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.





Prime Minister Winston Churchill Watches German Air Attack on Dover

On 28th August 1940 Churchill visited Dover, to see for himself the town that was under repeated air attack as well as shelling from the French coast.

It was while we were at Dover, that we saw the approaching German bombers and just a short distance away they were met by British fighters. Mr Churchill seemed mesmerized as the air battle took place almost overhead. We saw maybe two German bombers crash into the sea and some fighters with smoke trailing from them as they spiraled away from the main dogfight.

Later that afternoon, we had to drive to Ramsgate and on the way we saw a smoldering aircraft in a field, and Churchill asked the driver to pull off the road and get as close to the wreckage as he could. There was firemen, soldiers and ARP men standing around and I walked with the Prime Minister towards the aircraft. Even though I warned Mr Churchill about the dangers of being out in the open during an air raid, he said that he must have a look, and when he saw the tangled mess he said ‘Dear God, I hope it isn’t a British plane.’ He was reassured that it was not.

From Inspector W. Thompson, Churchill’s bodyguard.

[Source and Image: WWII in Color.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk 1st Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 25


This brief You-Tube video shows the battleship HMS Warspite along with her screening destroyers barreling down the Narvik fjord on 13 June and sinking the remaining German destroyers.

One of a series of nine pictures of the battle at Narvik on 13 April 1940, taken from the Swordfish attached to the British flagship, HMS Warspite. The original caption reads: With the entire force of seven German destroyers wiped out, the Warspite and destroyer screen steam out through the narrow exit of Ofot Fiord.

All the other the other remaining German destroyers, were sunk on 13 April 1940 during the Second Battle of Narvik. The Kriegsmarine lost a total of ten of their modern destroyers at Narvik and they only had twenty in the fleet. Three were sunk in the first battle and seven were sunk in the second battle. In a curious way, I think the sinking of these ten German destroyers was another nail in the coffin of the German invasion of Great Britain. Without a way to move elite detachments of troops across the English Channel, which the German destroyers could have done, the Germans never could have gotten a foothold for an invasion of the UK.

Winston Churchill addresses the crew of HMS Hardy after their return from Norway in April 1940.


Pair of anti-aircraft guns from the Georg Thiele. This is in about forty feet of water. The Germans ran the ship aground so it is in shallow water. (photo F. Bang)

[Images courtesy of History of War, Submerged, and Submerged.]

The Man Who Saved Western Civilization



Winston Churchill in 1941 as Prime Minister of Great Britain and leader of the British Empire.

“In war: resolution, In defeat: defiance, In victory: magnanimity, In peace: goodwill.”  WSC 1946

The photograph, which epitomizes Churchill’s defiance of the Nazis and his determination to defeat Hitler, has become the iconic photograph of Winston Churchill. It is speculated that this photograph, now in the public domain, has been reproduced more than any other photograph in the world.

Yousuf Karsh, a Canadian of Armenian descent, took this photo of Churchill on 30 December 1941 after Churchill had gave a speech to Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa.



When World War Two began, the British Empire ruled one-fifth of the population of the globe and controlled one-quarter of the land area of the world including all of present day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Namibia, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, UAE, Oman, Aden, Qatar, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Singapore et al. It is the largest empire known to have existed in history.

Writes Max Hastings in Winston’s War, “Churchill was the greatest Englishman and one of the greatest human beings of the twentieth century, indeed of all time.”  It is hard not to agree with this. Over the last two years I have been reading and reading to prep myself to write my next novel which will about a Royal Navy officer in World War Two. To give a sense of verisimilitude to the narrative I have steeped myself in English history of that time and Churchill towers above everyone else.

This wasn’t a surprise to me and won’t be to you but what did surprise me in re-reading so much English history is how much Great Britain and the Empire depended on his leadership during the early years of the war. “Everything depended on him and him alone. Only he had the power to make the nation believe it could win,” wrote Cabinet Secretary Sir Edward Bridges.

I don’t think I have read a memoir from an Englishman about World War Two which doesn’t make the point over and over that it was Churchill’s dogged determination, infectious optimism in public and his magnificent oratory, which kept Britain fighting alone for almost two years. The British had never imagined in their worst nightmare that they would end up fighting the Germans alone. They always presumed that France, with a far larger army, would be in the war against Germany with them.

