War

Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Not Just Hot Air

Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 41

Review by Chris Sterling

Leon Bennett, Churchill’s War Against the Zeppelin 1914–18: Men, Machines and Tactics, Helion, 2015, 406 pages, $59.95. ISBN 978-1909982840


Churchill’s War Against the ZeppelinLong interested in both airship history and Churchill, I had high expectations for this book that melds both topics. To a great extent they were met, though with a few frustrations along the way.

Leon Bennett’s book centers on the German Zeppelin (airship) bombing raids against England (and especially London) during the First World War and the defense measures taken to meet the new air threat. German fliers tried to bomb the city for months after the war began in August 1914, but initially managed only sporadic raids against easy-to-find coastal towns. Weather was often the chief culprit—especially capricious winds that could push the huge rigid airships miles off course. Crude nighttime navigation was hit or miss, often the latter. British airships (also covered here) faced the same limitations—a key reason that Churchill, after initial enthusiasm, became a consistent critic of the technology. Despite his misgivings, however, the British continued their expensive airship program after the war until the R 101 tragedy in 1930 shut down the effort.

When the huge and clumsy Zeppelins succeeding in hitting something in the Great War, public panic far exceeded the casualties or physical damage. For here was an invasion for which, at first, there seemed no defense. Gradually the fledgling British Royal Flying Corps and Naval Air Service developed methods of fighting the floating “baby killers,” including the use of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns, plus slowly improving fighter aircraft. The airship’s chief weakness was its reliance on highly flammable Read More >

Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Our Man at the Front

Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 40

Review by Chris Sterling

Simon Read, Winston Churchill Reporting: Adventures of a Young War Correspondent, Da Capo Press, 2015, 309 pages, $26.99. ISBN 978-0306823817


Winston Churchill ReportingRead, a former California journalist born in England, begins his book with a clear disclaimer: “I don’t consider this a biography or a work of history—though it contains elements of both. It is, instead, a true tale of adventure featuring Winston Churchill in the starring role. When writing the book, I described it to friends as ‘Winston Churchill as Indiana Jones’” (ix). And therein lies both the appeal and drawback of this latest addition to the ever- growing “Churchill and _____” shelf.

Read’s breezy style stitches together the adventuresome story of Churchill’s first four wars on which the initial newspaper columns and several of WSC’s early books are based. These include his trip to Cuba to observe Spanish forces fighting rebels (1895–96), the fighting role of the Malakand Field Force in what is now Pakistan (1897), the “river war” in Sudan (1898), and the bitter South African Boer War on which Churchill reported (1899–1900). In all save the first, Churchill was also a serving officer in the British Army, an odd combination that raised eyebrows.

Churchill’s “lucky” placement in four such widespread conflicts over less than five years was no mere happenstance. His well-connected mother Jennie opened the right London doors to reach key government and army officials who surrendered to her charm and persuasion, often against their own better judgment. The seeming Churchill luck created more than a bit of envy and jealousy among many of the soldiers with whom he served.
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“The Blood Test”: Churchill Writing on the Battle of the Somme

Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 32

By Robin Prior


Battle of the Somme

British Vickers machine gun crew, The Battle of the Somme, 1916

The Battle of the Somme raged from 1 July to mid-November 1916. It was the largest battle the British Army has ever fought—or is ever likely to fight. When Winston Churchill came to write his history of the First World War (which he called The World Crisis) it was inevitable that he would pay considerable attention to this—particularly since he held very strong views about the manner in which it had been fought.

However, Churchill faced a particular difficulty in writing about the Somme. Earlier in the war, he had been First Lord of the Admiralty, during which time he had accumulated plentiful contemporary documents. These materials formed the basis of the first two volumes of The World Crisis, which covered the period from 1911 to 1915. Indeed, one-third of the material on this period consists of these papers and memoranda.

