Thursday, 22 July 2010
What were you thinking, David – or were you?
It was with great surprise and some fury that the British public, along with many of their Commonwealth and former Commonwealth members, heard David Cameron declare that Great Britain was the 'junior partner' of the USA in fighting Germany in 1940. He seemed to be unaware, or perhaps had 'forgotten' that the US remained neutral until Germany and Japan declared war on it in December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbour. The US had supplied the UK as well as the Soviet Union, China, France and other Allied nations
with war materials from March 1941 until 1945 through the 'Lend-Lease' law. The UK finally redeemed its debt in 2006.
Nicholas Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, defended the Prime Minister's remarks, intimating that he had been misunderstood, but compounded the insult by omitting to mention the UK's allies. His grandfather must have groaned and pirouetted in his grave!
At the beginning of World War II Great Britain was indeed a 'junior partner' – but to France which had one of the biggest armies in the world. France had 86 divisions, Germany 78, while Britain had 9 and the US just 8.
After July 1940 Britain and the Commonwealth stood against Germany until Russia entered the war in July 1941. Forces from several defeated European countries escaped to UK to continue the fight – Albanian, Dutch, French, Polish, Norwegian, Belgian, Czechoslovakian to name but a few.
Russia entered the war five months before the US and arguably was a far bigger partner than the US in defeating Germany. Russia inflicted many more military casualties on the Germans than the US. Russia had the biggest army at the end of the war with 491 divisions while the US reached 94 including those also deployed in the Pacific. The sheer size of the Russian army was at the heart of the eventual German defeat.
The first important German reversal was in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
The first major land defeats of Germany were by British and Commonwealth troops at El Alamein in 1942 and by the Russians at Stalingrad in 1943.
More British and Commonwealth than US troops landed in Normandy in 1944. The RAF had many more fighters than the USAF for D Day (2172 versus 1311). The Royal Navy was the senior partner at Normandy, providing the majority of warships.
The biggest defeat the Japanese army faced was in Burma at the hands of the British and Commonwealth (especially Indian) armies.
Throughout the war the RAF was bigger than the USAF in Europe facing Germany. In June 1942 there were 9500 British aircraft and no US aircraft. A year later Britain had 12700 and the US 5000. Even towards the end of the war Britain still had the larger force with 14500 while the US had 12200.
When military deaths are brought into the equation, Russia suffered the greatest number of fatalities, followed by Britain and the Commonwealth, with the US suffering the fewest. As a proportion of population the British suffered three times the military deaths of the US.
Britain also sustained far more major warship losses than the US (260 versus 157)
Finally, Britain suffered significant civilian casualties and the US did not.
David Cameron and Nicholas Soames were both expensively educated at Eton (current basic fees are around £30,000 per annum). Is this venerable institute not able to employ effective History teachers or is it simply the case that David (and Nicholas before him) were not paying attention during lessons?
In spite of Hollywood reworkings of historical events much of the statistical evidence aforementioned has come from US Government sources, which are both remarkably accurate and well-informed.