|April 18th, 2006|
Underestimating the Japanese. The Brits were guilty of it, the US were guilty of it, Aussies were guilty of it... everyone was.
We believed that the Japanese couldn't fly or fight at night because they had poor eyesight (yes that is what was really thought in 1940s Australia). But we were wrong. Just as was the assumption of British invincibility in Singapore.
|April 20th, 2006|
British mistakes WW2 info
This is my suggested list for the British mistakes during WW2. Perhaps it is because they were in the longest and had a lot of influence they made the most mistakes and well as many victories
Class system leading to incompetent leadership, lack of quality at junior officer level & poor communication between servicemen from different backgrounds
Poor co-ordination and intense competition for resources between services
Overconfidence and feeling of national superiority (especially relative to Japan)
Political & economic
Trusting Germany not to expand the Reich
Chronic under-funding of military between the wars (perpetuation of the 10 year rule)*
Reliance on continental allies to do most of the ground fighting
Continually expecting Balkan nations to rise against Germany *
Failure to adapt to modern manufacturing methods and retain key engineering capabilities
Failure to prepare for defence of convoys
Initial tendency to seek and destroy U boats rather than waiting in convoy
Employing commanders of battle groups without understanding of air warfare*
Failure to protect naval base at Scapa Flow
Obsolete or inadequate fleet arm (carrier) aircraft in all categories
No escort carriers
No fuelling ships for fleets out at sea
No long range aircraft (all types)
Pitiful AA fire control system
Overaggressive expectations on naval commanders*
Alienating French navy by trying to destroy them at Mers-El-Kebir*
Slow deployment of short wave radar in maritime aircraft in preference to air force bombers
Slow development of advanced depth-charging techniques (eg. hedgehog)
Failure to support jet engine development during 30s
Fighters flying in sucker formations rather than the more flexible methods used by the Luftwaffe
Slow to develop ground support aircraft and establish good communications with ground troops
Failure to destroy U-boat pens during construction
Reluctance to use bombers for anything else but destroying cities (and innocent civilians)*
Failures to form independent armoured divisions and realise potential of Blitzkrieg tactics
Failure to develop tank which could counter German heavy armour
Outdated and unimaginative tactics when attacking
Defensive mentality, reluctance to take full advantage of offensive opportunities
Poor junior leadership, command often collapsed when officers were killed
Specific battles, campaigns & incidents
Inadequate planning & preparation in Norwegian landings*
Allowing German army to deploy AAA before attacking bridgeheads over Meuse in 1940
Diversion to defend Greece, resulting in prolonged North African campaign and losses of materiel*
Failure to evacuate Singapore and realise the static defences were useless against attack from the rear *
Diversion of effort towards Mediterranean rather than focussing on the main theatre of war*
Not enough focus on the battle of the Atlantic
Needless scattering of PQ17 Arctic convoy. Only 11 of the original 37 merchant ships reached their destination, 23 were sunk
Attacking a harbour directly and without sufficient fire support at Dieppe, failure to cancel*
Failure to read reconnaissance & intelligence near Arnhem (along with just about everything else)
Montgomery’s reluctance to take the port of Antwerp, seeking glory instead
Indifference or even acceptance of the Indian famine which took the lives of at least 2.5 million Bengalis*
Failure to realise that both the Royal Navy and convoy ciphers were being frequently broken by BDienst German Naval intelligence.
*Yes it was the man we voted ‘Greatest Briton’ of all time. The hyperactive, meddling, irritating, and often incompetent leader, Winston Churchill of many hats (when he was Chancellor he under-funded naval spending, when out of office complemented Hitler, when First Lord he was responsible for the Norway fiasco, when Prime Minister bungled nearly everything else he laid his hands on, and had an attitude to India similar to Germany’s to Russia). But like Hitler he was a great orator and an aspiring leader to the masses! Perhaps this proves that public perception depends more on victory rather than actions.
|April 20th, 2006|
One question, though. Many of the points raised deal with the British failure to develop effective combined operations. This revolution in military doctrine was a direct result of German military tradition: (1) the effective training of the German general staff and (2) a continuation of WWI operational and tactical doctrine. What appeared as British errors, such as poorly coordinated tactical airpower operations, might only have been errors in relation to a better German system.