But the Dardanelles fiasco forced Churchill to resign. The period of the Somme saw him out of office and cut off from all official government communications. So when he came to write his narrative he lacked the foundation on which his earlier chapters had been based. Read More >

Churchill, Jutland, and The World Crisis

Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 28

By Stephen McLaughlin

Mr. Churchill spent a blissful two hours demonstrating with decanters and wine-glasses how the Battle of Jutland was fought. It was a thrilling experience. He was fascinating. He got worked up like a schoolboy, making barking noises in imitation of gunfire and blowing cigar smoke across the battle scene in imitation of gunsmoke.
—James Lees-Milne, describing an experience at Chartwell in January 19281


Churchill’s improvised table-top recreation of one of the most complex battles in naval history was remarkable not only for the fascination it held for Lees-Milne, but also because just a few years earlier Churchill had admitted to his friend, ViceAdmiral Sir Roger Keyes, that he had “only the vaguest idea of what had taken place” at Jutland.2 The indecisive battle had been fought on 31 May 1916, a full year after Churchill’s forced resignation from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty, and his only connection with it came when he was asked to make a morale-boosting statement for the press to compensate for an earlier, and depressingly honest, Admiralty communiqué.3 Though an effective piece of propaganda, his statement was not based on a deep knowledge of the events of the battle.

Two Admirals

The World Crisis

Map of the Battle of Jutland

But by 1924 Churchill’s work on his history of the Great War, The World Crisis, was approaching the point where he would have to provide some account of the battle. By this time the “Jutland controversy” was already in full swing, an unseemly quarrel between the supporters of the two chief British commanders at Jutland, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty. Although he had not previously studied the battle in detail, Churchill was by no means a disinterested party in this debate. Beatty had served as his naval secretary for fifteen months in 1911–13, and the young admiral had impressed him deeply; in a navy that, in Churchill’s famous phrase, “had more captains of ships than captains of war,” Beatty seemed to him a man possessing “shrewd and profound sagacity” who “viewed questions of naval strategy and tactics in a different light Read More >

Books, Arts & Curiosities – Hollow Book

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 44

Review by Nigel Hamilton

Michael Arnold, Hollow Heroes: An Unvarnished Look at the Wartime Careers of Churchill, Montgomery, and Mountbatten, Casemate, 2015, 304 pages, $34.95.
ISBN 978-1612002736


Wartime Careers of ChurchillThere are as many biographies as there are biographers: some serious, some not. Plus others that purport to be serious, but are not. Into which category does Michael Arnold’s Hollow Heroes fall?

A former insurance salesman, Mr. Arnold has a passion for polemic. His first book, The Bodyline Hypocrisy, was a book of conversations (with Harold Larwood) about the great cricket conundrum: should bowlers be allowed to bowl straight at the batsman to intimidate him, as in the famous 1932–33 Ashes tour between England and Australia?

After this, Mr. Arnold plunged into another form of polemic: military history. His work when published was titled Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill’s Biggest Blunder. According to the publisher’s blurb: “when, inevitably, Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Churchill attempted to deflect criticism by accusing the defenders there of spineless capitulation. Recently released information from the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington reveals that United States President Franklin Roosevelt not only knew of the impending attack on Pearl Harbour but actually instigated it. Although Roosevelt promised a shield of B-17 aircraft for Singapore from Manila, General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines had been told to do nothing until after the Japanese attacks there and at Pearl Harbor so that the United States could claim an unprovoked assault that would allow them to declare war on Japan.”
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“On the Brink of the Abyss” Winston Churchill in the Great War

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 18

By Douglas Russell

“On the Brink of the Abyss” Winston Churchill in the Great War


“Plugstreet” under shellfire, early 1916 (painted by Winston S. Churchill) Winston Churchill in the Great War

“Plugstreet” under shellfire, early 1916 (painted by Winston S. Churchill)

When the Great War began for Winston Churchill on 4 August 1914, he was at his war station, the Admiralty in London, where he had served as First Lord since 1911. After several signal successes in that office at the outset of the conflict, the mounting casualties and looming failure of the Dardanelles campaign in Turkey led to his forced resignation from the cabinet on 21 May 1915. He was then appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which was a cabinet office but one with no duties related to management of the war. His cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, wrote to him, “I gather you have been thrown a bone on which there is little meat.”1 Try as he might to be heard in cabinet meetings, Churchill’s influence on war policy was at an end.

