Lessons from the Falklands applied to the South China Sea

 

Guest piece written by Alex Calvo, MA student at the University of Birmingham, specialising in WWII.

Tuesday 2nd October marks the beginning of UoB’s War Studies seminar programme, weekly seminars by guest speakers on a wide range of topics.  Fittingly, this year’s programme begins with an anniversary piece on “2 PARA Falklands – 30 Years On”, by Colonel (Ret’d) David Benest.

At first glance this topic seems to be of most benefit to those in the history and military spheres, however I would argue that this lecture would also be of interest to students pursuing degrees in other fields.  There are a number of strong reasons why students interested in international relations, geopolitics and defence and security, particularly in relation to East Asia, should pay attention to lessons learned in the Falklands conflict.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the successful liberation of the Falkland Islands after their invasion and brief occupation.  It is therefore an excellent occasion not only to thank the troops who took part in Operation Corporate, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also to reflect on some of the lessons from the war both at the military and at the political-diplomatic levels.  Although relatively short, the conflict was complex in many ways and even today there is ample scope for further research.

Flag left behind by 2 Para after the battle for Goose Green

As students of war we are not only interested in the past, although that by itself is often a powerful motivation to pursue our discipline, we are also keen to identify lessons to prevent, or if necessary to prevail in, future conflicts.  In the words of Mahan, “the great warrior must study history”. Although no two actual or potential conflicts are identical and as a result comparison and analysis must be approached with caution, the study of past wars provides a solid foundation to interpret current and future conflicts.

This brings us to East Asia, a region far away from the South Atlantic but which has this summer been regularly on the news due to a number of incidents and a high degree of tension, which at present shows no sign of abating.

 

The question I would like to address is as follows:  Are there any areas in which the study of the 1982 Falklands War may help us shed some light on the current developments in East Asia?  The following three points show instances where lessons from the Falklands may be applied to current events.

1.- The dangers of appeasement.  In the 1970s, successive British administrations sought to negotiate with Argentina while coercing the islanders to admit closer links with that country.  The Shackleton report, which made clear that the economy of the Falklands could thrive if some key investments took place, went unheeded.  In addition to this, many islanders were deprived of full British citizenship and it was announced that the only permanent naval presence, HMS Endurance, would be withdrawn.  Buenos Aires took all of this as a sign of diminished interest and evidence of weakness.  It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that the original code name for the invasion was “Goa”.

In the case of the Senkaku Islands, successive Japanese governments have banned their own citizens not only from settling on the land but even from visiting.  Calls to build basic infrastructure such as lighthouses and fishermen’s shelters have also been rejected.  This year Tokyo Governor Ishihara proposed to buy three of the islets from their private owner in a bid to develop them, but the national government preempted his move and purchased them.  However, their proposed policy of keeping the islands undeveloped in an attempt to appease Chinese popular opinion, backfired.  Beijing viewed this deliberate inaction as a sign of weakness, and a wave of popular unrest has followed.

2.- The key role of other powers. In the case of the Falklands, the Argentine decision to invade rested significantly on the assumption that Washington would press London not to react.  Similarly in East Asia one of the key issues being considered by Beijing is Washington’s reaction to a shooting war in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, a landing on Taiwan or a blockade of the islands.  In the South Atlantic, the United Kingdom had Chile as an ally, whereas in East Asia most countries are at odds with China, including India, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Security and defence alliances among maritime democracies are gradually becoming stronger but they still suffer, in the cases of New Delhi and Tokyo, from the failure of these two countries to conclude a civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

3.- The growing significance of asymmetric maritime warfare. Although it was HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor, both sunk by air-launched Exocet missiles, which attracted the most attention at the time and remain widely known, the case of HMS Glamorgan, hit by an Exocet fired from the shore, provides us with a powerful reminder of the scope for small, mobile, camouflaged vehicle-mounted cruise missiles.  Although the enemy improvised its launch from a fixed position, current technology makes it easy to deploy these systems in a way which makes it difficult to detect and destroy them.  As Taiwan becomes increasingly unable to keep up with Chinese military modernisation, a number of experts are advising Taipei not to try to compete head on with Beijing but rather to develop systems able to withstand a massive initial air attack.  These systems would ‘survive to fight another day’ and would be capable of inflicting significant damage on an invading or blockading force while awaiting the anticipated international response.

 

It is therefore clear that there are parallels between the two situations, and it is important to bear these in mind when looking at Japan, Taiwan and China’s options in the coming months.  Another piece relating to the topic by Alex will also be published in the next week.

 

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The ‘Alternative’ Olympic Games 2012

With Olympics over and the Paralympics round the corner I came up with the idea of comparing some of London 2012’s greatest athletes and events to their military counterparts.

