were british troops that useless?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by auxie, Aug 23, 2009.

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  1. chrisg46

    chrisg46 LE Book Reviewer

    Although on the other hand, the loss of Singapore was not our proudest moment!
  2. Have British troops ever performed uselessly when they were well led?
  3. Makes you remember the saying,"Lions led by donkeys".
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. And these days, a battle hardened but still under equipped army can look at the lack of decent political leadership and scoff.
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    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?
  12. 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).
  13. 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?
  14. 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