Churchills Greatest Mistake !

A friend's father 81 years young, has just come out for our cool season and brought for his son a copy of Max Hastings, 'Faces of World War II'.
I have been loaned the book and on skimming though I saw reference to Churchill's disastrous Order to Send troops, March 41, from the victorious Army, that had just conquered Cyrenaica (Spelling blame me and Apple Mac) to Greece, to resist the Nazi Horde.
Was this Churchill's Greatest Mistake, including the defence of Crete, or does one other yet to come, take precedence ?
His insisting that the Prince of Wales join Repulse in Singapore, without Indomitable and hence no air cover. Both ships sunk by Jap aircraft as the went north to peninsular Malaysia.
Well I think your getting close to where I consider Churchill's greatest mistake happened but I would also say that if the Indomitable had been there then the jap shore based bombers would have sunk Three capital ships.
So it would have to be choosing to defend Singapore with all shore battery emplacements facing the wrong way. Some 130,000 POWs subjected to all the horrors they suffered for the next 4 years?
Churchill had a habit of meddling in strategic detail and some obsessive projects which could all be counted as "mistakes". Churchill has a bright idea, often late at night and unfettered by the logistic or organisational constraints. If you read Alanbrooke's Diary there appears to have been a whole series of potential disasters.

He had a thing about the strategic potential of Norway and the Balkans.

Greece and the Balkans 1941... No chance of success, but I can understand the political imperative of doing something however minimal to help the Greeks.

Less well known but almost as disastrous was the 1943 Dodecanese campaign in an attempt to persuade the Turks to join the war - which ended in disaster at Cos and Leros.

But he started with the Dardanelles...

However, its also worth noting that after resigning in the fall out from the Dardanelles Winstoin Churchill does the honourable thing and volunteers for service on the western front in the trenches as a field officer.


Commanded a Bn of the Royal Scots in the front line, a pity none of our current crop of leaders have any service to fall back on when they drop one is there!
Quote from Allenbrooke: Winston has a dozen ideas everyday on how to conduct the war. Unfortunately, only two of these are good ideas and Winston doesn't know which of the 12 they are!

Whilst you can point the finger at Churchill for a number of military blunders (with the benefit of hindsight), after 1940 he was tasked with keeping a large number of dispossessed and often difficult foreign politicians onside (De Gaulle for for one), which he managed with varying degrees of success.

The catastrophe of Singapore cannot be blamed on Churchill - the defences of both Malaya and Singapore had been seriously neglected in the 1930s (the name Brooke-Popham comes to mind) and was seriously compounded by poor senior officers and the incompetant General Percival. Churchill sent the Repulse and the Prince of Wales on the advice of commanders on the ground who very seriously underestimated the capabilities of the Japanese Air Force (and the Japanese forces in general).

Whilst reinforcing Greece may be seen as a tactical blunder, strategically it made a great deal of sense. The Balkans campaign diverted a large number of German troops from preparation for Barbarossa, thus ensuring that the invasion of Russia started weeks later than planned and leaving the Wehrmacht exposed in the Russian winter, instead of resting in winter quarters. It also made sense to defend Crete and (once again) it was only lost by poor allied leadership - the German Paras lost so many men that they were never again deployed in a large scale airborne operation.
I seem to recall that the Germans themselves admitted that Greece and the Balkans had cost them victory against Russia in 1941. In that regard, from the overall strategic perspective, the decision made sense.
"Churchill often smoked cigars in front of soldiers who hadn't had a decent cigarette in days."

- and thus, got wiped like a dirty arrse in 1945.


I think a lot of the problems the allies had in 1939 till 1941 were not so much due to bad command decisions by people like Churchill (or Roosevelt, De Gaulle), but by bad decisions made much earlier. The underfunding of the military, weak leadership and political meddling were much more detrimental then the way armour was deployed in Northern France in the spring of '40.

Churchill's greatest mistake in my view: He didn't send enough army formations to Norway to open a proper front. Thus forcing a miserable retreat once more...
Commanded a Bn of the Royal Scots in the front line,
Nah, a Bn of the bogging Royals? That would have been his greatest mistake, but in fact it was definitley a Bn of the RSF. Not a bad CO by all accounts.