Thoughts?

100m sprint

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive and technologically advanced aircraft in the world and as the years roll on, the aviation-loving public continue to wait with bated breath as to whether this modern maverick lives up to expectations.

Akin to…

No event captures an Olympic audience imagination like the 100 metres final and, like the field of air combat, the event can put on a decisive and explosive spectacle. Headlining this year is “fastest man who has ever lived” Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who is hoping to defend his crown. Both Bolt and the F-35 programme are commanding a huge amount of money and both have been criticised recently by some that would say they are not taking their development seriously enough, while others have questioned their ability to take off. As of 2012, doubts have surfaced about their performance capabilities, but the truth will remain a mystery until the Big Day.

Weightlifting

The powerhouse strategic airlift jet is the Ukrainian Antov A124, which can carry a massive payload of 150,000 kg. Built during the Cold War years, this soviet craft need not worry of any doping controversies that plagued Olympic athletes from the eastern bloc; it’s a mechanical brute.

Akin to…

Nicknamed “The Iranian Hercules”, Hossein Rezazadeh is an incredibly strong Olympic specimen. With the world record in the Clean and Jerk, he can lift 263.5 kg (580.9 lbs). Both man and machine hail from the East, are unusually big in size among their peers, and you wouldn’t want to see either one of them barrelling towards you down a dark alley.

Swimming

The Soviet Alfa (Lira) Class was a class of nuclear powered hunter/killer submarines. With a top speed of 41 knots (47 mph, 76 km/h) was a pure speedster – and in fact, that was all it was designed for despite being an “attack sub” with the Northern Fleet from 1977 to 1996.

Akin to…

Despite the urge to mention Michael Phelps, defending aquatic champion and winner of the most Olympic medals ever, we’re taking the low-brow road and making the very obvious reference to Ian “Thorpedo” Thorpe.  Like the Alfa-class, both athlete and boat are now permanently retired, and neither used their skills for anything more practical than sheer exhibition of power. Innovative and energy-efficient for its time, the Alfa has since lost its spotlight to sleeker US models.

Rowing

Above the surface, it’s the battle of the warship, with the fastest being the US-built Iowa Class, clocking in a maximum speed of 31 knots (36 mph; 57 km/h).

Akin to…

Rowing world records are broken regularly; in 1936 the single sculls gold medal winner Dan Barratt of the USA rowed a time of 7:30.5 minutes but today the record stands at just under a minute quicker. It’s held by New Zealander Mahé Drysdale who, like the Iowa Class, cut his teeth in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Whilst newer and more powerful ships and boats have been developed, so has their weight, meaning speed has remained relative.

Javelin

With an effective range of 2,500m, the FGM-148 Javelin anti-armour missile commands a fire and forget tandem warhead which is a High explosive anti-tank (HEAT) type model. With a cost of $40,000 (£25,500) for the missile alone, the weapon represents an expensive but effective weapon capable of destroying enemy targets worth significantly more value.

Akin to…

Erm…the javelin..? In fact, it’s a closer comparison than we perhaps care to remember. Though a sophisticated Olympic sport event, the javelin was first employed as a devastating weapon thousands of years ago by the Greeks and Romans, effectively making it the earliest form of long-range offensive projectile.

Pentathlon

The weapons a soldier use are his and her tools, and only ever as good as the person carrying them. With the Olympics being held in London the versatility of the British Armed Forces has also been on display, taking soldiers from the mud tracks in Afghanistan to the streets of the capital in security roles at venues across the UK.

Akin to…

Quick history lesson: the modern pentathlon was inspired by the pentathlon event in the Ancient Olympic Games, which was itself modelled after the skills of the ideal soldier at the time. The modern variant seeks to replicate this with testing the skills required of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: he/she must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with pistol and sword, swim, and run. Britain’s Mhairi Spence contends at this year’s Games following European and World titles.

Marathon

The popular P-8 Poseidon, the manned Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Boeing, is being teamed with an unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system for the U.S. Navy, which will see 40 UAVs working in conjunction with the P-8 to circle the skies without rest. Even without that team support, each UAV has an individual endurance of 30 hours.

Akin to…

Frequently the favourites in the marathon, the Kenyan team is this year fielding Wilson Kipsang, who won the London Marathon in April in just 2:04:44. Like the BAE Nimrod MRA4, Britain’s number one marathon runner Paula Radcliffe has limped out of the competition before the chance to properly prove herself on the world stage, while world record holder Patrick Makau didn’t even make the squad.

Gymnastics

The Apache helicopter has the sort of firepower, precision, and armour that can disperse most insurgents simply by appearing over the horizon. It has become a staple of military air power and recently proved effective during the Libya campaign, not to mention Afghanistan and other irregular warfare environments.

