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Dunkirk and Churchill : What is a military victory?

Malcolm Redfellow

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The irony is the British and French pioneered tank warfare. The Battle of Amiens in 1918 was probably the first time tanks were effectively deployed en masse on the battlefield and the Germans were routed as a result.
Fair, but — as with so much else — the introduction of the tanks ('the Heavy Section'), 20 November 1917, at Cambrai verged on the farcical. Far from being a 'secret weapon', there had been too many 'stunts'. Lt Col John Brough, the first commander of 'the Heavy Section', protested about the 'demonstrations'. So CIGS removed him from his command, a fortnight before the tanks were deployed in a action.

Haig went against the counsel of his juniors to order just 49 Serviceable Mark I tanks to a limited objective at Flers-Coucelette (15 September 1916). He was deploying machines not fully tested, and manned by crew not fully-trained.

The German attitude to tanks was dismissive, an appreciation of their apparent repeated failures. Two weeks after that initial attack, the German infantry had regained all lost ground. Then evolved the method of opposing tank attacks, the 'tank fort': one or more field guns, backed by machine gun emplacements. Until the Mk IV tank (which came on line at Messines at Arras, June 1917) and senior command recognising that tanks could not willy-nilly traverse marshy and broken ground, this was enough to negate tank attacks.

Rawlinson's heavily-reinforced offensive at Amiens (04.20 hrs, 8 August 1918) involved every available piece of kit: 342 Mk 5 tanks, 72 Whippet mediums, 2,070 guns, 800 aircraft. The French contributed no tanks, but over a thousand aircraft. Rawlinson shrewdly omitted the wake-up introductory barrage, and launched against six divisions (much thinned out) of Marwitz's 2nd Army. Even then, the advance went askew: by 12 August, the entire British tank force amounted to six. So Foch changed the line of assault to north of Albert.
 


Catahualpa

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As Prince of Wales he had made his views clear as early as July 1933. Then he told Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, the Hohenzollern heir, it:
is no business of ours to interfere in Germany's internal affairs either re Jews or re anything else ... dictators are very popular these days and we might want one in England before long.
See the Diaries of Bruce Lockhart, page 62.
In November the same year Edward chatted up Count Mensdorff (the former Austrian Ambassador) with the notion
national socialism is the only thing to do.
Ziegler's biography has that.

Would such, and more, pass the 'duck test'?

It all has a particular relevance to the tensions in the Tory Party, 1938-1940.

Chamberlain's appeasement was increasingly irritating sections of the parliamentary party. Leo Amery was 'on manoeuvres' — perhaps forty Tory MPs were on the point of rebellion over the Anschluss; but they needed a standard bearer. Anthony Eden was the obvious — particularly so when he resigned over Chamberlain's dealings with Mussolini, but he ruled himself out and (for a while) retreated to the French Riviera.

Now, eighty years on, we too easily might point to Churchill. The problem there, again, was Edward Windsor. Churchill carried the mark of Cain: he was disloyal, pontificating from the Back Bench against his own government; he was a Liberal rat and re-ratter; Gallipoli was indelibly marked against him; he was an empire loyalist fiercely opposed to Indian reform (which those-in-the-know recognised as inevitable) — and he had stood by Edward throughout the Abdication crisis.
Indeed - Winston stayed loyal to the King right to the end.

But please produce a shred of evidence that David ever betrayed his Country?

There is none.

Loads of people admired Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc as they crushed the Communists

- seen as a far more potent threat to the Peace of Europe than the Fascist Movements.

The DOW explained in his Autobiography [A King's Story] that he went to see Hitler because he had seen War at 1st hand [WWI] and thought he ought at least try to use what powers of persuasion he had to avert another one....

Is he to be blamed for that?
 

Beachcomber

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The majority of the German army following the Panzers were on horse back or walking. Supply line became to thinly spread , Panzers were halted to allow the troops to catch up. Also Panzers had being driving so hard they badly needed maintenance. British were to be used to administer the new German empire.
German Army was not as well equipped as is though 80% of the transport used to get German troops in to the USSR was captured French trucks.

The thin supply line, and Panzers outpacing their own infantry are solid theories, but the Nazis had never been scared of taking risks before when it came to crushing opponents.

I'm with those who say that Hitler didn't want to totally decimate the BEF at that point, as doing so would have wiped out any chance of a negotiated peace with the UK. He hoped that his gesture of relative mercy would embolden those within the British establishment who either openly supported Hitler, or would have been willing to reach a settlement with Hitler that would have kept the British empire safe.

Decimating the BEF would have allowed Churchill to say that Hitler was merciless and that the UK thus had no option but to fight on.
 

Beachcomber

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Indeed - Winston stayed loyal to the King right to the end.

But please produce a shred of evidence that David ever betrayed his Country?

There is none.

Loads of people admired Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc as they crushed the Communists

- seen as a far more potent threat to the Peace of Europe than the Fascist Movements.

The DOW explained in his Autobiography [A King's Story] that he went to see Hitler because he had seen War at 1st hand [WWI] and thought he ought at least try to use what powers of persuasion he had to avert another one....

