Showing posts from 2020

Eighty years ago, Churchill dismantles the last relics of the old regime

    Once again fate had intervened on Churchill’s side. Just as the final illness and death of Neville Chamberlain had allowed Churchill to consolidate his hold on political power, so the death of Lord Lothian, the British ambassador to the US, opened an opportunity for him to dismantle the last serious relics of the old regime that had held him back from power during the long miserable years of appeasement. The first piece of the jigsaw was to replace Lothian. Clearly the Washington embassy was the most critical of all Britain’s representations abroad and it was going to take an exceptional figure to fill the job. Churchill’s first choice was the former prime minister David Lloyd George but he pleaded ill-health; more likely Lloyd George’s dwindling hopes of being installed as a defeatist leader as part of a compromise peace with the Nazis was a more powerful factor. Churchill’s next choice was the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, the most conspicuous holdover from Chamberlain’s premie

Santa bulletin

Santa will not be bringing a blog post tomorrow so good (and not-so-good) children will have to wait for the weekend.    Merry Christmas to All

Eighty years ago, Petain replaces one tarnished figure of the Third Republic with another and ducks a German PR stunt

  The affairs of Vichy France took another sudden and mysterious turn. Prime minister Pierre Laval, who had been instrumental a few weeks before in arranging the meeting between Marshal Petain and Adolf Hitler, was dismissed and briefly imprisoned.   No explanation was ever given for either move, but contemporaries even suspected Laval of having plotted a coup against Petain. Whatever the immediate chain of events might have been, it is likely that the Marshal decided that Laval was just too pro-German. He was rapidly released at the request of the German ambassador, Otto Abetz, who had a very close relationship with Laval. Laval moved to Paris but continued to be a major figure in the world off Vichy. He was replaced as prime minister by Pierre-Etienne Flandin, an otherwise unremarkable politician of the Third Republic, with one claim to fame. After the Munich agreement of 1938 he had sent a personal telegram of congratulations to Hitler, who had replied welcoming the prospect of “col

Eighty years ago, the early doubters of Mussolini's attack on Greece are the ones to pay the penalty for its failure as trouble brews for him in the desert

  The continuing success of the Greek advance into Albania provoked a brief fit of nerves in Italy’s leadership. Mussolini himself contemplated seeking a truce but he was deterred by the more committed political Fascists, who spotted an opportunity to turn the military disaster of the Greek campaign to their advantage and to purge the armed forces of what they saw as disloyal conservatives. Italy’s professional military leaders paid the price for their lack of zeal; some had even showed reservations about the invasion of Greece. The army chief of staff, Badoglio the conqueror of Ethiopia, was sacked ; he had hoped that the Italian incursion would be limited to the seizure of the Greek port of Epirus and pessimistic on the full invasion on which Mussolini insisted. Roberto Farinacci, one of the most strident voices of the movement, had assailed Badoglio’s performance in his newspaper, Il Regime Fascista .  General de Vecchi, Governor of the Dodecanese, and one of the founders of the F

Excellent podcast about the abdication by the History Channel

Image  Catch this excellent podcast about the abdication from the History Channel which hosts me as their expert on the crisis

Eighty years ago, the Royal Navy and the Regia Marina fight inconclusively but Admiral Dönitz begins to apply pressure

      The Italian navy attempted to repeat its success of mid November in forcing back a heavily escorted British convoy sent to reinforce Malta. This time the Royal Navy could call on far greater resources including Force H from Gibraltar under Admiral Somerville, including the old battleship HMS Ramillies , battlecruiser HMS Renown and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal . The Italian force was comparable in size, including the battleship Vittorio   Veneto ; shore-based aircraft evened out presence of the British carrier.   The resulting engagement was the inconclusive Battle of Cape Spartivento. The Italians were under orders to avoid fighting a powerful enemy force and withdrew when the size of the odds became apparent. No ships were sunk but one cruiser on each side was badly damaged. Churchill was furious that there had not been a more conclusive engagement and suspected Somerville of lack of aggression, partly because of his reluctance to attack the French fleet at Mers el-Kebir

Eighty years ago, the Balkans slip further towards instability

    The Balkans were taking centre stage, as the battle lines were drawn for the European conflict to widen yet again. In purely military terms, things went from bad to worse for Italy, the Axis power actively waging war in the region. On the diplomatic plane, the balance of power was clearly shifting towards the Axis. The collapse of France had created a brief vacuum; Britain did not possess the military resources or credibility remotely to fill this; Germany was the ultimate decision-maker even though the local political conditions in each country obscured this reality. The Greek counter-offensive against the Italian invasion gathered pace. The city of Koritza fell to the Greeks. In celebration a Te Deum for the victory was sung in the city’s cathedral, it was a victory of Orthodox over Catholic Christianity. So long as the Greeks were fighting in regions of mixed religions they could depend on large support from their co-religionists. The Italian army could do little to halt the G

Eighty years ago, the RAF punishes success and unorthodoxy

    The Greek army launched a counter-offensive across practically the whole width of the front. The main focus of the attack was the town of Korce, well over the frontier of Italian dominated Albania. It was the main route centre of south-east Albania. Rather than fight the Italians on the plain around the city where their lack of tanks and mechanical transport would have put them at a disadvantage, the Greeks worked through the high ground surrounding the area. Further south the Greeks drove the Italians out of the last of the Greek territory taken in their initial offensive. The Italians depended on the Albanian ports of Durreze and Valona for all resupply. These were the largest ports in the country but still small and ill-equipped, leaving the Italian army at a severe logisitical disadvantage. The Luftwaffe was starting to shift its attacks beyond London. One of the first cities to suffer was Coventry which was bombed by 500 aircraft. Weather conditions were almost perfect; late

Eighty years ago, Nazi Germany and the USSR fail to divide the world between themselves as an unknown British Brigadier wins his first battle

  The visit of Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov to Berlin generated huge interest. Since the dismemberment of Poland over a year before relations between the two dictatorships had been uneasily calm. The Soviets were suspicious of a large German presence in Finland which they still hoped to conquer and the Germans were not enthusiastic at the thought of further Soviet expansion in the Balkans. The Germans proposed a deal under which the Soviets would join the Axis and divide their regions into formal spheres of influence; they pointed the Soviets south-east towards the Caucasus and, eventually, British-held India. Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, argued that this arrangement would reflect the reality of a world in which British power was at an end. As the arrival of British bombers over Berlin – albeit doing minimal damage – forced the negotiating partners into an air-raid shelter, Molotov queried this premise. The discussions concluded with no agreement. Stalin was anxious