Friday, March 9, 2012

Not Winston Churchill's proudest moment (or "New additions to the library")

Hostages to Fortune:Winston Churchill and the Loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, by Arthur Nicholson.
The Sinking of the Prince of Wales & Repulse: The End of the Battleship Era, by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney.

(Gee, are you seeing a theme to these books?)

Many consider the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Carrier Striking Force Kido Butai to be the end of the era when battleships ruled the seas, but the actual end, in my opinion, came three days latwer, on December 10, 1941 when the British Royal Navy's Force Z, centered on the new battleship Prince of Wales, and the old but fast veteran battlecruiser Repulse, was caught without air cover off Malaya by bombers from the Japanese Naval Air Force. Both were sunk in dramatic fashion.  The sinkings were so momentous that even the Japanese pilots were given pause.  For the British, it was extremely traumatic, the end of their empire and the end of the battleship era.

I did not realize just how traumatic until I started digging for Java Sea research.  The destruction of Force Z was and continues to be a very controversial topic in Britain, as both of these books are pretty new.  It would seem that much of the blame for the disaster can be laid at the feet of Winston Churchill inasmuch as he made one of his very few misjudgments when it came to the British "Singapore Policy" and the deployment of Force Z.  This particular misjudgment was catastrophic and, from my perspective, inexplicable. 

Churchill wanted to send a small but modern force to Singapore to finction much like the German battleship Tirpitz, then hiding in a Norwegian fjord, in tying down enemy units who feared a sortie; the Admiralty wanted to send a much larger but slower force.  The Admiralty was right, and I can't really fathom from where Churchill got his idea. The deployment of the Tirpitz was not intended to help defend Norway, but to raid British shipping, or at least threaten to raid British shipping. 

Force Z was supposed to deter an invasion of Singapore.  The Japanese were not going to have substantial shipping in the area until they cleared it of enemy forces, including Force Z and, ultimately, Singapore itself, which they would do with far superior forces than Force Z.  Churchill really made no sense here.

Winston Churchill was one of the great leaders of the 20th century and, indeed, of world history, but this was not his proudest moment.

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