Is he to be blamed for that?

Very true.

The establishments in many countries saw the fascist dictators as men who were willing to take on the supposed real enemy - communists.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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Indeed - Winston stayed loyal to the King right to the end.

But please produce a shred of evidence that David ever betrayed his Country?

There is none.
Go off-topic, preferably to another thread, and debate the murder of Sir Harry Oakes (I seem to recall it appearing on an old thread).

I'm no expert there, but there appears to be a connection to "'Lucky' Luciano and the Mafia. And the FBI apparently had the evidence.

This could be fun.
 

Catahualpa

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Go off-topic, preferably to another thread, and debate the murder of Sir Harry Oakes (I seem to recall it appearing on an old thread).

I'm no expert there, but there appears to be a connection to "'Lucky' Luciano and the Mafia. And the FBI apparently had the evidence.

This could be fun.
Is that the one that happened in the Bahamas when DOW was the Governor?
 

parentheses

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The thin supply line, and Panzers outpacing their own infantry are solid theories, but the Nazis had never been scared of taking risks before when it came to crushing opponents.

I'm with those who say that Hitler didn't want to totally decimate the BEF at that point, as doing so would have wiped out any chance of a negotiated peace with the UK. He hoped that his gesture of relative mercy would embolden those within the British establishment who either openly supported Hitler, or would have been willing to reach a settlement with Hitler that would have kept the British empire safe.

Decimating the BEF would have allowed Churchill to say that Hitler was merciless and that the UK thus had no option but to fight on.
If the BEF had been overrun at Dunkirk the British would have had to sue for peace. Their army would be gone.
 

parentheses

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They had plenty more troops TBH

- but were desperately short of equipment


The RAF saved Britain that Summer

- and the Merchant Marine and Royal Navy kept the supply lines open.
I doubt they could have replaced 200,000 troops easily. 200,000 men was nearly equivaalent to the 6th army which was destroyed in Stalingrad. In fact the equipment was easily replaced. They sent a few ships to America which brought back plenty of rifles and other kit to replace the stuff abandoned in Dunkirk
 

Catahualpa

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I doubt they could have replaced 200,000 troops easily. 200,000 men was nearly equivaalent to the 6th army which was destroyed in Stalingrad. In fact the equipment was easily replaced. They sent a few ships to America which brought back plenty of rifles and other kit to replace the stuff abandoned in Dunkirk
I mean heavy equipment

Tanks, artillery, trucks, & all the paraphernalia needed to equip an Army to conduct Operations in the Field.

The British evacuated some 150,00 men from France after the Dunkirk operation BTW
 

Beachcomber

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If the BEF had been overrun at Dunkirk the British would have had to sue for peace. Their army would be gone.

The BEF wasn't all of the British Army.

Plus the RAF and Royal Navy were still operating.

Plus the Nazis still couldn't have carried out an invasion of GB.

There certainly would have been more pressure from the UK establishment to make peace with Hitler. There was such pressure in the real world, even though Dunkirk was successful as an evacuation.

But I don't see that the UK would have "had to" seek peace. Hitler would just have done the same things.
 

Beachcomber

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They had plenty more troops TBH

- but were desperately short of equipment

The RAF saved Britain that Summer

- and the Merchant Marine and Royal Navy kept the supply lines open.

True.

Due to conscription drives, the total size of the British Army in June 1940 was 1.65 million men.

Of those men, 430 thousand were in the BEF that was sent to France.
 

Dame_Enda

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I would compare it to the ancient Battle of Kadesh that was portrayed as an Egyptian victory for Ramses II against the Hittites, when the truth is Ramses was lucky to escape with his life.
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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The weather played a major factor, doubly so in that the calm sea state favoured evacuation whereas low cloud and fog restricted Luftwaffe operations.

Below is a Met Office synoptic chart, 28th May 1940. An anticyclone sits over germany extending westwards over the Low Countries. A low pressure system is tracking north westerly between Ireland and Iceland with a secondary low centered south of Ireland. An associated weather front extends across Normandy and down through France.

forecast-chart-tuesday-28-may-1940.jpg

The maximum wind recorded throughout the evacuation was force four and on most days it varied between forces one and three. The resulting calm sea conditions enabled even the smallest craft to cross the channel and saved many thousands of lives. Additional to the favourable sea state conditions enabling the use of hundreds of ‘the little ships’ is also the fact that the calm seas enabled the evacuees to stand and wait in line in the water for considerable periods of time.

The slack weather conditions resulted in periods of fog and generally poor visibility, further exacerbated by the light easterly winds blowing smoke onto the beaches. Periods of low stratus cloud further hampered German air attacks.

The Luftwaffe had a good opening day on 27th May and sank several ships and damaged much of the port facilities. The 28th May was a day of low cloud and drizzle and this weather shield lasted until about noon the following day. The Luftwaffe don’t seem to have inflicted any significant damage with the immediate evacuation zone during that period(although the Kriegsmarine had several successes).

At 14:00 on the 29th, with the weather improvement, all 3 wings of the VIII Fliegerkorps attacked....180 Ju87 Stukas. At 15:30 the twin engined bombers of Lufflotte 2 joined in. Several ships were sunk, many more damaged and the East Mole was temporarily unusable.