His biggest mistakes will probably be contended by minds greater than mine, but I've always found his "Gestapo" jibe at Labour in 1945 ill-judged if not ill-natured, and sad in that he'd clearly lost his feeling for common sentiment.

It temporarily soured his reputation when he should have been most gracious, and reminded everyone of the Churchill they hadn't liked in the 20s and 30s.

Gallipoli has always been mentioned as a great mistake of his. Personally I suspect it was a workable plan that turned into a fiasco due to feeble leadership by military commanders in the pivotal early stages.

Allowing monstrous vanity and an unshakeable sense of destiny to overrule common sense and expert advice on far too many occasions.

I think one of his erstwhile Liberal colleagues said, after yet another change of Party allegiance, "Winston makes great speeches and terrible decisions."
ugly said:
Commanded a Bn of the Royal Scots in the front line, a pity none of our current crop of leaders have any service to fall back on when they drop one is there!
He commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1915 in fact and by all accounts was a popular CO.

Gallipoli must rank as one of his greatest failures but the one which almost cost us the war was his dogmatic support of the French, against all advice, in 1940. Only when all hope was lost was the BEF allowed to evacuate. It was a very close thing.

Whilst not a mistake as such, the abandonment of Bomber Command at the wars end for political and historical expediancy remains a wrong which has yet to be righted. Thankfully, the campaign for a memorial seems to have some traction, at last.
Pteranadon said:
Less well known but almost as disastrous was the 1943 Dodecanese campaign in an attempt to persuade the Turks to join the war - which ended in disaster at Cos and Leros.

But he started with the Dardanelles...
Seconded. Worst mistake was undoubtedly the botched Gallipoli invasion but Churchill was to repeat the mistake of Crete in Kos and Leros where the Luftwaffe were able to re-asset themselves in a period of their general decline. The Stuka was obsolete by 1943 but as in Crete the RAF was in poor strength and hence the Army and Royal Navy took a battering from outdated aircraft, the islands were lost and the Garrisons fell into captivity.

Mind you much blame can be laid at the door of a very reluctant Eisenhower who could not see the need to secure Greece before the Soviets got there first.
Churchill certainly made his fair share of what were obviously (with the benefit of hindsight) mistakes but, IMHO, very few of them had any lasting strategic effect.

The Dardanelles - Churchill was hardly alone in underestimating the advantages offered the defender by the relatively new technologies of indirect fire artillery and SF machine gun. But even if the 16 divisions that were eventually committed had been available on the Western Front (the 'real' theatre of the war) it is unlikely that they would have been able to make a decisive contribution to the attacks of 1915-16. They did though have the effect of tying down Turkish troops that could have threatened British interests in Transjordan and Persia. Oil interests which we only just managed to hold onto before the Russians dealt Turkey a knockout blow at Erzerum.

Norway - As has been stated above the Army, after years of neglect and underfunding, was pretty ill-equipped to fight a campaign in Norway in 1940. There was very little else that could be sent but the decision to even attempt to make a stand there lead to the loss of most of the Kriegsmarine's destroyer force. Ships that would have been very handy had Hitler decided to launch Operation Sealion after all.

Greece - Again, in hindsight, a campaign which we had very little chance of winning. Politically though, in 9141, it was important to show that we would stand by our allies no matter what. And, as has already been pointed out, the delay in the Balkans probably cost the Germans the chance to finish the Soviets in early 1942.

Winston did though, IMHO, make considerably fewer 'mistakes' than any of his contempories:

Stalin - Completely failed to take notice of the warnings he had about the German invasion. Led to the loss of millions of men in the battles of encirclement in 1941. Failed again to let his commanders avoid encirclement in the battles of 1942 and lost another army in the process.

Roosevelt - Pretty adept at letting his Generals do the military thinking but his belief that he could 'control' Stalin at the Tehran and Yalta conferences led to the US 'losing the peace'.

Hitler - Where to start? As was pointed out in The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission he was probably the Allies greatest weapon.
Not persuading Trueman to drop the big one (quite a few times!) on Russia and driving all the commie b@stards east of the Urals. But in fairness and objectivity, not doing this did lead to the 40+ year beer and fcuk fest that was BAOR!

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