on December 26, 2012
William Manchester, and his appointed successor Paul Reid, have successfully and thoroughly concluded the life story of the greatest British statesman of the 20th century, and one of, if not the foremost statesman of the Second World War.
In spite of several reviews that diminish the work because Paul Reid took over from William Manchester, and the contention was that Reid was not as good a writer, I have to take exception to the charge. I could not tell where Manchester left off and Reid began. The writing is excellent, and yes, there is a world of information, especially about the war, but in all fairness to Reid, he had to cover this ground thoroughly because it was such an important part of the long and productive life of Churchill.
Having read a good deal of the war and Churchill, I still found many things of interest in this book. One good example is the excellent information on the Battle of Britain, when England stood alone in the face of the Nazi menace. We all know of the long odds against the British and their bravery in fighting off the Luftwaffe during this critical time, but the book introduces us to the British Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding. Mostly disliked by the people around him, and essentric in his own British way, it was Dowding that was the champion of radar as far back as 1937 when he ordered work to begin along the eastern and southern coasts with a chain of stations, some of which were low-level with ranges of 50 miles and the others, high-level with a range of 120 miles. This enabled the British to detect German squadrons in many cases before they entered the English Channel. It was this radar that helped them to scramble fighters to meet the menace as it approached the island. COnsidering that Dowding in July, 1940 had eight hundred single engine aircraft to hold off a much larger force, it was in a sense, a miracle for Britain. The German Second and Third Air Fleets were comprised of 750 bombers, 250 Stuka dive bombers, 600 Bf109 fighters and 250 twin Bf110 fighters, but Dowding placed the emphasis on knocking out the bombers and not getting into dog fights with the fighter escort. Goring tried to keep up appearances and lied about the results, but the German strategy was changing. And, even though they knew the location of the two factories that Rolls Royce used to build the Merlin engines, they never bombed these facilities. By September, Hitler elected to concentrate on London and bomb the British to the peace tables. That did not work out well for Adolph.
Another important person in all of this was Lord Beaverbrook, who worked in producing the aircraft needed to fight this air battle. In July, 1940, British workers produced 496 fighter planes, which was an astounding accomplishment. In addition, Beaverbrook's Civilian Repair Organization was busy salvaging parts from fighters shot down over England and in some instances, were able to resurrect German planes that would next fly as a RAF craft.
It is without a doubt that 1940 was Winston's best year, although in many ways the darkest for England. They stood alone. France had fallen, Europe was a Nazi land mass, Hitler and Stalin were beginning their workings toward an alliance, and America stood away from the fight largely because of the isolationist movement and FDR's firm decision not to let his political foes take him down for getting America involved in the war. And while the RAF had performed splendidly in the air, the evacuations from Dunkirk were still fresh in everyone's mind and England was in a sense, a nation with a moat around it awaiting landing barges to finish them off.
In a large sense, it was Churchill's determination that led England during this dark time, and yet, Churchill's big problem was that he knew he could not challenge Hitler on the continent, and thus tried to snipe at him in other areas, which largely centered throughout the Mediterranean Sea. For a time, North Africa enjoyed some success, and then Rommel appeared and the British were once more in flight, and add to this the humiliating surrender of Sinapore in the Pacific, and greatly in need of a victory. Churchill began to draw criticism because of the lack of victory, and then Montgomery gave him a sound victory over Rommel at El Alamein and this got the monkey off of Churchill's back.
Finally, by the end of 1941, America was in the mix and the English were no longer alone. By June of 1942, Hitler had invaded Russia and the Allied effort, while still recoiling from defeats, at least had the potential to break the enemy's back.
There is a great deal of information about the war and especially the workings between American and England. Both Eisenhower and Marshall favored an invasion in France, while Churchill looked to menace the Germans along the periphery, thus the invasion into North Africa (Torch) and the later invasion on the south of France (Anvil, later renamed Dragoon). As during the first war, Churchill's designs as in the Dardanelles, was to go around instead of directly at. The American logic was simple: cut to the chase, go the shortest route and kill the beast. The American version won the day, certainly at the urging of Stalin, who was losing in civilian and military casualities, 10,000 people per day (YES PER DAY), and had no sympathy for what might turn into a high kill rate. England was very deadly in their night bombings of German cities (especially Hamburg and Berlin)but that was not impressing Stalin, who continued to demand more, and quite rudely. Churchill had to contend not only with Uncle Joe's bad manners but also FDR's vision of a world after the war where Britain played a lesser part.
Much of this story shows, as it should, how events unfolded during the war, and how Britain and Churchill began to be overruled by Stalin and Russia. In effect, this war broke England and WSC was faced with the grim knowledge that after the killing was over, England would no longer be a first rate world power. It was certainly not the role that Winston wanted to play, but the inevitability of losing most of the empire was there, and FDR was probably the most heartless in his desire to see that England was no longer a colonial power.
The books shows us a large support cast. Of interest was Winston's only son, Randolph. Randolph was just not a happy man, and while his father loved him, he was a contrary person. His sister Mary later wrote that he could pick a quarrel with a chair. He married the beautiful Pamela Digby who ditched him for Averill Harriman. I hate to be ugly, but he looks like Clementine in drag to me.
Overall, I think this is a fine conclusion to the story of one of the most interesting people in the history of our modern world. As the author/s points out, you would likely have to go back 400 hundred years to the reign of Elizabeth I to find the strength of character of such a leader of the British people.
I very much recommend this book to anyone interested in Churchill.