When the Cabinet War Committee was reorganized in October 1915, Churchill was not included, and he resigned as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the same day. Being excluded from an effective political role in the direction of the war was a humiliating blow to Churchill, who feared his political career was over. As his wife Clementine later told Martin Gilbert, “When he left the Admiralty he thought he was finished. He did not believe he would ever be asked back into the government. I thought he would never get over the Dardanelles. I thought he would die of grief.”2
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Into the Lion’s Jaws: Churchill in the Boer War

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 14

By Candice Millard

As the armoured train inched along the low, rolling hills and flat, open spaces of the South African veldt on the morning of 15 November 1899, every man on board knew that the enemy was watching. Where exactly they were, however, and whether they would attack, remained a dark, seemingly impenetrable mystery. Although the Boer War had begun just a month earlier, the British had already learned a painful lesson: the harder it was to find the Boers, the more dangerous they were likely to be.


Boer WarOf Dutch descent, the deeply religious Boers had not wanted war. On the contrary, they wanted nothing more than to be left alone. War, however, like wealth, had found them. The trouble had begun more than thirty years earlier, when diamonds and, later, gold were discovered in the Transvaal, one of two Boer republics. “This gold,” said Paul Kruger, who served as president of the Transvaal during the war, “will cause our country to be soaked in blood.”1

Kruger’s prediction had come true just a few years later. In 1880, Britain annexed the Transvaal, leading to what became known as the First Boer War, a war that, to the shock and horror of the British people, ended in Britain’s defeat. Although, as a condition of the peace agreement, Britain agreed to respect the independence of the Boer republics, before long it was once again pressing in on the Transvaal, amassing troops at its borders and claiming large swaths of new territory that effectively cut it off from the sea. Having had enough, the Boers issued an ultimatum in October 1899 that the British disdainfully ignored.
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The River War: Preparing the Definitive Edition

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 10

By James W. Muller


River WarThe Discovery

It was a grey day in January 1989 when I discovered that my leather-bound copy of The River War, one of thirty-four volumes of the Collected Works of Sir Winston S. Churchill that I had recently purchased, was but an abridgment. Like Churchill himself, if on a more modest scale, I have always lived a charmed life; and, by extraordinary good fortune, my wife Judith and I were halfway through a fifteen-month wedding trip, for most of which we lived in civilized but straitened splendor in London at William Goodenough College, near Russell Square. I was an academic visitor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, working on a book about Churchill’s writings. But half a dozen noble distractions—books on and by Churchill that I have been editing since then—are my apology for my original work remaining incomplete more than a quarter-century later. Four of these distractions have been published, with two more soon to appear: new editions of Churchill’s autobiography My Early Life: A Roving Commission and his most impressive early book The River War: An Historical Account of the reconquest of the Soudan.

Having just finished in autumn 1988a draft chapter about Churchill’s experiences on the Nile nine decades earlier, I was learning that winter about his time in South Africa. But an entry in the bound catalogue of the old British Library stating that the first edition of The River War, published in November 1899, was a two-volume work had led me to look at it. A rare book, it had to be consulted not at my usual seat in the round Reading Room, where Karl Marx had written his book on capital, but in the North Reading Room, where rules were stricter. After the book was delivered to me there, I kept it for days to find out what the differences were between it and the version I owned. It turned out that the first edition had Read More >

“Bang! Bang! Bang!” Churchill on the North-West Frontier

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 06

By Con Coughlin


Churchill on the North-West Frontier
In 1897, British forces launched a bloody campaign against Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribesmen—forebears of the Taliban—on India’s North-West Frontier (now the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan). It was the first time Winston Churchill, then twenty-two and a junior cavalry lieutenant as well as an aspiring war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, had taken part in military action as a combatant. The experience would have a profound bearing on his subsequent career as a writer and politician.

