Posted by: Dr Churchill | September 15, 2017

What would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 36)

Now that Winston Churchill, was back inside the cabinet — even at a diminished role, his expertise was again seen as invaluable, especially as far as the new war technologies were concerned — since he was widely acclaimed for his invention of the military tank, that in some great measure shortened the war and brought victory to the British and the Allied forces.

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As the Minister for Munitions, Winston was disrupting the old staid organization rapidly, because the Ministry of Munitions was a huge organization staffed by twelve thousand civil servants and divided into fifty departments, and although it was apparently operating smoothly when Winston took over — he tightened the screws and made it go up in productivity and const cuttings. He further organized Research and Development departments that were responsible for new Innovations for the next War that Winston clearly saw as coming after an interlude of Peace….

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He managed the changes by combining the fifty groups of departments and departmental heads, into less than a dozen new ones, and he referred
to each new group by a letter. For example, he used F for finance, D for design, P for projectiles, X for explosives, etc, and he set up a Council of businessmen rather like the Board of Admiralty, and in order to oversee over the businessmen, he established a small, powerful “damping committee.” The organization was a triumph and Wnston describes it thus: “Instead of struggling through the jungle on foot, I rode comfortably on an elephant, whose trunk could pick up a pin or uproot a tree with equal ease, and from whose back a wide scene lay open.”

The Ministry of Munitions covered an enormous field. It was not only
responsible for guns and shells, but for all sorts of moving and rolling
stock, and for the design and production of aircraft as well. ‘Owing to the
energy which Mr Winston Churchill threw into the production of munitions, wrote Lloyd George in his Memoirs, ‘between 1st March and 1st August, the strength of the Tank Corps increased by twenty-seven per cent, and that of the Machine Gun Corps by forty-one per cent, while the number of aeroplanes in France rose by forty per cent.

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On top of this effort came American demands. The United States had declared war in April 1917, three months before Winston Churchill was brought back into the Government. The Americans planned to put forty-eight divisions in the line, which amounted to six armies each requiring twelve thousand guns. But owing to the difficulty of switching peacetime factories to war production they could only produce a small proportion of their needs.

Winston accepted a contract for 100,000,000 to supply the American Army with all its medium artillery. This was done under a “gentleman’s agreement” by which the United Kingdom promised not to make a profit and the United States promised to make good a loss. The bargain worked to the complete satisfaction of both countries. Indeed, the “cordial relations” which Winston established with his opposite number in Washington, Mr Bernard Baruch, whom he had never met, grew into a warm friendship after the war and continued to their end days. Mr Baruch was influential in seeing that Winston Churchill received the United States Distinguished Service Medal which was awarded him at the end of the war by General Pershing.

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The Ministry of Munitions had large establishments in France which gave
Winston the opportunity of crossing the Channel whenever he wished.
He seized the excuse, because he wanted to visit the front regularly, in order to have first hand information about the conduct of the war, and about the disposition of the British and Allied troops, and thus he often appeared at Sir
Douglas Haig’s headquarters, completely unannounced.

Once he had landed in France, he walked up to the Allied forces headquarters, and here he consulted with the Generals, studied the flagged maps, offered his ideas in a spirit of equanimity, had a few drinks and cigars, and talked strategy and tactics to his heart’s content, until dusk, when he had to get back on the aeroplane’s secod pilot seat, for the long crossing back towards London and home for more work, and some well deserved rest at his office cot.

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Finally Sir Douglas Haig seeing how dangerous the daily cross channel crossing was for Winston flying each and everyday in these ‘cloth moths’ — so he assigned him, hiss own military quarters in a French chateau near Verchocq, and instead he accomplished the oppossite result. Now Winston became a daily visitor, because he found that he could work at the Ministry of Munitions in London, during the morning, then rush to the airport and fly to Verchocq at lunchtime, and then have a whole afternoon touring at the battlefront.

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He crossed the channel so frequently, with the open cockpit, fast, and furious, and highly experimental military aeroplanes, that people dubbed him the “Flying Englishman” and designated the particular channel crossing, as “The Churchill Slipstream.”

Much, later he wrote with pride: “I managed to be present at nearly every important battle during the rest of the war.”