On the whole, I salute you.
|April 20th, 2006|
Wow.....I dont know where to start in response to this post. I need some time to prepare a response, but I feel that some of the points require an answer now.
Arthur James Balfour argued, to the Committee of Imperial Defence which adopted the rule, that "nobody could say that from any one moment war was an impossibility for the next ten years...we could not rest in a state of unprepardness on such an assumption by anybody. To suggest that we could be nine and a half years away from prepardness would be a most dangerous suggestion".
In 1928 Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, successfully urged the Cabinet to make the rule self-perpetuating and hence it was in force unless specifically countermanded. In 1931 the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald wanted to abolish the Ten Year Rule because he thought it unjustified based on the international situation. This was bitterly opposed by the Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson who succeded in keeping the rule. The Ten Year Rule was abandoned by the Cabinet on March 23 1932
Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 to 1929. I fail to see how he could be held responsible, for events following Hitler coming to power in 1933, In 1935 Hitler renounced the Treaty of Versailles. Hitle became Chancellor on 30 January 1933, nearly a year after the rule was abandonded. The point is that is very easy inhindsight to criticise the failure to deal with Hitler, but who in 1933 could foresee what would eventually happen in terms of WW2. It is also worth noting that the Depression started in 1929 with its affects felt throughout the world in the 1930s, making it extremely difficult to spend large sums on weapons.
Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, knew the local Royal Air Force unit could not guarantee air cover for his ships as they were equipped with limited numbers of ageing fighters and their airfields were threatened by the Japanese land attacks. He elected to proceed anyway because he thought that Japanese forces could not operate so far from land. He also thought that his ships were relatively immune from fatal damage via air attack, since up to that point, no capital ship at sea had ever been sunk by air attack. The largest unit which had been sunk by aircraft alone up to this time was a heavy cruiser.
The sections in italics are quotes from wikipedia, a great aid to posting a response in a short time
|April 20th, 2006|
|April 21st, 2006|
As far as the German Navy was concerned, the existence of a few ships does not constitute a navy. The German "fleet" was nothing in comparison to the other navies of the day. Raeder was in no way capable of emulating Tirpitz' "risk theory". How was the German fleet a threat? Only isolated raiders sailed the high seas...and, incidentally, were blown to pieces.
Nor was the German u-boat arm spectacularly large. It was much smaller than that of Britain and France. German production after 1939 turned the u-boat arm into a "menace". The u-boats were nevertheless backward and outdated...more submersible coffin than modern weapons system. The decision to employ bombers against German kids and not against the u-boats permitted the German pieces of junk some measure of success. Hence Perseus' comment.
It is not enough to make the argument that the very existence of a small German navy represented a "threat" to British interests and therefore a factor in the declaration of war. This is imperialist logic. If you use this logic, then virtually every aspect of modern states (from population to steel production) follows a similar pattern.
|April 21st, 2006|
Hi Reiben, you have a few good points, but let’s go through your comments (It’s a good thing I have an Easter break)
Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 to 1929. I fail to see how he could be held responsible (for lack of rearmament) This ignores the long-term effect of such a policy on a nations industrial base. It wasn’t solely Churchill’s fault. Admiral Beatty warned in 1922 that the ten year holiday in naval building (This was a related international agreement between the major naval powers) would lead to the decay and disappearance of the specialised dockyard and technological resources (in the UK) needed to build battleships and their heavy armaments. This decision led to many of the subsequent deficiencies in Britain navy, and necessitated a great deal of outsourcing hence failure to adapt to modern manufacturing methods and retain key engineering capabilities. In fact nearly all of Britain’s battleships and carriers available at the start of WW2 date from before the 1930s, so the lack of building during this period had a direct effect on its WW2 naval capability (remember these ships took a long time to build and commission).
but who in 1933 could foresee what would eventually happen in terms of WW2. Beatty also realised well before this time (1926) that the naval strategic centre of gravity was moving towards Japan. However, Churchill wearing his ‘Exchequer hat’ told Baldwin the Prime-minister in 1926 there was not the slightest chance of war with Japan in their lifetime! As you say he extended the 10-year rule until it was renounced, surely this had an effect of the rate of re-armament. It’s the sheer hypocrisy of Churchill, which astounds me here.
