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.
Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, HMS Rodney and her sister ship, HMS Nelson, both had all three turrets of their main armament on the fore deck of the ship. As odd as these ships looked, their carried 16 inch guns, the largest in the Royal Navy.
14 steel hulled, coal fired fishing trawlers were built on order in Germany for a London company which could only get blocked credits out of Nazi Germany by using the money to buy something in Nazi Germany. So the company bought trawlers, each one christened with the first name of ‘”Northern.” Hence they became known as “Northern Class trawlers” although they were not purpose built for the Royal Navy.
HMT Northern Pride was a built in 1936 by Deschimag, Germany. taken over by the admiralty in August 1939. returned to her owner in November 1945. and scrapped at Gateshead in 1964. Photo and caption courtesy of harwichanddovercourt.co.uk/warships/trawlers/
All 14 were requisitioned by the Admiralty and refitted as mine sweepers and later several were refitted as convoy rescue ships. After being taken-over by the Royal Navy, each was designated with the prefix HMT–His Majesty’s Trawler. These were robust ships and many served as rescue and escort ships on the Murmansk run through the Arctic Sea as well as in the North Atlantic. They swept for mines, rescued people and had enough armaments to give a respectable account of themselves.
Depending on their operational schedule, they would “de-ammunition” the ship before a boiler clean or a refit since the navy did not want the ship filled with live ammunition while it was being worked on.
(booms to hold anti-torpedo netting are flush against the hull)
Due to the flawed theories of Admiral Sir Jack Fisher, the Royal Navy’s concept of a battlecruiser proved to be a disaster. Theoretically faster than a battleship but less heavily armoured, battlecruisers were meant as scouts for the main battle fleet. The distinction between battleships and battlecruiser was often forgotten.
The ship was coal fired and it required all of her 42 boilers to come on line for the ship to make her design speed of 28 knots.
After HMS Queen Mary was hit in the forward magazines the entire ship exploded.
In this explosion, caused by faulty design of flashback protectors in British Navy magazines, 1,266 crewmen died. Eighteen survived. Two other Royal Navy battlecruisers, HMS Invincible and HMS Indefatigable, also exploded with almost no survivors.
Among the pagodas on Mandalay Hill, historic heart of Burma’s second city, Indian troops of 19th Division open fire on a Japanese strong-point. (Photo courtesy of IWM)
A patrol of the British 36th Division in the village of Bahe, during the drive down to Mandalay.
Some of the bloodiest and intense fighting in World War Two occurred in Burma from January 1945 onward during the British led offensive to re-conquer the colony from the Japanese. Beginning in late January 1942, Japanese troops had attacked Burma, then a British Crown Colony.
Soldiers of the 14th Army on Mandalay Hill, during the battle for Fort Dufferin. (photo courtesy British Information Services)
A Burmese family living in a dug-out share tea with a British soldier in Meiktila, 10 March 1945. (photo courtesy of IWM)
Long forgotten in the West, the long campaign to defeat the Japanese required armed forces drawn from military units throughout the vast British Empire including British, British Indian Army troops with British Commonwealth troops and locally raised units loyal to the British. American troops and aircraft along with units from the Nationalist Chinese Army fought in the campaign as well.
Tanks and truck-borne infantry of the British 14th Army, on the dash to Meiktila. (courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
Men of the 6/7th Rajputana Rifles of the British Indian Army advance behind Sherman tanks during the assault on Meiktila, 23 February 1945. The all volunteer British Indian Army recruited from throughout British India eventually numbered more than 2.5 million troops, one of the largest volunteer armies in history. (photo courtesy of IWM).
70% of the British Indian Army were Muslims. The British High Command paid the greatest attention to the religious and dietary laws of Islam when dealing with these troops as they did for all the different ethic groups which fought for them. When the time came to partition India, Jinnah, head of the Muslim League and founder of Pakistan, was well aware that without Muslim soldiers the British Indian Army would never have been very successful. The British were well aware of this which gave them a certain incentive to agree to the partition of British India.
Mandalay and Meiktila were two key cities in central/upper Burma. Between January and March 1945, the British led attack destroyed the Japanese Army divisions around the two cities. Tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers were killed and the military organization of the Japanese forces collapsed. (1)
After a series of small wars, Burma had been taken by the British in 1886. While separate, the colony had been attached for administration to British India which then included all of present day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Burma was made a separate colony in 1937.
