- Peter Hitchens
- ARRSE Rating
- 5 Mushroom Heads
The title ‘Phony Victory’ is at times is a ‘tongue in cheek’ expression by Hitchens, though he makes his points strongly, the reader does not have to agree to his arguments. His main point is that the war was badly fought by Great Britain to the effect that it cost us greatly in men, materials, ships aircraft and the closing down of the British Empire, which in some of our colonies was to become quite a bloody affair
Listed below are some of the mistakes that the author points out in order to make his argument:
Our premature declaration of war on Germany led to national bankruptcy, loss or Empire and other territories, and that we should have waited until we were good and ready, and perhaps coinciding with the USA entry into the war, thus not losing most of our military equipment and thousands of troops at Dunkirk and then classed it as a victory and emblazoned the name ‘Dunkirk’ on Regimental colours when in fact it was the worst British army defeat ever. If we were going to declare war early, then it should have coincided with Hitler’s attack on Czechoslovakia in 1938, the British and French armies should have rolled into Germany when at that time Germany hardly had six poorly armed German divisions left in Germany to defend it. British newspaper reporters in Berlin had been reporting openly and almost daily of Hitler’s intentions in the East, mentions were made of food, ammo and fuels dumps on the German border in preparation for battle. Therefore, later the invasion of Poland was of no surprise at all to Westminster, they knew of it six months before it happened.
The middle East fighting was an expensive mistake in that Churchill’s Middle East Generals Auchinleck, Alexander and others wisely advised on blocking the Suez Canal to deny its use, and then to send our shipping around the Cape, which we had already commenced doing after September 1939.
At a conference where The US President Roosevelt Met with Churchill in Newfoundland, Churchill travelled there aboard HMS The Prince of Wales, the outcome was called the Atlantic Charter, no Charter was really made. At that time the US was only the 17th in order of military strength in the world, she was even behind Portugal and some other smaller Eastern European nations. During the discussions between the two leaders it was agreed that ‘All countries have the right to self- determination, living under a system of Government of its own choice.’ This piece of work was insisted upon by US Senators who were anti British to the extreme, who hated the idea of colonialism and Empire. Mahatma Gandhi very quickly picked up on that and started the dominoes falling, followed by Malaya, Singapore, Cyprus, Aden and others. Churchill agreed to that policy in his immediate quite desperate quest for help from the USA. The items that the Americans had was money and raw materials, Britain was in dire need of them to continue the war. But there were no hard promises at that stage from the US president, only that Britain should give up land and territories to the US on a 99 year lease and entirely rent free. Bases were allotted in Newfoundland (Then not part of Canada) Bermuda, Caribbean, and other places. Churchill had granted these facilities (Mostly Naval) ready for the US to enter the war, but with all the anti that Roosevelt was getting from congress, he was not apt to do. However all that was to change on the 7th of December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearle Harbour. A Japanese Navy that had been part trained in naval warfare by the British Royal Navy from 1920 until the mid-1930s, a fact that hit a raw nerve with the Americans throughout the whole period that it was taking place.
During September 1939, £25,000,000 worth of gold was sent in RN Destroyers to be placed in vaults in Ottawa Banks under the good care of The Canadian Prime minister Mackenzie-King, He was a staunch ally and did good things for Britain during the war, he borrowed aircraft from US companies in order to set up Canadian schools to train RAF and Canadian new pilots, this was a very successful venture. Makenzie-King also had another task, it was to hand chunks of the British gold to the USA. It had been agreed at Newfoundland between Churchill and Roosevelt that the Americans would lend us goods under a ‘Lend Lease’ scheme, providing that these goods were self-collected by British ships. It was called a ‘cash and carry’ scheme by the British, because, as the goods were collected then Mackenzie-King oversaw the Americans creaming off more gold each time, this Lend lease was so that if Britain went under to Germany, then there would be no monitory loss to the USA. However the lend-lease program by mid- 1941 merely supplied; dried powdered egg, tinned tomatoes, tinned margarine and beans. Six months later six World War 1 US destroyers were collected by the RN from US ports. Prime Minister Mackenzie-King also wanted the King and Queen to reside in Canada, (though I cannot imagine them ever deserting us to our fate) the idea was squashed by the American Democrats who claimed “We ejected one King George from North America, and we don’t want another one!”
Such was the anti-British feeling in America that Senators would openly flout their opposition to any help that we might require, this feeling was not helped by Britain defaulting on a World War one debt to the amount of £886,000,000( the author states that this amount has never been repaid?) Charles Emery-Hughes a US senator screamed in a fit of temper at a British diplomat Aukland Geddis . “But for us you would not be here now to speak for Britain, it would be the Germans- we came to your’e aid last time and fought and won your war for you!”
My personal views on this are… ‘Not bad for 7 US divisions arriving at the front line in mid-1918 to fight alongside 65 British and 73 French Divisions. Three of the US Divs were well trained, while 4 were very poorly prepared. The morale effect of the Americans being there was essential, however it was tempered with a ‘Passive presence, which did indeed help the situation.’
