Churchill is rightly regarded as one of the greatest of all Britons, and key to the survivial of Britain in 1940 and the eventual victory in the Second World War. However many of his wartime decisions were controversial, especially in the early years of the war, where British arms suffered a series of setbacks and defeats, peaking with the loss of Singapore and Rommel’s advance to the El Alamein line.
This book focuses on the details of Churchill’s decision making process, using Cabinet papers and other archives to look in detail at how they were made and how Churchill interacted with his political and military colleagues, and his international Allies to see how the eventual choices were arrived at.
One thing that does quickly emerge from this book is that many of Churchill’s more controversial decisions had the support of many of his key military advisors at the time – including the decision to replace Auchinleck and the decision to try and support the Greeks. This is perhaps one of main values of this book – so many of these decisions are described as ‘Churchill’s mistakes’ or ‘Churchill’s interference’, but this detailed analysis of how they were made shows that this is a massive over-simplification of events.
A good example of the light that this casts on events in the decision to replace Auchinleck as commander in the Middle East. Auchinleck had been in command for just over a year, a period that has seen the successful lifting of the siege of Tobruk durng Operation Crusader, Rommel’s second offensive, which pushed the British back to Gazala, the battle of Gazala, a disasterous retreat which also caused the fall of Tobruk, and finally a defensive victory in the first battle of El Alamein. Although this stopped Rommel’s advance, Auchinleck’s own counter-attacks also failed. During his year in command Auchinleck had twice had to sack the commander of the Eighth Army in the middle of key battles and take direct command. Rommel’s successful advance into Egypt undermined Churchill’s position in Parliament, and he chose to visit the Middle East in person to judge the situation. There he found an army that had lost faith in its commander, and made the decision that Auchinleck had to go. This wasn’t simply the case of an impatient polititian failing to understand the pressures his commanders were under, but a well thoughout out decision. This also put in place the team of Alexander and Montgomery that went on to achieve a string of victories, and perhaps most crucially, retained Churchill’s confidence even when they had to delay their own attack. The detailed examination of the decision making process demonstrates that Churchill had good reasons for his decision, and the support of many in the Army.
This is a very useful piece of work, allowing us to see in some detail how many of the most important key decisions of the war were made, and demonstrating that Churchill rarely simply imposed a decision, but used his strong position to help win over his colleagues.
1 - Chairman or Chief Executive? - Why did Churchill choose to become Minister of Defence as well as Prime Minister?
2 - Britain or France? - How did Churchill respond to the collapse of his ally?
3 - Defence or Offence? - Why did Churchill embark on his Middle Eastern strategy?
4 - The Devil or the Deep Blue Sea? - How did Churchill approach the Soviet Union and the United States?
5 - Do or Die? - How did Churchill survive the fall of Singapore?
6 - Leadership or Interference? - Why did Churchill sack General Auchinleck?
7 - Masterstroke or Millstone? - Why did Churchill embrace unconditional surrender?
8 - Mind or Body? - How did Churchill cope with the build-up to D-Day?
9 - Impotence or Independence? - What did Churchill hope to achieve in Poland and Greece?
10 - Victory or Defeat? - Why did Churchill fight the 1945 election so aggressively?
Author: Allen Packwood