I have downloaded a number of Churchill’s speeches and listened to them over and over to catch the mood of the era. His defiance, his wit and his frank admission to the British people of what they were going to go through never cease to impress me. More important, is the what I can only describe as the awesome inspiration his speeches possess. Almost seventy years later, his words can make my hair stand on end and vitally communicate the sense of urgency he felt.

The most somber of his speeches is quoted the most so I will include just a few lines here that send chills down my spine. After France collapsed and surrendered to the Germans, Churchill stood in front of Parliament and said, “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization…” (by which he meant Western civilization)And, of course, he was right. And the British won this battle by themselves. We did almost nothing to help them at that point.

Despite the library of books written about him, Churchill remains a mystery. “Opaque,” as Max Hastings wrote, “because he wished it thus.”  When Churchill took center stage, he was well aware he was playing the role of a lifetime and he played his role with greater skill than any actor in all of history. He knew that everything he did would be studied and dissected down to the last jot, so while he lived in the brutal present, he always had his eye on posterity. It is one of the reasons he refused to keep a diary or journal. He did not want people to know what he thought at different times during the war.

By all logic the British should have negotiated with the Nazis while they were still in a position of relative strength. But thank God they did not. And the reason they did not was a man named Winston Churchill. We owe him a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid. In the entire history of the United States, only two people have ever been made honorary citizens of the US: the Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill.



 This photograph was taken in Boston during Churchill’s lecture tour in 1900 about the Boer War. (Photo courtesy US Library of Congress).

Disaster: Convoy PQ 17 and Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound – Part 3

Part 1Part 2 Part 3

A 50-foot (15m) high wave towers above the bridge of the cruiser HMS Sheffield. During this Arctic gale the wind reached speeds of 65 knots (120kph). Visibility was less than 180m. The heavy seas stripped the armoured roof off one of the ship’s turrets.

Unlike any other service chief in Great Britain at the time, such as Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the First Sea Lord was both the professional head of the Royal Navy and the commanding officer of the entire fleet. Pound could, and did, go over the heads of Admirals on the scene in their flagships and even over the head of the C-in-C, Home Fleet, the most powerful fleet in the Navy usually kept close to home to defend the British Isles. The commander of the Home Fleet was always an Admiral of the Fleet as well.

In September of 1943, Pound had a stroke in Washington, DC while accompanying Prime Minister Churchill to a meeting with President Roosevelt. Pound resigned the next day and died a month later in London.

The Western Approaches Command control room as it was during operation.

[Images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum and the BBC.]

Disaster: Convoy PQ 17 and Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound – Part 2

Part 1Part 2Part 3

The ammunition ship Mary Luckenbach explodes during PQ18, 19 October 1942. After PQ17 the convoys stopped for nine weeks, then PQ18 was fought through against strong opposition. In total, 16 ships were lost, along with 41 German aircraft and 4 U-boats.

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.

Seamen clearing ice from the forecastle of HMS Belfast in November 1943. Ice formed from frozen spray would build up on every exposed part of a ship. It had to be cleared regularly or the extra weight could make the ship capsize.

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.”

Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941 – Conference leaders during Church services on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill are seated in the foreground. Standing directly behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King, USN; General George C. Marshall, US Army; General Sir John Dill, British Army; Admiral Harold R. Stark, USN; and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, RN. At far left is Harry Hopkins, talking with W. Averell Harriman. Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN(Retired), 1969. (US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.)

[Images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and the US Naval History and Heritage Command.]

Winston Churchill’s Favorite Portrait of Himself

Painting of Winston Churchill by William Orpen, 1916

“It is not the picture of a man. It is the picture of a man’s soul,” said Churchill to the artist, Sir William Orpen. Churchill sat for him eleven times in 1916. This was just after he had been forced out of his Cabinet post of First Lord of the Admiralty as a sop to public opinion for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign (February 1915 – January 1916) by Prime Minister Asquith. (Himself later ousted from the office of Prime Minister by Lloyd George.)

A Royal Commission of Investigation into the Gallipoli Campaign later exonerated Churchill but history has stuck him with responsibility for it. The portrait is now on loan to the National Portrait Gallery in London from the Churchill family according to this piece on Churchill and the portrait here.

[Source and Image: The Churchill Centre and Museum at the Churchill War Rooms London.]