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These trips probably were not strictly essential to his work as a Minister,
but he was blissfully happy. The fact that aeroplanes were uncertain
quantities in those days seemed to add to his pleasure. Once when he was
over the Channel on his return to London a valve burst, the engine
spluttered and the plane descended towards the grey water. The pilot
made a gesture indicating that there was nothing he could do, and it
seemed as though the end had come. Then the engine coughed, the plane
rose unsteadily, and the pilot headed back to France where he managed to
land the machine without damage. On another occasion the same pilot
had to make a forced landing on English soil. “He side-slipped artistically
between two tall elms, just missing the branches” wrote Winston in
‘Thoughts and Adventures’ and later, when someone asked him whether he
was not afraid at such moments he replied: “No, I love life, but I don’t fear
death.”

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Winston was at the front when the great and final offensive against the
British opened in March 1918. He heard the enemy barrage begin and
listened to the Allied guns thunder back in reply. This was Ludendorff’s
last hope of winning the war. Both Russia and Italy had collapsed and the
Germans were free to concentrate most of their force in the West. Although the United States had been in the war for a year it had only two hundred thousand men in the line. Ludendorff knew the Americans would be arriving in strength throughout the summer, and decided to stake everything on a final, knock-out blow before that time.

This offensive was the climax of the war. It lasted forty days and cost
Britain three hundred thousand casualties. Everyone knows how the
British lines recoiled with the terrific impact; how the French nearly
broke contact with their Allies; how for the first time an electric whisper
went through England: ‘What if the Germans should win, after all?’
Winston returned to London three days after the battle had begun and
went to 10 Downing Street at once. Lloyd George asked him anxiously:
“If we cannot hold the line we have fortified so carefully, why should we
be able to hold positions farther back with troops already defeated?”
Winston explained that an offensive was like throwing a bucket of Water
over the floor; it lost its force as it proceeded.

But during the next days an alarming rumour spread that the French regarded the defeat of the British armies as inevitable and, instead of sending reinforcements, were planning to break contact with them. Lloyd George summoned Winston and asked him to hurry to France and find out what was happening. “Go and see everybody” he said. Use my authority. See Foch. See Clemenceau. Find out for yourself whether they are making a really big move or not.”

The story of the trip has been recounted dramatically by Winston Churchill himself. Clemenceau greeted him with the message: “Not only shall Mr Winston Churchill see everything, but I will myself take him tomorrow to the battle and we will visit all the Commanders of Corps and Armies engaged.”

The next day the two statesmen set forth, accompanied by high officials
and staff officers, in a fleet of military cars decorated with satin tricolours.
First, they visited General Foch headquarters, who gave them a brilliant exposition of the battle ending emotionally with the assurance that the enemy effort was nearly exhausted. “Alors, Général, il faut que je vous embrasse?” said Clemenceau, and the two Frenchmen clasped each other tightly. Next, they went to the headquarters of the British Fourth Army where they had lunch with Sir Douglas Haig. Clemenceau and Haig withdrew to an adjoining room.
When they came out Winston noticed that Haig seemed content, and the “Tiger” was smiling. “It is all right, he said. I have done what you wish. Never mind what was arranged before. If your men are tired and we have fresh men near at hand, our men shall come at once and help you. And now, I shall claim my reward.”

The Tiger’s “reward” was to see the battle. Clemenceau moved forward but the Army commanders protested. Still Clemenceau insisted on being driven as far forward as possible. His nickname, the Tiger, was not given n vain… As they reached the front, cannon shells whistled overhead, and exploded around them, and even Winston finally protested that he ought not to go under fire too often, becuase he shouldn’t tempt the Fates. “Voir la guerre est mon grand plaisir,” replied the old French master politician, otherwise known as the fighting tiger of the French Republic. Indeed Clemencau was cut from the same cloth that Churchill was, and we could definitely say that as far as politician are concerned — they don’t make them like that anymore…

Now as everyone knows the British lines held firm through the German offensive, and the British and French armies did not break contact. By the early summer the American doughboys started pouring into France, and at the end of Summer, the Germans no longer saw that they could have a clear shot at victory, or a strong negotiating position for an honorable settlement that would allow them to keep their gains.

Thus they entered into negotiations, and agreed to terms, imposed by the Allies, and thus the Great War ended on the 11th of November, 1918, on the 11th hour of the day. Winston Churchill, was in his office at the Hotel Metropole, when the Big Ben struck the hour of eleven — the signal that the worst conflict in human history till that day, had finally come to a close.

With the announcement of the War’s end, Mrs Churchill joined Winston at his office, and together they drove down to Whitehall, to see the Prime Minister and congratulate the Cabinet and the Generals, and the rest of the Military and naval command…

To be continued:


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