle of Britain has barely been won and he’s already discussing the security arrangements required to prevent a third world war.  Indeed, later in this speech, he basically spells out NATO.

The speech concludes,

Undoubtedly this process means that these two great organizations of the English-speaking democracies, the British Empire and the United States, will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general benefit.  For my own part, looking out upon the future, I do not view the process with any misgivings.  I could not stop it if I wished; no one can stop it.  Like the Mississippi, it just keeps rolling along.  Let it roll.  Let it roll on full flood, inexorable, irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days.

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Temples of Freedom and Honour (a September 11th remembrance)

These cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London are, of course, a part of Hitler’s invasion plans.  He hopes by killing large numbers of civilians and women and children that he will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city, and make them a burden and anxiety to the government and thus distract our attention unduly from the ferocious onslaught he is preparing.

Little does he know the spirit of the British nation or the tough fiber of the Londoners, whose forebears played a leading part in the establishment of parliamentary institutions and who have been bred to value freedom far above their lives.

This wicked man, the repository and embodiment of many forms of soul-destroying hatreds, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shames has now resolved to try to break our famous island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction.

What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts here and all over the world which will glow long after all traces of the conflagrations he has caused in London have been removed.

He has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burned out of Europe and until the Old World and the New can join hands to rebuild the temples of man’s freedom and man’s honor upon foundations which will not soon or easily be overthrown.

— Winston Churchill (September 11, 1940)

I’ll never forget.  I was so glad to have been able to speak with my future wife, even though we were in different cities.  I had to go to my brother’s place, just to see the kids and play with them.

Forever remembrance to those who were lost, and condolences always to the loved ones left behind.

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Plea to JJ Abrams (the naming of ships)

This was originally posted to The Campblog on January 9, 2003, as a plea to Rick Berman.  Time to update!

I’ve noticed that, unlike the United States Navy, the producers of Star Trek have not included Winston S. Churchill among those for whom ships were named. Over the years, out of hundreds of named starships, the shows have had Star Fleet ships named for many important figures in recent human history, i.e. U.S.S.: Armstrong; Biko; Bradley; Bradbury; Cortez; Crazy Horse; Curry; Drake; Farragut; Fleming; Gandhi; Grissom; LaFayette; LaSalle; Livingston; Magellan; Nimitz; Pasteur; Rabin; Revere; Roosevelt; Shepard; Sherman; Thomas Paine; Tolstoy; Truman; Wellington; Yeager; and, Zhukov – to name a few.

Many worthy names, but one is definitely missing. Who did more to secure the ‘broad, sunlit uplands’ of humanity’s Star Trekian future than Winston S. Churchill??

… Rebooted or not.

The time is now, Mr. Abrams.  The time is now.

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