Britain implemented the convoy system at the start of WW2. I don’t think Britain could have afforded to have enough escorts at the start of WW2.
The available escort vessels lacked the cruising range for transatlantic crossings and were incapable of catching a U-boat even if sighted. Most of the new escorts commissioned around at that time were unsuitable either because of low speed or excessive rolling in heavy weather. The Royal Navy needed to fall back on Fleet destroyers for escorts. This was inexcusable in view of the Royal Navies experience of convoys in WW1.
Would the British have performed any worse than say America if the roles had been reversed?
Fair point, and not a speculative one. When America joined the war they were even more incompetent. Despite advice from the British to convoy along their eastern seaboard, America didn’t bother (widespread arrogance as you mention) and the U-boats had their second ‘happy time’ along the US Eastern seaboard. Even Japan performed poorly protecting their convoys against American submarines. In relative terms the Royal Navy did well, but it was the designs and industrial base which was at fault.
The failure to develop long range aircraft early in the war was not only a British issue.
I don’t agree with this statement, many of the Japanese naval aircraft of the period had an impressive range. Take some of the aircraft which attacked force Z, the ‘Betty’ for example (I am not sure which version was used but take you pick, G4M1 3,130 miles, G4M2 2,980 miles, G4M3 2,262 miles) The German FW Condor also had an impressive range (2,210 miles / 2,760 miles) . Surely aircraft with substantial range was an obvious requirement for a maritime nation?
Employing commanders of battle groups without an understanding of air warfare I assume you are referring to Prince of Wales and Repulse? Yes, but there was a big gun mentality in the Royal navy, hence the obsession with attempting to sink the Bismarck by shelling. Another example of inappropriate use of air power (which did nothing to dispel this myth) was the aircraft carrier Glorious when returning from the Norwegian campaign. She had posted no lookout and no aircraft at instant readiness and was subsequently sank by the Scharnhorst. Are not carriers supposed to surprise battleships, not the other way round?
Regarding The Price of Wales and Repulse: the battle squadron leader Phillips also thought that his ships were relatively immune from fatal damage via air attack, since up to that point, no capital ship at sea had ever been sunk by air attack. The largest unit which had been sunk by aircraft alone up to this time was a heavy cruiser. The attack from Swordfishes at Taranto harbour in 1940 resulted in the Italian Battleship the Conte di Cavour being beached with nearly all decks below water and never saw action again. Other battleships were only temporarily disabled because they were in port. Of course this didn’t go unnoticed by the Japanese attaché! The Bismarck was effectively disabled by torpedoes from Swordfishes, and subsequently sunk by torpedoes from a ship in 1941. Admirals Cunningham, and Somerville had built up a wealth of experience not least because of air attack on their own ships during the Mediterranean by the time that Force Z set out.
Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, knew the local Royal Air Force unit could not guarantee air cover for his ships as they were equipped with limited numbers of ageing fighters and their airfields were threatened by the Japanese land attacks. The main criticism against Admiral Phillips was that he didn’t call for land based fighters placed on standby at Singapore until he was attacked. These were within range at the time. When they did arrive the Japanese aircraft jettisoned their load and promptly left, but all the damage was done by then. Phillips also detached the destroyer escort before his sortie, which he thought was particularly susceptible to air attack! Everyone else seemed to use destroyers as a screen to the major ships. Of course he didn’t have to move within range of Japanese aircraft at all, but Churchill and Pound would have sacked him if he didn’t attack the Japanese landings, hence my other comment about expectations of aggressiveness.
I understand the reasoning behind the attack, (on Mers-El-Kebir) whilst sad it was I believe necessary.
