were british troops that useless?

chrisg46

LE
Book Reviewer
#2
Although on the other hand, the loss of Singapore was not our proudest moment!
 
#3
auxie said:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1208032/Were-troops-cowards-Churchills-concern-lack-fighting-spirit.html

Having recently just read a couple accounts of the 14th army superb performance against the japs id say no
Have British troops ever performed uselessly when they were well led?
 
#4
Strait_Jacket said:
auxie said:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1208032/Were-troops-cowards-Churchills-concern-lack-fighting-spirit.html

Having recently just read a couple accounts of the 14th army superb performance against the japs id say no
Have British troops ever performed uselessly when they were well lead?
Makes you remember the saying,"Lions led by donkeys".
 
#5
auxie said:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1208032/Were-troops-cowards-Churchills-concern-lack-fighting-spirit.html

Having recently just read a couple accounts of the 14th army superb performance against the japs id say no
They and their commanders were totally behind the times in terms of doctrine for the first half of the war, and didn't have the rabid nationalism, sense of divine mission or adherence to a higher (but mortal) power that drove the German and Japanese armies. They got around it in WW2 in British elite units by making service in them voluntary and training them up to the nines (as they do today with the army in general), but for a mass force of millions nothing beats the hybrid mix of a force blessed with a well thought-out combat doctrine and widespread mindless servility to a cause -something that the Nazis did so well. If the British had been as good as them, they wouldn't have been British.
 
#6
Churchill's dissatisfaction with the upper class officer class of his day was somewhat ironic, as he himself had been earmarked for the army as his father thought him to be too thick for the Law or the Church.He had to pull strings to get into a cavalry regiment as his father didn't want to pay the additional bills for horses that resulted.
The article focusses on 1942. By that point, most of the pre-War officer and NCO classes had been thinned out, by attrition and dilution into newly raised units. Moreover, unlike the Germans who had recent combat experience in Spain in the 1930's, the last of the WW1 veterans were ageing men in their 40's. (A man born in 1900, conscripted for the last year of that war would of course have been 42 in 1942)
In addition, the general supplies and quality of equipment were poor, with most new kit going straight to North Africe, or to the bottom of the Atlantic during the U-Boat campaign.This had a bearing on ops in the Far East, where inexperienced, badly led and horribly badly equipped British forces faced Japanese troops, again with recent experience in China, and far better aircraft.
The original poster has a point in that the 14th Army fought astoundingly well. However, a strong cadre of that army were from the Indian Army, which had seen some low-level action throughout the interwar years, on the NW Frontier and had not been thinned by Dunkirk and later defeats.Once the equipment balance was established ,the 14th met and broke the Japanese. Likewise, once the European theatre troops had acquired a level of expertise comparable to that the Germans had in 1939, the tide began to turn.
In terms of 'appetite' for war, most of the Western democracies had memories of the jingoistic days of 1914, and what that had led to. I suspect most troops and the general public thought 'Oh sod it. Here we go again'. Only the dictatorships with their expert propaganda mills could press for war, and carry or drive their populations with them. Most people probably saw the NEED for war, but didn't have a real lust for it.
Overall, the article represents out of context quotes, from a time of crisis when everything appeared to be collapsing. Churchill was right to be dissatisfied with the performance of the military. If he had been complacent and accepting, we would have lost.
Rant over.
 
#7
And these days, a battle hardened but still under equipped army can look at the lack of decent political leadership and scoff.
 
#8
Well it's not toptally inaccurate . If you're fighting against the Germans who were the best trained , best disciplined army of the war and the Japanese who were the bravest army of the war then an army that comes from a democracy and has a culture that respects human life you're going to look second best no matter what
 
#9
Spanny said:
Well it's not toptally inaccurate . If you're fighting against the Germans who were the best trained , best disciplined army of the war and the Japanese who were the bravest army of the war then an army that comes from a democracy and has a culture that respects human life you're going to look second best no matter what
Thats my point ,the 14th army led by the superb Slim took on that most impressive army and totally outfought and finally defeated them in Burma 1945
 
#10
auxie said:
Spanny said:
Well it's not toptally inaccurate . If you're fighting against the Germans who were the best trained , best disciplined army of the war and the Japanese who were the bravest army of the war then an army that comes from a democracy and has a culture that respects human life you're going to look second best no matter what
Thats my point ,the 14th army led by the superb Slim took on that most impressive army and totally outfought and finally defeated them in Burma 1945
14th Army won because their logistics were better - their 'tail' was roundly mocked by the Japs initially as being incompatible with jungle warfare. The Japanese army that was eventually slapped back over the Chindwin was half starved, disproving that theory.
 
