Bismarck Sunk: Churchill is a Failure

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the sinking of the major German warship Bismarck, concluding a naval engagement that extended over several days and hundreds of miles.

How might this sequence of events have been portrayed by today’s media?

Editorial…Major London Newspaper
May 31, 1941

The sinking of HMS Hood, and the loss of 1,400 British sailors, is only the latest in the series of disasters that have impacted Britain since Mr Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Our army was forced to retreat at Dunkirk, resulting in a loss of many million pounds worth of heavy equipment. Our cities have been bombed, and something like 40,000 of our citizens have been killed. Even now, merchant shipping is being attacked by U-boats, and it is by no means certain that adequate supplies of military equipment–or even of food–can continue to reach our island nation.

All of these disasters and failures were a foreseeable consequence of the policy of military adventurism pursued by Mr Churchill..a policy very different from the diplomatically-based policy that had been recommended by Lord Halifax. It cannot be stressed enough that this is a unilateral policy–other nations do not seem to share Mr Churchill’s obsessions. The United States, although happy to sell us military supplies, has been most unwilling to commit forces. Even the Communists in Russia have had the sober judgment to come to a diplomatic modus vivendi with Germany, rather than pursuing a military solution.

Mr Churchill seems to have a personal vendetta against the German nation and a strong personal desire to wage war, possibly as a result of his need to recover the prestige he lost in the failed Gallipoli campaign, which he instigated during the affair of 1914-1918. Or possibly (if we may be a bit psychological), the roots of Mr Churchill’s combativeness may go back even further, to his frustration with the inattentiveness of his parents. Whatever the cause, British seamen…and British men and women in all walks of life..are paying the price for Mr Churchill’s obsessions.

An attempt is being made by the Churchill government to portray the recent clash of naval forces as a British victory. It is true, of course, that the German warship Bismarck was sunk. But few serious analysts view German surface forces as the major threat..the real danger from that country is of course represented by its U-boats, by the Luftwaffe, and by the Wehrmacht. All of these forces are still intact, and Herr Hitler is still very much in charge. So what possible justification is there for the loss of life and treasure represented by the Hood?

And furthermore, the claim to moral superiority–of which the Churchill government has made so much–has been gravely compromised by this affair. Following the sinking of the Bismarck, many German sailors–possibly several hundred–were left in the water. Dorsetshire and Maori did stop to assist these now-helpless former enemies, but the rescue effort was cut short. As is now well known, the British commander on the scene decided to terminate the rescue attempt, based on his belief that there were “U-boats in the area.” The pictures of helpless men in the water, abandoned by Dorsetshire and Maori, are now seared into the British conscience. And it is that image–rather than the earlier image of British chivalry–by which our nation is now known around the world.

And those claimed U-boats? The Churchill government has failed to provide any evidence that such “U-boats” actually were present.

It is time for Mr Churchill to resign, so that a new government may begin to undo the damage that he has done.

(previously posted, in slightly different form, at Photon Courier)

14 thoughts on “Bismarck Sunk: Churchill is a Failure”

  1. There was actually some of this type of thing at the time, and a lot of it afterward, e.g. the writings of John Charmley. Churchill did preside over the evacuation of Norway, France, Greece and Crete, the loss of Singapore, Malaya and Burma, Tobruk, the bombing of London and many other cities and towns, the loss of millions of tons of shipping to u-boats, the bloody and possibly pointless campaign in Sicily, etc. Mostly, he presided over disasters from early 1940 to the invasion of France in June 1944

    However, the fact that the threat to Britain was unambiguous, and no one else had a better idea of what to do, and no one else wanted responsibility for the war, is what kept him in power.

  2. The attitude in GB in the 1930’s (before 1939, when W. C. was vigorously trying to warn and prepare for the country with respect to the German threat) in government and without WAS that portrayed in the parody.

  3. Churchill lost the election in ’45 because the British public preferred the Labour Party’s post-war plan over that of the Conservative Party. Indeed, perhaps because he was too busy prosecuted the war, Churchill, unlike Atlee, never developed a post-war plan. Also, Churchill’s comparing Atlee, who had been his Deputy Prime Minister in the wartime national government, to the Nazis probably turn off many British voters.

    I’m not sure all the losses Lex mentions can be deposited at Churchill’s feet, though, since he was Prime Minister, he must be given a share of the responsibility. The fact is Germany (and Japan) had been preparing for war for years, while Britain and the rest of Europe (and the United States) slept. It should surprise no one that, at the beginning of the war, Germany and Japan should have the better of the fight. (With the exception of Midway — the importance of which was underestimated at the time — things did not go so well for the US during 1942.) The turning point of the war with Germany (in the West) was the Second Battle of El Alamein. Churchill rightly called the British victory there the “end of the beginning.” (Stalingrad was, of course, the turning point of the war with Germany in the east.)

  4. Norway, Greece and Crete were Churchill’s doing.

    The fall of Singapore was a disaster with many causes — but Churchill failed to do anything to prevent it.