(5) Loss of Singapore,
Gen Arthur Percival comes out completely exonerated by Hitchens. Percival had begged Churchill for planes and tanks, instead these were sent to help the Russian war effort. Stalin got 451 tanks and 500 fighter aircraft, items that Percival was begging for. A year before the Japs attacked Malaya Percival had informed the home command that the Japanese Divisions were building up in the lost French Colony of Indo China. He even predicted accurately where the Japanese were to eventually land in North east Malaya.
Churchill had sung the great hymn aboard the Prince of Wales off Newfoundland, the Hymn was ‘For those in Peril on the sea’ The sailors present there singing with him, were sent to their peril six months later together with the men aboard The Repulse. Hitchen mentions that the loss of Singapore lost us much respect in the Far East… Well we were not the only ones to lose, The Americans in the Philippines, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the Chinese and Vichy France lost their territories along with us.
Britain knew from 1934 of the Nazi persecution of German Jews, indeed Britain took young Jewish children from Germany to the UK in ‘Kinder transports’ They were rail transports that left the parents on the platforms to be collected up and sent to the camps. I don’t know what Hitchens wanted to do further than this, but I can’t imagine the Germans allowing us to take away their adults? Perhaps it was a visa problem however Hitchens does not elaborate.
Bomber Harris and the bombing campaign.
The author states that the campaign was more to do with appeasing Stalin and that Britain should be seen to be doing something. It was also to do with an explanation that the RAF bombing was so inaccurate that to hit mass populated cities was far easier than going for point targets. It is also stated that the Americans went for Oil, Ball Bearing and industrial targets and that they did not fully understand what our city bombing war policy was? The bombing of Dresden and Koln gets a moral bashing from the author, though he fails to mention that V1s and V2s were being used against London at that time. (Others reading the book will gather that the ‘Left’ will quickly latch on to these thoughts and carry them forward to the future. Snowflakes will delight in it) The RAF losses were akin to WW1 casualty rates, the author uses German civilian casualties to impress that we lost one expensive Bomber and its expensively trained crew to kill two Germans. He also points out that we lost one of our most treasured possessions; Good young men that Britain could ill afford to lose, men that were needed to build this nation after the war. The author feels that the RAF would have been better employed staying at home to protect the mainland and used extensively in the battle of the Atlantic and later used more extensively on D Day plus.
While the USSR were fighting for survival Hitchens remarks that ‘We in Britain knew nothing of the fighting on the Russian Front’ and that for almost four years of the war we did little and that the most of our army were training in England’ … REALLY!! I mention The Burma Campaign, the Desert War, Italy Sicily, Dieppe, Crete, the Malta Convoys, Murmansk Convoys, The War in the Atlantic…Also what few people know, is that eleven Royal Navy manned Carriers were placed with the US Fleet in the Pacific. The Yanks won’t tell you this, nor will they say that a total of 400 British and Australian fighter pilots took part in the battle for Iwo Jima (Britain withdrew Carriers from Europe after realising their vulnerability due to the Malta Convoys.
SOE operations in France.
Mr Hitchens claims that this extended operation was mostly a waste of time and money and just a propaganda exercise where French and British brave men and women, of which over a hundred parachuted to their brutal ends in France and Germany and were never heard of again, and that we pulled ‘romance’ out of the operation by romanticizing glamorous women and even making films about them. I would argue that it kept the Germans on their toes in France and used up no end of German troops and Gestapo agents, and was a good precursor for gaining intelligence in the run-up to D Day.
Britain’s standing in the World today
Hitchens makes the point that; ‘We went to war in 1939 to present ourselves as a great power in Europe- at the end of the war we were not a great power in Europe or anywhere else in the world’ He feels that bankruptcy equals defeat.
The Special Relationship
Anyone that reads this book will realise that no such relationship exists, the Americans ‘screwed us’ for all of the war and afterwards, the gold that they took for lend lease, was not just bullion but ancient gold in doubloons, pieces of eight etc, which made much of it about three times its value, the US would only gave the ‘daily rate’ at the time, which was a ‘rip off.’ We colluded deeply with the Americans to produce the Atom Bomb, we were shut out of that scheme in mid- 1945 and told ‘Go make your own’ Ernest Bevan objected to this treatment and was shouted out of the US Defence secretary’s office! There are many other instances that readers can take from the book.
Hitchens comes across as a straight chap. He mentions that only four labour members of parliament fought in the war, while fourteen Conservatives members of parliament did so, and that four Conservatives were killed and no Labour killed. I don’t really know why Hitchens reported that? However I cannot say that I did not enjoy the book. The depth of research is quite amazing and deserves praise. It is very easy to look back in retrospect and say ‘I wish I did that, or I wish I had done that differently.’ We can all certainly relate to that, and that is precisely what the author has done but ‘big time.’ Hitchens is certainly not anti-British and he does not come across as ‘anti-war. I really enjoyed the read and it pleases me to award five stars well deserved, if only for his detailed research and the ability to maintain the reader’s interest.
Awarded five stars.