Eighty years ago Churchill and his much-loathed son wield a political club


Churchill returned from America to find distinct unhappiness with the conduct of the war, especially the defeats by Japan in the Far East. He moved to pre-empt the grumblers by putting himself to a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. It was an effective albeit heavy-handed move; the debate saw a fair amount of pointed but poorly focused criticism, but when it came to the vote only the far left MP James Maxton opposed the motion. The Conservative Sir John Wardlaw-Milne insinuated that some ministers were not up to the job and compared Churchill to a Caliph managing his harem. Churchill's critics were subjected to a savage and occasionally amusing assault by his son Randolph, who had recently been elected, but this might actually have worked against the prime minister by giving credence to the objection that he was sustained by a charmed circle that was more of a court than a government. Randolph was - deservedly - unpopular and his claim on the major's commission he held was not considered to be strong. He held a comfortable and safe staff job in the sybaritic surroundings of Middle East headquarters in Cairo.

The first US troops to arrive in Europe disembarked in Ulster to the accompaniment of extensive publicity. This sparked wild fears that there would be a move to occupy Eire. Eamon de Valera, the Irish prime minister, complained bitterly that the US was thus giving approval to what he described as a "quisling" regime in the province.

The success of Operation Crusader in the western desert proved to have been fleeting. The British had over-estimated Axis casualties and under-estimated the effectiveness of their reinforcment arrangements. They failed to understand that Rommel's retreat had surrendered valueless territory in exchange for shorter supply lines. The British were thus over-extended when Rommel launched OperationTheseus which drove them back to Tobruk with heavy casualties.

The Roberts Commissioned appointed by President Roosevelt to investigate the success of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour reported. It condemned the senior Navy and Army commanders involved, Admiral Kimmel and General Strong, for "dereliction of duty". They had already been sacked so this smacked more of finding scapegoats for wider institutional failures. A single reference to Japanese intelligence sources in the report was enough to unleash a torrent  of racial abuse.


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