1992–97. His career started in 1957, when he entered the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. Thereafter he served a tour as a flying instructor with the Fleet Air Arm, tours as a fighter pilot in the United Kingdom and overseas, posts in NATO, and headed the two RAF Commands in the UK before leading the service through the major military draw-downs at the end of the Cold War. Since retiring from the RAF, he has been a business consultant and a leader of many charities, including President of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust. He has written on defence and associated matters for the UK National Defence Association and is a regular contributor to radio and television programmes.
Richard A. McConnell is Associate Professor of Tactics at the US Army Command and General Staff College.
Nigel Hamilton, War and Peace: FDR’s Final Odyssey, D-Day to Yalta, 1943–1945, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, $30.00. ISBN 978-0544876804
This Republic had its beginning…under the protection of certain unalienable political rights…these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. All of these rights spell security, and after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
Thus President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union address introduced what he called the second bill of rights. These comments reflect key values that drove his vision for a new world order following the Second World War. FDR’s continued emphasis that Americans must care about social issues beyond their own borders laid the foundation for the United Nations. We are the beneficiaries of FDR’s views of enlightened self-interest.
This is the third and final installment of Nigel Hamilton’s biography of FDR during the war, and it is well worth the read. (See reviews of vol. I in FH 168 and vol. II in FH 176.) Hamilton crafts a gripping tale of how this visionary leader guided the world to final victory against the Axis as his health steadily got worse. FDR’s vision, eloquence, diplomacy, and charming ability to connect diverse perspectives is frankly hard to match in modern history. Hamilton deftly guides the reader through the momentous years of 1943 through 1945 encompassing incredible accomplishments in a context where the stakes could not have been higher while guiding a coalition of the barely willing. Read More >
W. Mark Hamilton is author of The Nation and the Navy: Methods and Organization of British Navalist Propaganda, 1889–1914 (1986).
Peter Dye, The Man Who Took the Rap: Sir Robert BrookePopham and the Fall of Singapore, Naval Institute Press, 2018, 410 pages, £43.50/$44.95. ISBN 978–1682473580
For Winston Churchill, the fall and surrender of Singapore to Japan in February 1942 was an emotional scar he would carry his entire life, much like Gallipoli. He called the fall of the “Gibraltar of the East” the “largest capitulation in British military history.” In retrospect, we know it ultimately signaled the end of Great Britain’s Asian Empire.
Historian Peter Dye has written the first biography of a key figure in the Singapore story—Air Chief Marshal Sir Henry Robert Moore Brooke-Popham. It was BrookePopham who took the ultimate blame for Churchill’s Singapore nightmare. The goal of this biography is to provide a more balanced view of Brooke-Popham’s life and his many contributions to the defence of the British Empire.
Early chapters reveal BrookePopham’s pioneering work to enhance British air power in the Royal Flying Corps before and during the First World War. A man of high intellect, he was hard-working and an excellent writer. Dye says Brooke-Popham found a keen sense of purpose when the RFC became the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1918. Read More >
Paul F. Anderson is founder of the Disney History Institute, which focuses on Walt Disney’s creative legacy, and has worked and consulted for the Disney family and company on numerous historical projects.
Following the Second World War, the claim was made by Walt Disney and Alexander P. de Seversky that the film Victory Through Air Power (1943), based on the book of the same name, was viewed by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt at the Quebec Conference. This viewing, the claim continues, helped to increase the support the two leaders gave to strategic air power in defeating the Axis. The story has been repeated by Disney historians ever since. But is it true?
In April 1942 the book Victory Through Air Power by Major Alexander P. de Seversky was published with little fanfare, but within a month it appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. By August it had reached number one—so popular it prompted a paperback reissue, practically unheard of at the time. Interest continued at a fever pitch, and it was condensed for publication in Reader’s Digest and serialized in newspapers. By fall, Gallup’s Audience Research Institute estimated five million people had read the book in one form or another.
The book’s popularity was in large part due to timing. It was the early stages of the war for the United States, and the country had faced many setbacks. The book offered bold solutions, a self-help manual for a frustrated public on how to win the war. The “secret” was long-range air power. Read More >
Portal with Secretary of State for Air Sir Archibald Sinclair (seated upper row center) July 1944
Finest Hour 185, Third Quarter 2019
By Rich Milburn
Wing Commander Rich Milburn is an RAF officer and current instructor at the Air War College in Alabama. His doctoral dissertation will examine Portal’s leadership of the RAF during the Second World War. He is grateful to Dr. James Tucci of the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies for helpful comments, while acknowledging any errors to be entirely his own.
In his seminal article Is Strategy an Illusion? Richard Betts opined: “strategy is a series of relationships.”1 Effective relationships, like strategy, are built and conducted over significant periods of time. Winston Churchill certainly believed this; he considered that stability in the American and British Chiefs of Staff (COS) during the Second World War provided “an inestimable advantage for all.”2 Following the appointment of General Sir Alan Brooke as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) in early 1941, the lone replacement on the British COS Committee for the remainder of the war was due to the death of First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound in 1943.
The longest-serving of all the military chiefs during the war was Sir Charles “Peter” Portal, leader of the Royal Air Force for more than five years. Nevertheless, Portal remains largely unknown, even within his former service. Study of him has been extremely limited because he was uncontroversial and kept no wartime diaries. Yet Portal’s detailed organizational knowledge, his patient and logical disposition, and his grand strategic outlook enabled him to forge a remarkably important relationship with Prime Minister Churchill that proved crucial to the British war effort.
Lancaster Bomber being escorted by a Hawker Hurricane
Finest Hour 185, Third Quarter 2019
By Roddy Mackenzie
Roddy MacKenzie is a retired Canadian lawyer and son of a Bomber Command pilot. This article is based on his 29 January 2019 address to the Churchill Society of British Columbia.
“The real cause of Germany’s defeat was the failure of the German Air Force.”—Hitler1
Winston Churchill was involved from the beginning. During the First World War, Prime Minister David Lloyd George appointed Churchill Minister of Munitions in July 1917. Churchill was exceptionally effective. His many responsibilities included overseeing the supply of the new Royal Air Force following its creation on 1 April 1918. By 1919, Churchill was both Secretary of State for War and Air. He concocted with Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard (the “Father of the RAF”) “methods of using bombers to control large areas of sparsely populated territory” through “force substitution.”2 This was important, because the two men viewed air power as possessing both offensive and defensive capabilities. This belief was used to overcome pressure from the British Army and Royal Navy to disband the RAF as a separate service. The United States had no Churchill-Trenchard equivalent at the end of the First World War, and so America’s Army and Navy succeeded in preventing the creation of a separate US Air Force until 1947. Churchill’s enthusiasm made the RAF for many years the largest air force in the world. Further, his encouragement of the British air construction industry helped save Britain in the Second World War.
This issue completes a triptych that we started two years ago about Winston Churchill’s relationship with the armed forces. We began with the Royal Navy, the “senior service,” in 2017 and continued with the British Army last year. Now we examine Churchill’s association with the Royal Air Force, and we are honored to have Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon introduce this issue.
Churchill was one of the first major office holders in any nation to recognize the importance of air power. As First Lord of the Admiralty before the First World War, he routinely inspected the Fleet for which he was responsible and to this end had an airplane custom built for his use. Fred Glueckstein tells the little-known story of the “Sopwith Churchill.”
Between the two world wars, Churchill worked in and out of office to preserve the RAF, define its mission, and strengthen its capabilities. John Maurer explains how Churchill’s support helped to ensure the RAF was in place and prepared to face Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.