One of the reasons the British Empire had such a hold on the oceans of the world was their control of key choke points for maritime traffic. These included the southern tip of India, that entire country then ruled by the British. Close by, controlling a key passage into the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal was modern day Sri Lanka, then the British colony of Ceylon.
The Royal Navy had numerous ships stationed in several bases on Ceylon although at one point after a series of Japanese attacks the British Eastern Fleet withdrew to Mombassa. The island itself hosted large numbers of British military facilities.
“Slim Jim” Somerville was one of the Royal Navy’s most successful fighting admirals in WOrld War Two. Prior to being sent out to command the Eastern Fleet, at that time a collection of old World War One battleships, Somerville had command the famous “Force H” from Gibraltar.
Curiously, Somevile had been placed on the retired list before the war because of a misdiagnosed medical condition of tuberculosis which he did not have. When recalled to the colours, he remained on the retired list thus receiving both his pension and his active duty pay.
Junior ratings wore long black socks with tropical rig. Higher rates, petty officers, and officers wore white socks. The chaplain, although classified as an officer for purposes of pay and food and uniform and quarters, actually did not have a rank. The Royal Navy believed the men would more readily consult the chaplain about their personal issues, one of his main functions, if he wasn’t officially an officer.
The Royal Indian Navy was one of the armed forces of British India. Created by the East India Company in the early 1700s, it was subsequently absorbed into the armed forces of British India. The British expanded the Royal Indian Navy in World War Two. This navy formed the basis of the modern Indian Navy.
Frightfully unqualified for anything, Mountbatten made numerous ghastly mistakes. His appointment in South East Asia did increase morale of the “Forgotten Army of Burma” since he was a member of the royal family and enjoyed massive press coverage. In fact, Mountbatten made the “forgotten army of Burma” quite famous. Very keen on publicity was Dickie Mountbatten. His HQ in Ceylon had a staff of 7,000 men and women a number of whom spent their time getting him publicity.
The largest all-volunteer fighting formation of the British Empire in World War Two was the British Indian Army which was recruited in British India then comprised of modern day Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. More than 2.5 million men served in the British Indian Army and they fought all over the world.
Defensive measures for Burma were never put into place by the British because they did not believe Burma was under much threat. By the time they did, it was too late. After a series of small engagements with invading Japanese, British Army, British Indian Army and Commonwealth troops under General Sir Harold Alexander (later Field Marshal, Earl Alexander of Tunis) made a fighting retreat to British India where the Japanese were halted. The climate made fighting even more miserable than fighting could be.
This was not a warning German pilots liked hearing over the headphones during air battles over England.
Flames roar from the exhaust of a Spitfire as it starts its engine. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images. August 2015. Courtesy of the Guardian.
spitfires to malta
Arrive in Malta at last. If the Spitfire pilots didn’t keep an eagle eye on their fuel mixture and fly in such a way as to conserve fuel they coulnd’t make it to Malta from their flying off point and over the years a number of them crashed into the Med never to be heard from again.
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…”
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.
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 speaking during the General Election campaign of 1945 which took place after the surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945.
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:
The Communist insurgency and successful counter-insurgency by British, Commonwealth and Malaysian troops became known as the “Malayan Emergency,” or “Malay Emergency.”
Had the British government used the word “war” then Lloyds of London and other property insurers would have been able to avoid paying out damage claims on policies written on tin mines, rubber plantations, and manufacturing plants destroyed or damaged in war. Insurance policies written for property exclude from recompense damages caused by war and “Acts of God.” These are defined as natural catastrophes over which no human agency could exert control or caused. Tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, tidal waves etc are “Acts of God” in the legal sense of the term.
Many policies also include exemptions from paying claims by civil unrest, riot and other events of mass violence. What constitutes such events area the kinds of things which keep lawyers busy.
“Don’t you think, sir, you should have an escort,” said a policeman to the British Adviser to the Sultan of Perak, then part of the British colony of Malaysia. A Communist insurgency had recently broken out and the Adviser had come to inspect a rubber plantation where several British estate managers had just been murdered by Communist thugs.
“Escort? Good God! Why on earth should I need an escort? I’ve got my walking stick and my wife.”
[Source: War of the Running Dogs: Malaya, 1948-1960by Noel Barber, foreign correspondent of the London Daily Mail in the 1950s and 1960s who later became a bestselling novelist including several romance novvels the most famous of which was “A Farewell to France.”
The Communist insurgency in Malaya was heavily supported by the Communist Government of the People’s Republic of China. In spite of the immense difficulties involved in chasing down the Communist guerrillas and killing or capturing them in some of the most forbidding terrain in the world, this was the only successful anti-Communist campaign won by any of the Western powers in Asia that did not involved either outright defeat or a partition of the original nation.
After the defeat of the Japanese, the British re-occupied Malaysia which had been a British crown colony before World War Two, that is, a colony ruled by a Governor appointed by the Crown as advised by the sitting Prime Minister. The British wanted the opportunity to re-open tin mines and rubber plantations because of their desperate need of foreign currency.
The British were also determined to hand over a stable, democratic, free and independent nation to the native Malay officials and Parliament. It was a very long haul. This conflict began in 1948 and continued until the destruction of Communist forces in 1960.
Through the use of Malaysia soldiers and police, British and Commonwealth troops, and funds and supplies from the USA, the British succeeded and after they succeeded, they left. This was one of the few success stories of a country emerging intact from its days as a colony of the British Empire. Malaysia was and continues to be a multi-ethnic state because over the decades the British glued different pieces of territories into one colony. So it wasn’t as if one large piece of territory was just sitting there and they came along and snatched it.
The British Empire was built on trade and the suppression of ethnic violence. In many colonies the ethnic mix was such that these different groups had been warring with each other for endless amounts of time. The British usually imposed order by recruiting native police and military units under British command backed up by British troops and the Royal Navy. Hence, there was an unspoken social contract. The British ruled the colony and made money from it and in return provided order and stability so that native elites could also make money and maintain their traditional powers.
The British preferred to rule through native elites and these groups were often among their strongest supporters.
Malaysia was never a “settlement” colony such as Canada or Australia. At its peak the white population before World War Two might have number 10,000 people. The brutally hot climate of Malaysia was such that few white Europeans wanted to go there for any length of time. It was a trading colony exporting raw sap from rubber trees as well as an immense amount of tin from mines that had been opened up. Because of this, Malaya earned large amounts of foreign currency, especially dollars for the British and this became more and more important as the twentieth century went on.