#11
Not useless but often severely out classed especially from the Major level up. It is a similar story with both the Russians and Yanks when they entered the war. The Wehrmacht in particular were very, very good at every level. We were lucky their Führer was an inept Wagner loving loon.

It's not as simple as "lions led by donkeys", there were structural problems. I recall reading a review of a book on the British officer corps in WWII. It opened with an extract from a 30s British army officer training manual. This stated an armies style of fighting had to be based on national character e.g. the Teutonic German officer was a meticulous planner but being a slavish hierarchical creature simply could not innovate and think on his feet like a British officer. The review went to explain in WWII reverse proved to be true in practice with Germans facing court martials when they failed to act against failing orders while the hidebound Brits had to pass a request all the way up the chain of command before amending a battle plan.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#12
I think if you look at 14th Army's history, it was a shambles during the early years - particularly the retreat from Burma and the Arrakan operation. Singapore remains inexcusable, though to call it simply a failure of leadership is myopic. Wavell was shocked at the lack of fighting spirit in all ranks in Percival's army.

I think it is worth pointing out that in 1942, it was essentially the UK facing off against the German and Japanese empires, with American might not yet fully deployed (especially in Europe). In this light, it is, perhaps, not surprising that it was a bad year. Churchill's consistency and refusal to give up is one of his most admirable qualities.

Hastings makes some good (and controversial) points, but though he gives us the 'whats,' he does not give us the 'whys.' Why were the Germans and Japanese so formidable as soldiers? Why were the democratic armies not (at least in the early years)? Did Churchill's enthusiasm for elite units (Commandos, Chindits, etc) set a solid example for the rest of the army or did they weaken the line units by sucking out all the best manpower?
 
#13
tafft said:
Makes you remember the saying,"Lions led by donkeys".
This subject has always been a cause of much debate. When researching my book, I found this quote which suggests that the German soldiers had respect for, and perhaps fear of, their British counterparts :

"The English soldier is the best trained soldier in the world. The English soldier's fire is ten thousand times worse than hell. If we could only beat the English it would be well for us, but I am afraid we shall never be able to beat these English devils." - From a letter found on a German officer. (Kilpatrick 1914).
 
#14
I think what it reinforces is that the USA did in truth save our sorry arses. We were a terrible mess. Lack of investment, modernisation and commitment.

I watched the recent documentary about north sea oil with interest ‘Crude Britannia’. A big win for the UK, but without American help a none starter. They came over to find a comically dilapidated industrial capacity, and workers who couldn't give a shit.

I like the reference in this article about British commanders clinging to dated, but romantic ideas of how battles should be fought. The use of Jackal comes to mind. Are our officers dreaming of the LRDG, whilst our our USMC cousin get on with the job with decent air supply and good MRAPS?
 
#15
Andy_S said:
I think if you look at 14th Army's history, it was a shambles during the early years - particularly the retreat from Burma and the Arrakan operation.
Indeed . One of the problems was disease . In the early part of the campaign the majority of troops would be suffering from types all types of exotic illnesses so they couldn't mount an offensive campaign . This led to accusations of " cowardice " by the likes of General Joe Stilwell towards the 14th Army
 
#16
"were british troops that useless?"

No, but they were often demoralized by the utterly crap UK kit they were issued. This only got worse as the best of American made kit started appearing, shortly afterwards by the superbly equipped US fighting man.

The blokes fighting in the Far East knew that must of the kit they were sent was rejected as unfit for combat in the ETO.
 
#17
I just read "Overlord" by Max Hastings a month or so ago (specifically focused on the Normandy invasion and afterwards).

Throughout the book he does make mention of both U.S. and British commanders concern for the 'effectiveness' and fighting spirit of certain units. Certainly not useless but some formations--there's a specific British unit that's mentioned, I can't remember them but I'd bet they wear funny hats--were disbanded and the soldiers fed into other better led and better performing units.

Just found it; 49th Division's 6th DWR.

Their battalion commander wrote a report on his unit the unit that Hasting's describes as portraying "so vividly the strain that the battle thrust upon units which lacked the outstanding qualities of, for instance, 6th Airborne or 15th Scottish".

I'll print the conclusion the commander writes about his own battalion:

Conclusion
a)6DWR is not fit to take its place in the line
b) Even excluding the question of nerves and morale the 6 DWR will not be fit to go back into the line unit it is remobilised, reorganised and to an extent retrained. It is no longer a battalion but a collection of individuals. ...I have twice had to stand at the end of a track and draw my revolver on retreating men.

Recommendation

If it is not possible to withdraw the bn to the base or UK to reequip, reorganise and train is thous be disbanded and split among other units.

If it is not possible to do either of the above and if it is essential that he a battalion should return to the line I request I may be relieved of my command...