    And politicians, rightly or wrongly, are blamed for disasters that occur on their watch.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am a devotee of Churchill. His bias was for action, but the British military was not in any shape to carry the war to the Germans. The years of neglect were too big a burden to overcome quickly. But he should have tempered his dramatic ideas a little more. Fortunately, through most of the war, he had Field Marshall Alan Brooke at his side. Brooke was an excellent foil for Churchill. Churchill provided the energy and push, Brooke provided the grasp of logistical and practical reality about was actually achievable.

    Churchill being thrown out in 1945 should have come as no surprise. The country wanted him as a war leader, but had no particular use for him in peacetime. The country was in the mood for a Labor government and the Beveridge Plan. We can bemoan it now, but there is no doubt the public wanted to try socialism.

  5. Just by the way; “Churchill at war” is an example of how quickly some things have changed. As a young man he commanded a troop of lancers at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 (with actual lances!) in what had to be one of the last cavalry charges. As an old man he was involved in a war decided by the atom bomb.

  6. All true about Churchill. In fact, if you read his excellent book “My Early Life” he even tried to engage in a sword-fight at one point during a skirmish on the Northwest Frontier. At Omdurman he was with the lancers, but he used a Mauser pistol, and would have been killed if he had not had a firearm. That scene is well-depicted in the movie Young Winston with Simon Ward. On the other end, not only was in command when WWII ended with atomic detonations, he was PM during the 1950s when Britain acquired the H-Bomb. So you are not only right, but even more right than you thought.

  7. “However, the fact that the threat to Britain was unambiguous, and no one else had a better idea of what to do, and no one else wanted responsibility for the war, is what kept him in power.”

    Well, the Halifaxites thought that the threat was not unambiguous, that a negotiated peace was a better option than continued fighting (or “quagmire” as some might have said), and in fact much of world opinion, including Hitler, was sure that Britain was going to negotiate a peace after Dunkirk. For Britain, WWII was a war of choice all along. The Charmleyites continue to argue that it was the wrong choice.

    Fortunately for all of us, most British thought otherwise.

    The piece is brilliant.

  8. To paraphrase that great American Mark Twain: “History never repeats itself; but it always rhymes.”

    By that measure, Jonathan is on the right track comparing the words that drove WWII and those fueling the current war in Iraq. But why detour into the hypothetical? Historical facts provide far more substantial material that rhymes.

    Britons did criticize Churchill’s track record. That hardly mattered. Nazi military aggression and the obvious existential threat galvanized the public, as did the total mobilization of all sectors of society. There was no debate about the Nazi threat because it was self-evident. No surprise then, that Britain, the free country with a free press, triumphed over the tyranny without one.

    The Nazis, on the other hand, were without peer in their ability to inflame support and suppress dissent, the latter universally depicted as disloyalty. Support within Germany for the war was virtually universal and famously robust. The arrogance behind that lead directly to their defeat and utter destruction.
    On trial for war crimes, Nazi Reich Marshall Hermann Goering said:

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”

    It is self-evident that Goering’s authority on human nature is suspect. His cynicism is inviting in its simplicity, but falls far short of insight. More important, American history proves him dead wrong.

    Americans, in the main, do not denounce pacifists as unpatriotic, nor claim they expose the country to danger. To be sure, a vocal, well-subsidized media/think tank minority behave as Goering describes, but they have always been and remain a minority.

    A solid American majority knows better than to march blindly into war. The fact that a minority sometimes gets its way temporarily within the American political system is more a measure of the general contentedness of Americans than it is of their vulnerability to martial manipulation.

    On the matter of what it takes to fool the American people, I’ll take Lincoln’s view of Goering’s every time.

  9. make that: On the matter of what it takes to fool the American people, I’ll take Lincoln’s view OVER Goering’s every time.

  10. “…the Halifaxites thought that the threat was not unambiguous…”

    All the examples I gave were after the war had started. Halifax was on board by then.

  11. Many Britons, Europeans and Americans only began to see Nazi Germany as an obvious existential threat quite late in the game, when global war was the only remaining effective response. From the perspective of 2007 we look back on a geopolitical process leading inevitably to war, but that’s an illusion based on hindsight. Nobody had such certainty in the 1930s (if they had, it would have been a simple matter to neutralize Hitler in 1935 or 1936). And, of course, policy makers then were heavily influenced by hindsight evaluations of their recent past, particularly the Great War. Who knows how things would have turned out without Churchill, or without enemy blunders like Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor and Barbarossa. Alternately, who knows what would have happened if France had responded forcefully to the German incursion into the Rhineland.

    Historical inevitability is an illusion of hindsight. Decisions are always made in the here and now. The future is always uncertain. Better policy stops threats before they become existential. But in doing so it must also stop many threats that would not have become existential in any case (who can know in advance?), and in doing so successfully it teaches many people that there are no existential threats.

    Welcome to the new world, same as the old world. The way back is clear, the way ahead is foggy. It’s tempting to navigate using the rear-view mirror, and to cast blame rather than analyze alternatives.

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