Perhaps it was not necessary. There were 4 options given to the French, but it appears as if Admiral Gensoul misrepresented the terms to his French superiors providing only 2 options, join the British or Scuttle. The other ones, sail to a French West Indian port to demilitarise, or sail with reduced crews to a British port were omitted. However, the British Admiralty knew this from decrypts of intercepted messages but omitted to tell Admiral Somerville tasked with negotiating with Gensoul and dealing with the fleet at Mers-El-Kebir/Oran.
It is true the way things transpired this incident gave a strong signal to Hitler and Roosevelt that Britain meant business. However, most of the British Admirals did not think the French would go over to the Germans and were against attacking the French Fleet. Firing on the fleet risked turning crew, bases and ships over to the Germans. This would have included the powerful battleships Jean Bart and Richelieu stationed in a different port. Even ignoring the details of the terms, was it worth the risk and poor diplomatic relations with France for decades to come?
Ollie, Yes in general the British had a relatively poor history of combined operations compared to the German system, but with one exception!
|April 21st, 2006|
"Ollie, Yes in general the British had a relatively poor history of combined operations compared to the German system, but with one exception!"
Ok. Funny. But let's not confuse high strategy with the operational level. In any case, I was trying to defend what appear as British mistakes only when judged against German doctrine.
|April 22nd, 2006|
Ollie. Sorry I wasnít joking, I just thought this link was relevant!
Iím not familiar with the intricate details of the German training and staff system, except it is widely acknowledged it was of an exemplary standard, and led to the finest modern mass army ever assembled. However, I donít see the relevance to combined operations, since organisations, which are competent individually do not necessarily co-operate and work efficiently together.
Perhaps the main differences in combined operations capabilities between Britain and Germany was a result of the different evolutionary paths of the separate forces in each nation. The German air force was seen as a means of supporting the ground forces using airborne artillery in a tactical role, whilst the British saw the air force as an independent strategic weapon or elitist fighter school. This may have been due to the early formation of the RAF shortly after WW1. The Luftwaffe was banned by the Versailles treaty and so reduced to flying airliners and gliders until much later. By then tactical dive bombing aircraft able to carry large bombs for use as flying artillery and close corporation of the air force with the army was an obvious advantage.
However, combined operations also involve the navy, here the superiority of German forces is far less clear. I cannot think of a comparable situation to Dunkirk or Normandy, which Germany had to face. The nearest evacuation scenario was across the Messina Straight from Sicily, or from the Crimean peninsula, both carried out competently, but both of these were a short paddle in relation to the channel. When faced with a larger stretch of water in Tunisia the Africa Korps were simply left there, there was no equivalent of Ramsay to rescue them.
The nearest equivalent offensive campaign was Norway and Crete, the former was largely unopposed by land so the ports and airfields were quickly taken, the second became solely an air operation, because the Royal navy annihilated the sea transports. Strategically both were Pyrrhic victories, effectively entombing troops in remote theatres for the remainder of the war and decimating an already limited navy.
So it is necessary to speculate how a large-scale tri-force German operation would perform, and we are drawn to Sealion and comparisons to its real life counterpart Overlord.
Although many of the major deficiencies on the German side appear to be due to a lack of seamanship and lack of adequate landing craft, some can be traced to a lack of co-operation between the forces.
"each service vied with the other for Hitler's favor. Raeder fought, justifiably, to expand the Navy. Goering schemed to enlarge the Luftwaffe to match his own immense girth. (Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, air supply of Stalingrad, Luftwaffe field divisions and the Herman Goering Panzer division were monuments to his ego and testimony of his influence with Hitler.) Within the Army, Panzer generals argued with more conservative infantry generals over strategy and the Waffen SS competed with standard Wehrmacht units for men and materiel. As a result command relationships within and between the services were often strained and operations suffered accordingly. With regard to Sea Lion at a 31 July 1940 co-ordination meeting called by Hitler himself Luftwaffe representatives did not attend and, as discussion moved to purely Army matters, Admiral Raeder walked out".
So it as appears that the German combined operations organisation may have been even worse than the British, with the possible exception of air support for ground troops.