30th May saw the fog return and visibility remained poor the following day also.

1st June dawned clear and the Luftwaffe resumed its attacks from first light and these attacks continued thoughout the day. The sea state also had changed and the swell hampered the efforts of ‘the little ships’.

My source makes no reference to the weather conditions thereafter but during the 6 day period from 27th May to 1st June the weather conditions precluded or severely restricted Luftwaffe attacks for 3 and half of those days. If the weather had been clearer and sea state rougher the ship losses would have been significantly higher and the ability to use small craft would have been prevented.

The success of Dunkirk was involved a large dolop of weather luck.

Refs.... Churchill’s Moat. Robert Jackson, 1995.

The Miracle of Dunkirk - Met Office Barometer
 
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Nebuchadnezzar

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Fair, but — as with so much else — the introduction of the tanks ('the Heavy Section'), 20 November 1917, at Cambrai verged on the farcical. Far from being a 'secret weapon', there had been too many 'stunts'. Lt Col John Brough, the first commander of 'the Heavy Section', protested about the 'demonstrations'. So CIGS removed him from his command, a fortnight before the tanks were deployed in a action.

Haig went against the counsel of his juniors to order just 49 Serviceable Mark I tanks to a limited objective at Flers-Coucelette (15 September 1916). He was deploying machines not fully tested, and manned by crew not fully-trained.

The German attitude to tanks was dismissive, an appreciation of their apparent repeated failures. Two weeks after that initial attack, the German infantry had regained all lost ground. Then evolved the method of opposing tank attacks, the 'tank fort': one or more field guns, backed by machine gun emplacements. Until the Mk IV tank (which came on line at Messines at Arras, June 1917) and senior command recognising that tanks could not willy-nilly traverse marshy and broken ground, this was enough to negate tank attacks.

Rawlinson's heavily-reinforced offensive at Amiens (04.20 hrs, 8 August 1918) involved every available piece of kit: 342 Mk 5 tanks, 72 Whippet mediums, 2,070 guns, 800 aircraft. The French contributed no tanks, but over a thousand aircraft. Rawlinson shrewdly omitted the wake-up introductory barrage, and launched against six divisions (much thinned out) of Marwitz's 2nd Army. Even then, the advance went askew: by 12 August, the entire British tank force amounted to six. So Foch changed the line of assault to north of Albert.
The first deployment of tanks was on the 15th September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Forty-nine of the Mk Is were used during an attack.
 
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Malcolm Redfellow

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The first deployment of tanks was on the 15th September during the Battle of the Somme. Forty-nine of the Mk Is were used during an attack.
Apologies, then, for any conflation and corruption in my previous.

Of the rostered forty-nine, just thirty-two were available on the day. Nine advanced with the infantry, and were effective in the taking of Flers. Nine others failed to keep up with the infantry, but served some purpose in clearing the ground captured. Nine broke down. Five had to be abandoned on the battleground. Gerald Gliddon (pages 149-150) has the rest of the story (which doesn't make a neat sum to my mind):
Three tanks nearly reached Guedecourt but were hit and caught fire. Of the others two returned, six were ditched, the rest were hit, two others caught fire. They moved forward in 'lanes' left clear by the barrages, and tank tapers were laid out for them. Before they crossed the trenches, the trenches had to be filled in to enable them to proceed.
Gliddon then adds that Flers:
was the first involvement in a Western Front attack for the New Zealanders having refitted and been reinforced after their 'blooding' on the Gallipoli Peninsula. There are graves of 120 of them in Bulls Road Cemetery east of Flers.
Perhaps not the most felicitously-expressed description.

Trevor Pidgeon has a much fuller account, with a survey of how Ernest Swinton's concept was delivered, in large part courtesy of Churchill at the Admiralty (I'm assuming that largely derives from the Bovington Tank Museum). He gets quite bleary-eyed in this bit (page 38ff):
The world’s first tank to go into action — Captain H.W.Mortimore’s D1 — left its start point 100 yards south of the Longueval–Ginchy road at 5.15 a.m. on15 September 1916. Its targets were the German trenches in the ‘Brewery Salient’.
During the night, he had moved up from Bernafay Wood to his departure point 100 yards south of the Longueval-Ginchy road. He then set out, still in darkness, at 5.15 a.m., just five minutes late. In doing so he became the first man in the world to take a tank into battle. All the tanks that have ever operated anywhere in the world since this day follow, in a sense, in the path of D1. Those at Cambrai in 1917, those in France in 1940, in the Western Desert, on the Russian steppes, in Normandy and elsewhere, all these must look to D1 as their forebear.
Pidgeon's tale continues:
He did not get far. A shell landed nearby and put D1 out of action – whether by damaging the tail-assembly or the rear sprocket and track is not clear. The set-back was made all the more regrettable in so far as the shell was probably British! Mortimore had been warned not to get too far forward, and stray into the British barrage which here was very ragged (worn buffer springs on the guns were blamed) but he had done so...
 


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