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Churchill Right on Dardanelles

Minister of Munitions Winston Churchill meets women war workers at Georgetown’s filling works near Glasgow during a visit on 9 October 1918. Churchill came into Lloyd George’s cabinet, known as the Second Coalition, as Minister of Munitions. 

Churchill was forced out of the cabinet by H.H. Asquith since the Conservatives would not come into a coalition with the his Liberal Party if Churchill remained in the Cabinet. This was painful, to say the least, for both men. Asquith is actually responsible for the launch of Churchill’s career. He appointed him to a series of powerful cabinet posts from Home Secretary to President of the Board of Trade to First Lord of the Admiralty.

Although the decision to force the Dardanelles was made by the entire cabinet under the leadership of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, Winston Churchill is somehow given the entire blame for what became a disaster. In spite of their later denials, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Jackie Fisher, and the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Kitchener, were in favour of this plan. After the war, a Royal Commission cleared Churchill of blame for the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign.

As you can see from the map above, Churchill’s plan was for the Royal Navy to use old battleships to force their was from the Aegean through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara. From there they would have easily taken Istanbul and opened up the Black Sea to maritime traffic. The Turkish Navy was too small to have stopped them although at that point all Turkish warships were being commanded by German naval officers. (Clash of Fleets: Naval Battles of the Great War, by Vincent O’Hara).

The best and shortest explanation of why this was a sound idea and what it was could have achieved is given by Violet Bonham Carter, Baroness Asquith. Violet Asquith was the daughter of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and in spite of her youth, he often discussed complex matters of state with her because of her brilliance and keen understanding of British politics. She was one of the most extraordinary women of her time.

Portrait of the brilliant and perceptive British politician and author Violet Bonham-Carter, neé Asquith, 1915.   In December 1964, she was elevated to the peerage in her own right as Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury (15 April 1887 – 19 February 1969).

She met Winston Churchill when she was 18 and they remained friends for rest of their lives. In the last several years of his life, she was one of the few people who would be invited to sit with him and  her presence cheered him. She herself was an extraordinary woman and the only female friend he had. The last telegram Churchill sent in his life was one congratulating Violet on her elevation to the peerage. She was brilliant, thought by many to be almost as good a speaker as Churchill and had a personality of steel. All of this appealed to Churchill.

“Winston Churchill As I Knew Him” is her memoir about the early years of friendship between them from 1906 until 1915.  She describes the rationale behind the campaign. “Once the fleet had broken through the Straits (the Dardanelles) into the Sea of Marmora the Greeks and the Bulgarians, hungry for spoils, might join us in attacking Turkey (at that time allied with Imperial Germany); Italy might be weaned from her neutrality; Rumania would not stand alone. The Balkan States might form a united front to sweep the Turks from Europe. But what mattered most was to help Russia in her desperate need. When Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell we could release her shipping bottled up in the Black Sea. She could export her grain to us ad we could send her arms and ammunition.”

It was a bold plan. But for the lack of will of the British Admiral commanding the task force of old battleships assembled to run the Dardanelles, it probably would have worked and would have changed history. Certainly Baroness Asquith believed this to her dying day. She thought this was the worst mistake made in the 20th century.

No question that Admiral David Beatty would have successfully forced the Dardanelles. At this point there were no Turkish soldiers on the small spit of land known as Gallipoli. Unfortunately, it didn’t work because the Royal Navy’s fighting instinct had atrophied over a century of ruling the waves without challenge.

I am convinced that Admiral, the Earl Beatty of the North Sea, would have forced the Dardanelles had he been in command. In spite of his errors in command in his many engagements with the Germans, he certainly never lost his nerve. In fact, if anything, he went at the Germans too quickly without waiting for his other ships to come up in support.

 

 

 

 

Fashion from Crimean War

As I was saying to Nikolai this afternoon, war often leads to fashion items which endure long after the war that spawned them is over.

cardigan: a knitted wool sweater with long sleeves opening down the front as worn by our spokesmodel, Nickolai.

Take the Cardigan sweater, a fashion item owned by many men and women. The garment itself is defined as a knitted wool sweater with long sleeves opening down the front.

The man who made this unlikely garment fashionable was none other than the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Is he famous for anything else? Yes, in October of 1854, he led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. (1853 to 1856). The causes of the war are boring and complicated. Suffice it to say that the French and British went to the Crimea to fight the Russians and the Ottomans (Turks) over something.

 

Cardigan

Cardigan was an insecure, arrogant, self-righteous, narcissistic jerk who wore a wool sweater of his own design which opened down the front. Besides having an eye for fashion, he was brave since he personally led the Charge of the Light Brigade into Russian artillery fire. 

“Here goes the last of the Brudenell’s,” said Lord James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan…and then Major General Commanding the Light Brigade, a cavalry formation which included his personal regiment, the 11th Hussars, upon receiving the order to charge batteries of Russian artillery. This was part of the Battle of Balaclava which was part of the overall siege of Sevastopol, the key Russian naval base in the Crimea.