Being a regular officer I realise the seriousness of this request and its effect on my career. On the other hand I have th lives of the new officer personnel to condsider. Three days running a major has been killed or seriously wounded because I have ordered him to in effect to stop them running during mortar concentrations. ...My honest opinion is that if you continue to throw new officer and other rank replacements into 6DWR as casualties occur you are throwing good money after bad..

...in the field
30 June 1944 Lt Col (Hastings had redacted his name)


Page 149; Overlord, Max Hastings.

This landed on Monty desk the quote given by him is "I consider that the CO displays a defeatist mentality and is not a 'proper chap'."

It was because of problems such as these that Monty found it necessary to keep elite formations, such at the 6th Airborne, in action long after their casualties an exhaustion made them deserving candidates for relief.
 
#18
Andy_S said:
...
I think it is worth pointing out that in 1942, it was essentially the UK facing off against the German and Japanese empires, with American might not yet fully deployed (especially in Europe). In this light, it is, perhaps, not surprising that it was a bad year. Churchill's consistency and refusal to give up is one of his most admirable qualities.
...
In 41 Operation Barbarossa began, by July 42 Stalingrad. I'd not describe are role against the Nazis in 42 as anything but peripheral. The bulk of German resources where committed against the Red Army.
 
#19
Crap kit in Burma?

Small arms were the same as used in the ETO, artillery pieces were the same, personal equipment was the same, armour was lesser quality but then they were facing the Japanese, who didn't have many tanks and weren't very good at using those that they did have.
 
#20
Here is the full report by the way, that I got from an online site. I've redacted the COs name as well.

Report on the State of the 6th Bn DWR (49 Div) as on 30 Jun [1944]

1. I arrived at 6 DWR on the evening of 26 June. From am 27 June until 30 June we have been in contact with the enemy & under moderate heavy mortar & shell fire.

2. The following facts make it clear that this report makes no reflection on the state of 6 DWR when they left UK:
a) In 14 days there have been some 23 officers & 350 OR casualties.
b) Only 12 of the original offices remain & they are all junior. The CO & every rank above Cpl (except 2 Lts) in battalion HQ have gone, all company commanders have gone. One company has lost every officer, another has only one [officer] left.
c) Since I took over I have lost two second-in-commands in successive days and a company commander on the third day.
d) Majority of transport, all documents, records and a large amount of equipment were lost.

3. State of Men
a) 75% of men react adversely to enemy shelling & are 'jumpy'.
b) 5 cases in 3 days of self-inflicted wounds - more possible cases.
c) Each time men are killed or wounded a number of men become casualties through shell shock or hysteria.
d) In addition to genuine hysteria a large number of men have left their positions after shelling on one pretext or another & gone to the rear until sent back by the MO or myself.
e) The new drafts have been affected, & 3 young soldiers became casualties with hysteria after hearing our own guns.
f) The situation has got worse each day as more key personnel have become casualties.

4. Discipline & Leadership
a) State of discipline is bad, although the men are a cheerful pleasant type normally.
b) NCOs do not wear stripes & some offices have no badges of rank. This makes the situation impossible when 50% of the battalion do not know each other.
c) NCO leadership is weak in most cases & newly drafted officers are in consequence havimg to expose themselves unduly to try & get anything done. It is difficult for the new officers (60%) to lead the men under fire as they do not know them.

5. Conclusion
a) 6 DWR is not to fit to take its place in the line.
b) Even excluding the question of nerves & moral 6 DWR will not be fit to go back into the line until it is remobilised, reorganised, & to an extent retrained. It is no longer a battalion but a collection of individuals. There is naturally no esprit de corps for those who are frightened (as we all are to one degree or another) to fall back on. I have twice had to stand at the end of a track & draw my revolver on retreating men.

6. Recommendation
If it is not possible to withdraw the battalion to the base or UK to re-equip, reorganise & train, then it should be disbanded & split among other units.

If essential that the battalion should return to the line, I request that I may be relieved of my command & I suggest that a CO with 2 to 3 years experience should relieve me & that he should bring his adjutant and a signals officer with him.

Being a regular officer I realise the seriousness of this request & its effect on my career. On the other hand I have the lives of the new personnel (which is excellent) to consider. Three days running a major has been killed or seriously wounded because I have ordered them to in effect stop the men running during mortar concentrations. Unless withdrawn from the division I do not think I can get the battalion fit to fight normally & this waste of life would continue. My honest opinion is that if you continue to throw new officer & other rank replacements into 6 DWR as casualties occur, you are throwing good money after bad.

I know my opinion is shared by two other commanding officers who know the full circumstances.

XXXXXX
Lt.-Col. Commanding 6 DWR
In the field, 30 June 1944
 

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