Friday, August 29, 2008

The Churchill Series - Aug. 29, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Readers Note:For those who may have missed yesterday’s post it follows after which, below the star line, today’s post begins.


The following is from an article
Churchill biographer William Manchester wrote for the Churchill Centre’s Finest Hour quarterly. I’ll guess Manchester wrote it at least in part as preparation for the third volume of his Churchill biography which he never finished because of a debilitating stroke and his subsequent death.

I think you’ll find the article extract interesting. It has some information that was new to me. Tomorrow I’ll comment on it and the status of the uncompleted third volume: Defender of the Realm.

Manchester begins - - -

At dawn on Friday, 10 May 1940, Adolf Hitler plunged his bloody fists into the Low Countries and headed for France; at 5:00 PM that same evening, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain. The new Prime Minister felt confident of victory then, but the French high command had made a grave miscalculation. Believing that the enemy would be coming through Belgium, as in 1914, the sixty-seven-year-old generalissimo Maurice Gamelin had sent the flower of the French troops and the entire British army the British Expeditionary Force, or B.E.F. into Flanders.

Instead, Nazi tanks struck through Ardennes Forest and crossed the Meuse. When the French defenders panicked, the panzers rolled up the entire Allied line all the way to the sea, trapping the Allies' force.

On the fifth day of the enemy offensive, the extent of the disaster began to emerge. Paul Reynaud, the French Premier, wired Churchill: "The German army has broken through our fortified lines south of Sedan." He then asked for ten more Royal Air Force squadrons "immediately."

The Prime Minister sent four squadrons, then decided it was "imperative to go to Paris." At 3:00 PM on May 16th, he took off in an unarmed Flamingo, a civilian passenger plane, accompanied by Generals Hastings Ismay and Sir John Dill and his bodyguard Walter Thompson, an inspector from Scotland Yard.

Over the French coast Churchill peered down, and Thompson saw his face go grey. He was looking, for the first time, at the war's refugees. There were seven million of them fleeing from the Germans, swarming down the highways, shuffling, exhausted, aching from the strain of heavy loads on their backs. Barns, sheds, and garages had vomited into roads an extraordinary collection of vehicles: tumbrels, trucks, horse-drawn carts, and ancient automobiles with sagging loads of mattresses, kitchen utensils, family treasures, and bric-a-brac.

Churchill later wrote: "Not having had access to official information for so many years, I did not comprehend the revolution effected since the last war by the incursion of a mass of fast-moving heavy armour." This German drive would not have to pause for supplies. As Charles de Gaulle had foreseen, the panzers would be filling their tanks at the filling stations of northern France


From’s biography of de Gaulle:

[In] his 1934 book Vers l'armée du métier, de Gaulle argued for a military strategy based on speed and movement. He was tireless in his advocacy of tanks and armoured divisions and attracted the attention of a number of leading Third Republic politicians. In 1937, he was appointed colonel of a tank regiment.

De Gaulle went to general-staff school, where he hurt his career by constant criticism of his superiors. He denounced the static concept of trench warfare and wrote a series of essays calling for a strategy of movement with armored tanks and planes. The French [Army] hierarchy ignored his works, but the Germans read him and adapted his theories to develop their triumphant strategy of blitzkrieg, or lightning war, with which they defeated the French in 1940.
Now about Defender of the Realm.

Paul Reid is working with William (Bill) Manchester’s notes and drafts to complete the book. In early 2007 a friend shared an email he’d received from Reid. Here’s part of it:
I have finished Parts One (1940) and Two (1941) and will be through Parts Three, Four and Five by mid-2007. Publication is set for sometime in 2008. Bill's notes and interviews run to thousands of pages, enough to fuel at least three more volumes.

My job, therefore, is to pace this final volume. About half of it will cover 1940 and 1941, about forty-percent the remainder of the war and about 10-15 percent the post-war years.

Bill saw the post-war years (or at least the last decade) as a long "afterward". Having been guided by Bill the last year of his life, and having in hand the pages he wrote (to the fall of France) I think I have a good feeling for the pace he set and where he was going.

The pages Bill finished are, as was usual with William Manchester, marvelous, full of suspense and foreshadowing, a real tale beautifully told.

Among many things he made clear to me was his desire that this book be an enjoyable read for younger people, people under 40 years of age who did not grow up with stories of the War percolating through their household.
Another friend who lives near Reid in Western North Carolina tells me Reid has not yet submitted a final draft to the publisher. After submission, it will be at least a year before publication of a book such as Defender which will require extensive proofing, fact-checking, indexing, copyright clearances, etc.

It looks like we all have at least a few years more to wait for the third volume.

I hope you all have a relaxing Labor Day weekend.