Spokesmodel Nickolai modeling a heavy wool balaclava.

Allow me to interrupt myself to call your attention to the Battle of Balaclava (the town itself served as a British supply point). It was so cold in the Crimean winter that women in England knitted wool garments which covered the faces and necks of the English soldiers. The men received these garments when they would go for supplies at the town of Balaclava, hence the name.

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The charge of the Light Brigade accomplished nothing and was the result of inaccurate and misleading orders. But it did generate a famous poem. While many are familiar with poem, they don’t know what event inspired the poet. Below is the first stanza.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Half a league half a league, 
Half a league onward, 
All in the valley of Death 
Rode the six hundred: 
‘Forward, the Light Brigade! 
Charge for the guns’ he said: 
Into the valley of Death 
Rode the six hundred. 

(A league is an imprecise unit of measurement which fell out of use in the late 19th Century.)

War and fashion unfortunately often go together. The trench coat is exactly that: a coat first made in England in World War One for officers to wear in the trenches of the Western front. And “bomber jackets” are also exactly that–jackets worn by the pilot and copilots of American bombers in World War Two.

(The cockpit and navigator’s area were heated. The rest of the plane was not and other crew members had to wear electrically heated suits. Curiously, they had to clean these with gasoline. The air gunners who fired from the large opening on each side of the aircraft also wore chain mail manufactured by Wilkinson sword to protect them from shrapnel. (Invented by the British Army officer, Captain Shrapnel).

Baldwin Eviscerated by Churchill

War_Industry_in_Britain_during_the_First_World_War_Q84077

Minister of Munitions Winston Churchill meets women war workers at Georgetown’s filling works near Glasgow during a visit on 9 October 1918. Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

“…they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent…”

 

Stanley_Baldwin_resize

The incompetent Stanley Baldwin in the 1920s. He served as Prime Minister of Great Britain on three occasions: 1923 to 1924, 1924 to 1929 and 1935 to 1937. 

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was a wealthy man, quite out of his depth, entirely out of touch with his times, and possessed of a foolish rigidity of thought which ill-prepared Great Britain for the coming war. His nickname, “the Vicar” will give you an idea of how he was seen. (And it was a compliment). Worse, his personal and his campaign slogan was ‘Safety First.’  This actually meant, ‘don’t do anything which might rock the boat’ which was manifested by his not doing anything.

Baldwin still saw England as a nation of small villages, inspired by the narrow values and philosophies of small villages. He did not understand and could not understand the threat Hitler and other totalitarian states were to Great Britain and the British Empire.

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Winston Churchill in full cry on the campaign trail during a speech in Uxbridge, Middlesex, during the general election campaign on 27 June 1945. (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

On 12 November 1936, in a debate in the House of Commons over what Winston Churchill believed was a far-too-casual and much-too-small initial rebuilding of the armed forces of the Crown, he excoriated Baldwin and his cabinet for their timidity and indecision about rearmament.
“The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has argued as usual against a Ministry of Supply. The arguments which he used were weighty, and even ponderous… But then my right hon. friend went on somewhat surprisingly to say, ‘The decision is not final’. It would be reviewed again in a few weeks. What will you know in a few weeks about this matter that you do not know now, that you ought not to have known a year ago, and have not been told any time in the last six months?….
The First Lord of the Admiralty in his speech the other night went even farther. He said, ‘We are always reviewing the position. Everything, he assured us is entirely fluid. I am sure that that is true. Anyone can see what the position is.

The Government simply cannot make up their minds, or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”

 

churchill from NPR

Churchill speaking during the General Election campaign of 1945 which took place after the surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945.

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21 year old Winston Spencer Churchill of the 4th Queens Hussars. 1895

One of the reasons so many of Churchill’s speeches are remembered is he rarely spoke off the cuff. He always carefully prepared his remarks, usually spending hours and hours of labor upon the drafts.  He dictated his speeches to a secretary then revised then over and over before delivering them.

A fascinating article about Churchill’s speeches can be found here:

www.winstonchurchill.org/his-speeches-how-churchill-did-it

 

London Blackout Fashion for Use During Blitz

For fear the German Luftwaffe would be able to use the smallest pinprick of light as an aiming point, a blackout lasting from sunset till dawn was imposed on 1 September 1939 throughout the United Kingdom (with the exception of Northern Ireland).

For most people in the Great Britain this was the first tangible effect of the war and it had wide ranging effects from an increase in motor car collisions to large numbers of people being run down by trams to depression. For many months nothing actually happened but when the London Blitz began people were happy they had stocked up with various items.

BLACKOUT ACCESSORIES FOR SALE, SELFRIDGE’S, LONDON, ENGLAND, C 1940 (D 66) A sales assistant, using a stuffed toy, demonstrates a blackout coat for dogs to a customer at Selfridge’s department store in London. The coat would make sure that the dog was visible to car drivers and pedestrians during the dark nights of the blackout. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197491

 

These photos of the era are fascinating since they show only well-to-do middle and upper middle class people shopping for blackout items at Selfridge’s. This was a high end department store with its flagship London store on Oxford Street where these posed photographs were taken. No allowance was given homeowners or renters to purchase blackout materials or paint.

