Friday, April 22, 2005
Political pressures in 1942
I had not realized just how intense the political pressure was on Winston Churchill in mid to late 1942. 1941 had already been a dreadful year, in many ways. At the start, the British (really, British and Commonwealth forces) armed forces were getting in position aid the Greeks against the Italians. In North Africa, the British were attacking the Italians and driving them back. By May 1941, things had turned down. Greece and Crete were lost. The Hood was sunk. Many warships were lost in the action around Crete. In North Africa, the Germans had attacked and pushed the British back. The Tiger Convoy had been pushed through the Mediterranean, only to have the equipment wasted in Operation Battleaxe. About that time, the Germans invaded Russia, with incalculable impact on the British forces in the Mediterranean and Middle East. For the latter part of 1941, the British had a tremendous build up of arms and men, culminating in Operation Crusader, a battle which was nearly lost, until General Auchinleck took personal command of the army in the field. Almost concurrently, the Japanese attacked. In the process, the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk off Malaya. By early 1942, the situation was in chaos, but in North Africa, the front stabilized at Gazala. Tobruk was still in British hands. Then, events turned against the British. Rommel defeated the army in front of Gazala, took Tobruk, and then rushed for the Egytian border. General Auchinleck, with his chief of staff, Major General Eric Dorman-Smith halted the Axis advance at the First Alamein. Churchill's political fortunes were at a low ebb. He flew to the Middle East. He knew he had to take some bold step to restore the political situation, so he sacked Auchinleck, and in effect, Dorman-Smith, and put in place a new team: Harold Alexander as theater commander and Bernard Law Montgomery, as army commander in the field.