A week into the campaign, Churchill was still a knight of the pen, rather than one of the sword, so he concentrated his energy on finding good copy for his Telegraph dispatches. He kept himself busy by accompa- nying the daily reconnaissance patrols and observing their map-making efforts. As he told his friend Reggie Barnes, he spent most days with the 11th Bengal Lancers and the evenings in the general’s mess. When out riding with the Lancers, Churchill was always on the lookout for action, but had little luck. “I take every opportunity and have accompanied solitary patrols into virgin valleys and ridden through villages and forts full of armed men—looking furious—but without any adventure occurring. It is a strange war. One moment people are your friends and the next they are shooting. The value of life is so little that they do not bear any grudge for being shot at.”
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From the Editor – Churchill in Combat

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 04

Churchill in Combat – By David Freeman, January 2016


Churchill in CombatOne hundred years ago this winter Winston Churchill took command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and led it into combat on the Western Front. This was to be his last experience as a uniformed officer in battle but not his last time under fire. To mark the anniversary we have invited leading specialists to recount Churchill’s many adventures in combat.

The regions along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan remain as dangerous today as they were in Churchill’s time. Con Coughlin, who reports on this area of the world, vividly describes Churchill’s first journey into battle on the North-West Frontier and notes the striking similarities between then and now.

Churchill’s account of his charge with the 21st Lancers at Omdurman (page 50) and the campaign surrounding it has excited readers for more than a century. Unfortunately, the full account set forth in the rare and costly first edition of The River War has remained unknown to most, since all subsequent editions have been abridgments. James W. Muller explains his prolonged effort to bring the restored and now fully annotated original text back into print this year.
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Books, Arts & Curiosities – When the Blast of War Blows

Finest Hour 170, Fall 2015

Page 38

Review by Richard A. McConnell

Mike Lepine, Churchill and the Generals , Danann Publishing, 2015, 136 pages, £29.99/$55.00.
ISBN 978-0993016944


 Churchill and the GeneralsChurchill and the Generals is a quick and excellent read for those looking for a concise primer on the unique leadership dynamics embodied by Churchill and the generals whom he led. Although brief, the portraits of the military leaders include engaging details that span their childhood, education, military service, personal quirks, and challenges or triumphs interacting with Churchill.

All of this comes wrapped in an attractive package that includes beautiful illustrations, numerous photos of the subjects, two DVDs containing vintage footage of the Second World War, and an excellent photo timeline from 1939 through the end of the war. Whether well acquainted with the subject or a beginner, you will find Churchill and the Generals to be a must read.

Lepine’s pen portraits start with Churchill himself. Naturally this takes up the largest section of the book as Lepine expertly pilots the reader through Churchill’s life and career. Some of the most engaging portions are descriptions of Churchill’s early life, such as his relations with his parents, his childhood nanny Mrs. Everest, and his interactions with senior military leaders when he was but a junior officer in the British Army. Readers will see taking root the seeds of character that germinated to create the national leader of the Second World War.
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Churchill and Dr. Chaim Weizmann: Scientist, Zionist, and Israeli Statesman

Finest Hour 170, Fall 2015

Page 11

By Fred Glueckstein


On 9 December 1905, Winston Churchill was given his first government post by Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as the new Under-Secretary for the Colonies. As then required by law, an MP taking a government position had to contest his parliamentary seat in a by-election. The next day, 10 December 1905, Churchill was electioneering as the key speaker at a Manchester North West public protest meeting on the ill treatment of Jews in Russia.

As a third of the Manchester North West electorate was Jewish, a gathering of Jewish residents was present to hear Churchill speak. On the meeting’s podium when Churchill spoke was a Jewish chemist and Zionist named Dr. Chaim Weizmann.1

With the general election of January 1906 close at hand, Churchill later approached Weizmann through his representative to help swing the Jewish vote in his favour in Manchester. Weizmann, although he recognized Churchill’s authority, was disinclined to intervene so overtly in British politics, and he just referred the matter to David Wolffsohn, President of the Zionist Organization. Shortly afterwards, Weizmann met with Churchill “for a brief, introductory and uneventful talk.”2
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