BLACKOUT ACCESSORIES FOR SALE, SELFRIDGE’S, LONDON, ENGLAND, C 1940 (D 75) A female shop assistant displays a white raincoat for use in the blackout. The colour of the fabric of the coat would mean that the wearer would be clearly visible to other pedestrians and to motorists in the dark streets of the blackout. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197497

 

It is difficult for us to picture what it would be like to live in a urban area such as London and once night fell, discover it was almost impossible to see anything. Literally. Unless there was moonlight, you could barely see your hand in front of your face. People tripped and fell constantly and many injured themselves badly. While the street curbs (kerbs to the Brits) were eventually painted white that didn’t help a lot.

Worse, in many areas the residential voltage was decreased by almost 50%. When you finally made it home from work, put up your blackout curtains and turned on the lights, they only burned dimly. You couldn’t see very well and even reading could be difficult.

The blackout was enforced by ubiquitous ARP (Air Raid Precaution) wardens who would issue you at summons if you were violating the very strict blackout regulations. This included the smallest chink of light from a blackout curtain improperly closed. 300,000 people throughout the UK were taken to court for committing blackout offenses. (source: Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 by Juliet Gardiner)

Gardiner also wrote that “Shopkeepers who transgressed the lighting regulations were made an example of…” and fines exceeding £50 were imposed on some at a time when a small car could be purchased for £120.

In the early 1930s Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin declared “the bomber will always get through.” This turned out to be a statement as stupid as Stanley Baldwin. There was great fear among the authorities that the bombing of London, for instance, would reduce the citizens to panic, lunacy or lethargy. The government theorized that 600,000 people in London would have nervous breakdowns after one or two bombing raids and the city would be filled with gibbering idiots. It was though that even a small tonnage of bombs dropped by the Nazis would wreck London.

None of this turned out to be true. It is quite amazing the circumstances in which people are able to carry on.

BLACKOUT ACCESSORIES FOR SALE, SELFRIDGE’S, LONDON, ENGLAND, C 1940 (D 68) A blackout walking stick on sale at Selfridge’s in London’s Oxford Street. The light in the tip of the walking stick would illuminate the ground sufficiently for the user to see more clearly in the blackout, and to make the user more visible to pedestrians and vehicles. These walking sticks sold for 14/6. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197493

 

The price of 14/6 translates for us Americans as 14 shillings, six pence. Until 1971, British currency was not on the decimal system. Instead it was based on 240 pence to one British pound (£). Twelve pence made a shilling and twenty shillings made a pound. There were a number of coins such as farthing, half a crown etc which were worth a certain number of pence.

An unskilled working man would be lucky to make £1 for a fifty hour week. So this walking stick would cost an entire weeks’ pay for a unskilled worker. Women made less.

The walking stick would cost about £40 pounds today which would be approximately US$51.00 dollars based on the exchange rate of of May 2017.

Slang for pound is “quid,” thought to come from the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” defined by Merriam-Webster as “something given or received for something else.”

“The derivation is interesting. According to Merriam-Webster, “In the early 16th century, a quid pro quo was something obtained from an apothecary. That’s because when quid pro quo was first used in English, it referred to the process of substituting one medicine for another—whether intentionally (and sometimes fraudulently) or accidentally.”

www.merriam-webster.com/quid pro quo

 

Industrial Scale Looting of Royal Navy Sea Graves says Daily Mail

‘The Queen Mary in particular saw 1,266 sailors wiped out in seconds, the largest single loss of life at Jutland. [The looting] is disrespectful.

Source: World War 1 sea graves hit by ‘industrial-scale looting’ from Royal Navy ship | Daily Mail Online

 

This is outrageous. HMS Queen Mary is a war grave. A Dutch salvage company is alleged to have been doing this. I guess they forget it was the Anglo-American forces which liberated their country from the Nazis. It is certainly an awkward reality that more Dutch served in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany than the Allied and United Nations forces. (Eisenhower started to use the term ‘United Nations’ in the latter part of 1944)

Unfortunately, the bureaucrats in the British Ministry of Defence refuse to do anything about this since that would 1) compel them to work 2) might upset the Dutch (so what) 3) don’t have the budget (ask the PM for supplemental supply bill 4) want to forget the unpleasantness of World War One.

 

 

 

 

Lest We Forget

27 May 2013. The Hon. Barack Obama, President of the United States of America and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., May 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

 

“War is all hell.”

General William Tecumseh Sherman. His personal bodyguard was a troop of Alabama Horse.

In this era of partisan political division, which is not new in American history, it bears pointing out that all the states of the Confederacy, except for my native state of South Carolina, had regiments which fought for the Union. While many of these regiments were comprised of African-American troops, a number of Southern regiments fighting for the Union were comprised of white Southern males.