For today, a different perspective, learning from history.
Reading Winston Churchill’s massive six-book history of World War II gives new insights into that war, at least for me. For instance, it appears that my main interest was the fight against the Germans, by the English, Russian, French and Allied forces.
Perhaps others had more interest in the war in the Pacific Theatre. Even I, as one alive during World War II, remember the massive fighting emanating out of the Philippines, in the Coral Sea area, Okinawa and Iwo Jima, other areas, and finally, the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on two Japanese cities. You can’t forget those headlines.
Yet there were other sectors of this world where I did not realize how fragile these areas were, and how they threatened the entire Allied war effort.
One thing comes through strongly in the Churchill books: how one man, Churchill as prime minister, was the fulcrum and the key person keeping the entire effort worldwide foremost up until the time the United States came into the war in late 1941. Even before then, he and Franklin D. Roosevelt were in contact, nearly daily, with messages and planning between them. After the U.S. declared war, it may have been more difficult for Churchill to “manage” the war, since he had to make sure that FDR was in agreement with major moves, so it was more delicate.
By the way, in “managing” the war, Churchill (right) had a cohesive group of experts around him, yet when it came down to final decisions, it was all Churchill.
I never was aware of areas of the world that often were so threatened and important. I had heard of them, but did not recognize their strategic importance. Among them:
- Egypt. The main British forces in this theatre were protecting the Suez Canal, considered a vital link. Later the British alone at first, then aided by the U.S., had to defeat Rommel and Germany in the desert war. (We had heard more of this than many battle areas.)
- The African Atlantic ports in the 1940-41-42 period. Keeping them open was vital.
- The area we know as Indonesia now, as the Japanese advanced rapidly, eventually capturing most of the area, including Singapore. The Australians thought they might be invaded next.
- India: With the advance of Japan in the Far East, Britain went to extensive preparations to protect India, thinking it a target, which took vital resources away from other areas.
- Madagascar: Did you know that British commandos invaded and secured the island, wanting its harbors to base its Indian Ocean fleet?
- The Caucasus Mountains. Germany sought to fight through southern Russia to get to the Mid-East oil fields. Russia delayed, then eventually pushed back the Germans.
Meanwhile Churchill and FDR were working tirelessly to support Russia through its warm water ports in Murmansk and Archangel for equipment and supplies, helping the Russians hold back the invading Germans. This took an enormous system of Naval convoys, with the Allies losing much tonnage and supply-laden ships to U-boat and open-sea battles.
Churchill was constantly trying to ensure that his Navy (before 1941) retained their superiority on the oceans, constantly battling U-boats. As much as anything, this British naval effort kept Germany from invading England in the early days of the war.
Reading Winston Churchill has opened up an entirely new appreciation of the entire world at war. More than anyone, Churchill, sitting in London, and flying to many Allied conferences, held it all together.