The order for PQ17 to scatter was a disaster and many in the Admiralty knew it and even had very strong proof that the Tirpitz had not sortied from Norway. Nonetheless, even after being given that information Pound refused to retract his order. Unfortunately, Admiral Pound suffered from ill health, with both an undiagnosed brain tumor as well as a painful degenerative hip disease which kept him from sleeping. He often fell asleep in meetings leading younger officers to whisper, “father’s praying.”
Prime Minister Churchill wore several hats during the war and unknown to many in addition to the post of Prime Minister, he took the Cabinet Post of Minister of Defense, a position of great power. By doing so, he kept power over the military in his hands and denied it to others. Many felt Churchill put Pound in charge of the Admiralty so Churchill could effectively run the Royal Navy. I think there is truth to this yet Pound often deflected Churchill’s occasional harebrained schemes by plodding along pretending to work on them but never actually doing so.
It is a curiosity of history that both Roosevelt and Churchill had held high civilian positions in their respective governments overseeing their navies. FDR took a great interest in the US Navy in WW Two although never interfered like Churchill often did. Nonetheless, FDR let General Marshal run the Army side of the war with little interference except for the major strategic questions, while keeping a much closer eye on the Navy.
FDR had a policy, at least it seems he had a policy, of only deciding what he alone as President could decide. There were several occasions when both General Marshal and Admiral King met with Roosevelt and came away with specific orders to carry out a mission — Operation Torch being an example. After the meeting at FDR’s Hyde Park estate during which Roosevelt overrode their opposition and told them to do it, the two men returned to Washington and wrote a memo once again urging FDR to cancel this undertaking. FDR sent the memo back and in no uncertain terms said “Not Approved” and just in case they didn’t get it, he signed the memo, “Roosevelt, C-in-C.”
[Images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and the US Naval History and Heritage Command.]