Nigel Hamilton is Senior Fellow in the McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts Boston. War and Peace, the final volume of his “FDR at War” trilogy, will be published in May 2019.
David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov, eds., The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt, Yale University Press, 2018, 660 pages, $35. 978–0300226829
At first glance The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt promises to be the book we—those of us still deeply interested in the history of the Second World War—were waiting for. David Reynolds is a distinguished historian of Anglo-American relations and Vladimir Pechatnov a leading scholar of Soviet relations with the West, having access to significant new primary sources.
The good news for readers is that the seventeen-page introduction—clearly penned by Professor Reynolds—is worth the price of the book alone: a wonderful, essayistic tour d’horizon of the three great leaders of the Allied coalition in the Second World War: their different personalities, their political aims, and their strengths and weaknesses, spiced with wonderful quotations. Told in 1944 that they resembled the Holy Trinity, Marshal Stalin—who had studied for six years at the Tiflis Russian Orthodox seminary—quipped: “If that is so, Churchill must be the Holy Ghost. He flies around so much.”
125 Years ago
Winter 1894 • Age 19 “Keep Down the Smoking”
With graduation from Sandhurst pending, Winston began to consider his future service in the Army. On 11 January, he wrote to his mother and listed five reasons why he preferred a cavalry regiment rather than an infantry regiment. First, promotions came faster in the Cavalry than in the Infantry. Second, commissions also came “much sooner” in the Cavalry. Third, the 4th Hussars were going to India, and, if he joined the regiment before it left, he “would have 6 or 7 subalterns below me in a very short time.” Fourth, Cavalry regiments were “always given good stations in India and generally taken great care of by the Government,” whereas the Infantry “have to take what they can get.” Fifth, keeping a horse was much cheaper in the Cavalry, because the government provided stabling, forage, and labor.
Winston had also listed these same reasons in a letter to his mother’s friend, Colonel Brabazon of the 4th Hussars. In the letter to his mother, he added a sixth reason that included more attractive uniforms, the advantages of riding over walking, as well as being in a regiment where his mother knew some of the officers.
Gabriel Gorodetsky, ed., The Maisky Diaries, Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s 1932–1943, Yale University Press, 2015, 632 pages, $40.
Review by D. Craig Horn
D. Craig Horn is a former Russian linguist for the United States Air Force currently serving in the North Carolina General Assembly. He is chairman of the Churchill Society of North Carolina and serves on The Churchill Centre’s Board of Trustees.
Winston Churchill once famously described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Such terms can be equally applied to Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky, Soviet ambassador to London from 1932–43. Just think for a minute about the world-shaking events of those years. In every instance, Ivan Maisky chronicled them in fascinating detail.
The Maisky Diaries present not only a behind-the-curtain look at diplomacy and deception but also a story of intrigue and survival. Ambassador Maisky wormed himself into the innermost workings of the British government; he was the ultimate maker of friends in high places. His address book included private contacts at the highest levels of officialdom, journalism, diplomats, and political insiders. Through sheer ability and a cunning strategy, Maisky constantly put himself in the right place at the right time. Read More >
For some years it seemed that the question whether Britain and France were wise or foolish in the Munich episode would become a matter of long historical controversy. However, the revelations which have been made from German sources and particularly at the Nuremberg Trials, have rendered this unlikely. (218)
The Soviet Proffer
[In March 1938 the Russians] wished to discuss, if only in outline, ways and means of implementing the Franco-Soviet pact within the frame of League action in the event of a major threat to peace by Germany. This met with little warmth in Paris and London. The French Government was distracted by other preoccupations. There were serious strikes in the aircraft factories. Franco’s armies were driving deep into the territory of Communist Spain. Chamberlain was both sceptical and depressed. He profoundly disagreed with my interpretation of the dangers ahead and the means of combating them. I had been urging the prospects of a Franco-British-Russian alliance as the only hope of checking the Nazi onrush….the Prime Minister expressed his mood in a letter to his sister on March 20: “The plan of the ‘Grand Alliance,’ as Winston calls it, had occurred to me long before he mentioned it….You have only to look at the map to see that nothing that France or we could do could possibly save Czechoslovakia.”…Here was at any rate a decision. It was taken on wrong arguments. Read More >
Meanwhile in the Mediterranean a drama of intense interest, and as it proved of fatal consequence, was being enacted….” Our author’s dramatic account of the first naval action in World War I makes for exciting reading a century later—even though he lost.
In a feat of seamanship even Churchill was forced to admire, the German battlecruiser Goeben eluded Royal Navy hunters and sailed to Constantinople, where she was presented to the Ottoman Navy and renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim. usually shortened to Yavuz. By bombarding Russian Black Sea facilities she brought Turkey into the war on the German side. Remarkably, she remained the flagship of the Turkish Navy until 1950, and was not scrapped until 1973, after the West German government declined an invitation to buy her back.
The event which would dominate all others, if war broke out, was the main shock of battle between the French and German armies. We knew that the French were counting on placing in the line a whole army corps of their best troops from North Africa, and that every man was needed. We were informed also that they intended to transport these troops across the Mediterranean as fast as ships could be loaded, under the general protection of the French Fleet, but without any individual escort or system of convoys.
The French General Staff calculated that whatever happened most of the troops would get across. The French Fleet disposed between this stream of transports and the Austrian Fleet afforded a good guarantee. But there was one ship in the Mediterranean which far outstripped in speed every vessel in the French Navy. She was the Goeben. Read More >
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