Burma remained an underdeveloped colony of the British Empire. Its primary economic value to the Empire was its large rice crop. Much of this was exported to other colonies in the Empire including Ceylon, Egypt and British India and its fall to the Japanese caused major food supply problems in the British Empire.
In a brutal assault the Japanese drove the lightly armed British and British Indian Army troops out of Burma and established a reign of terror over the various peoples of the area. While many of the native Burmans were happy to see British rule end, that sentiment did not continue with great fervor after people experienced the everyday terror of Japanese martial law.
As was often the case in British colonies, many of the smaller ethnic groups, such as the Karen people, had been brutally dealt with by the majority ethnic group, the Burmans (from whom the country takes its name). The persecution of the Karens by the Burmese continues in a brutal fashion to this day.
Indian troops coax mules into the water for the 500 yard swim across the Irrawaddy River, January 1945. (Photo courtesy of the IWM)
Hence, the Karens welcomed British rule and remained loyal to the British, supplying men to locally raised units supporting the British Imperial forces. So did other small ethnic groups. After the war, the British granted independence to Burma but would not divide the colony between the Burmans and the smaller ethnic groups despite the pleas of the Karens and other groups. These were the people who had been most loyal to the British and they were paid back in a shabby and inglorious way.
The campaign to re-take Mandalay and Meiktila by the British led 14th Army occurred between January and March 1945 because the best fighting weather lasted only from January through early June. In the other months, the monsoon rains descended. Just moving forward in the rainy season required immense efforts. (photo courtesy of the British Information Service)
According to a July 1945 publication on the campaign in Burma by the British Information Service:
During the monsoon season “In the Assam-Burma mountains… the rainfall runs between 150 and 250 inches a year (New York State has forty-one, inches: England thirty inches). Men were never dry, day or night, for months on end. Roads which yesterday carried tanks and guns will tomorrow be either thirty feet under water or simply washed off the side of the hill..
As you might imagine, the inhospitable climate caused significant health problems among the troops.
The damp and the heat bring malaria, sprue, (a disease which attacks the GI tract) dengue, dysentery and jaundice. During the first six months of 1944 there were 237,000 hospitalized disease and fever cases in the 14th Army alone (eighty-five per cent of its combat strength).
Soldiers were constantly felled by malaria.
“If you try to march in a mosquito net it is ripped to pieces by the undergrowth; if you cover yourself with anti-mosquito cream, you are ready to burst after 100 yards, for it clogs the sweat pores. So you eat anti-fever atabrin tablets, which turn you yellow, and salt tablets to put back what you lose from sweat, and you trust the medics to get you back to duty from the malaria in three to four weeks. (They do it, too, which is one of the war’s miracles.”
The 2nd Battalion of The Royal Berkshire Regiment (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) was in India at the start of the war and spent 1939 to 1943 on internal security duties there. In January 1943 it was attached to 98th Indian Brigade. After undergoing jungle training it was sent to Asssam, arriving in the Autumn of 1944. It fought at Imphal-Kohima and then joined the advance into Burma, crossing the Chindwin in December and then winning battle honours for Kyaukmyaung Bridgehead, Mandalay, Fort Dufferin and Toungoo.
One of 11 photographs collected by CSM G R C Willis, 2nd Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment, Burma, 1945.
(photo and caption courtesy of the British National Army Museum)
The British commander and Indian crew of a Sherman tank of the 9th Royal Deccan Horse, 255th Indian Tank Brigade, encounter a newly liberated elephant on the road to Meiktila, 29 March 1945. (photo courtesy of the IWM)
An Indian infantry section of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment about to go on patrol on the Arakan front, Burma, 1944. (photo courtesy of the IWM)
Sources: author’s research, Imperial War Museum, British Information Service.
(1) The British Empire and the Second World War by Ashley Jackson.
Additionally I recommend the following for further reading: The Road Past Mandalay by John Masters. This is the second volume of his memoirs of serving as an officer in the Gurkhas, elite feared combat troops of the British Army still recruited in Nepal to this day. The first volume is Bugles and a Tiger which I think is slightly better and gives a fascinating look into the work-a-day tasks of the British Indian Army between the wars.