Akin to…

Olympic gymnasts have to be agile, strong and flexible; ready to compete in any environment and prepared to tackle a number of obstacles. Just like facing-off against the Apache, when Japan’s Kohei Uchimura turns up in his leotard to the arena of conflict, the opposing forces take a deep breath and wish they’d stayed at home.

Beach volleyball

The increasing cyber threat is becoming more prevalent for government, the military and industry everyday as thousands of cyber attackers attempt to breach security barriers and firewalls. The recent announcement of another super-virus, called the Flame, has reignited fears that our national and military secrets are vulnerable to digital assailants. This summer, all eyes will be on the cyber domain.

Akin to…

In beach volleyball there’s a huge net (firewall) that each side needs to overcome if it is to break down the defences of the opposition. Both are growing activities and ones that are getting a great deal of media attention of late. And finally, the terms ‘cyber security’ and ‘beach volleyball’ are also both very, well, dare we say ‘sexy’, to their respective parties (that is in their own, very different ways).

Winning the Battle of the Atlantic: 1943

By Zoë C. Vince

This article aims to explore the various contributing factors to Allied successes in March to May of 1943.  Although the Atlantic continued to be a major theatre of operations until the end of the Second World War, it may be argued that the threat posed by German U-Boats had been greatly diminished by Allied efforts in the spring of 1943.

This author will argue that despite a variety of elements of the anti U-boat war, from intelligence to technology, combining to facilitate the withdrawal of U-boats from the North Atlantic in May 1943, it was in particular the developments in training and organisation of the Allied convoy system which can be most directly linked to German failures in this period.

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The successful application of Allied tactical and technological advancements to anti-submarine warfare, culminating in the spring of 1943, lead to a turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Combating the U-boat threat required close co-operation between the Allies, integrated inter-service training and command, and co-ordination of tactics, procedures and technologies.  Although there are a number of factors which contributed to Dönitz’s withdrawal of the U-boats in May 1943, it was the organisation of the convoys, support and escort groups by Admiral Sir Max Horton, and the training of crews specifically in anti-submarine warfare which provided the cohesion and professionalism required to both prevent U-boats sinking ships in convoy and simultaneously destroy a comparatively high number of submarines.  The superior standard of efficiency achieved by the Allies, in all aspects of the anti-submarine battle, ensured that the German U-boats ceased to pose a serious threat in the Atlantic.  It is clear, therefore, that training and organisation was an extremely important factor.

While addressing this subject, it would be impossible to list and discuss Allied training and organisational developments in isolation without acknowledging closely related elements of the anti-submarine campaign such as technology, signals intelligence and air power.  This article will seek to argue that while these complementary factors contributed to the Battle of the Atlantic to varying degrees, it was the improvements in training and organisation of the convoy system which enabled the effective co-ordination and optimum usage of all related developments.

The Atlantic theatre of naval operations remained important throughout the war, indeed a contemporary naval officer stated that without Allied success in this theatre “the grand conception for the liberation of Europe might never have materialised”.  Among historians there is a consensus that May 1943 marked a turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Earlier historiography including the British and US naval histories described a crisis occurring in March 1943, with communications from the old world to the new coming under severe threat, followed by the sudden and unexpected collapse in May of the U-boat campaign.  Revisionist research into this subject, while acknowledging the importance of May 1943 as a pivotal month in the Battle of the Atlantic, has generally disputed the traditional view of crisis, stressing that while certain Allied convoys suffered great losses in March and April many others suffered none.  Referring to Admiralty reports, Duncan Redford states that only thirty one per cent of all ocean convoys were attacked in March, furthermore between August 1942 and May 1943 there were eight months in which the Allies suffered higher percentage losses than March.  This indicates, rather than the ‘sudden collapse’ of the U-boat war in May, a more gradual development with successful practical application of improved Allied anti-submarine tactics and technologies.  Similar revisionist research also focuses on the absence of German optimism in this period of supposed Allied crisis, consulting statistics which clearly show an increase in non-productive U-boat patrols between January and April 1943, and stating that as early as February Dönitz had reported to Hitler that the North Atlantic run campaign was not succeeding.

This reversal in fortunes can be attributed to a number of different developments which ran parallel with the progression of training and organisation. Improvements in technology in particular played an essential role in both Allied and Axis naval operations, with both sides seeking to improve on the other’s advancements.  One example of this was the German capture in 1942 of a long range Vickers Wellington bomber fitted with Air to Surface Vessel (ASV) Mark II airborne radar, and the subsequent German invention of a listening receiver as a countermeasure to ASV.  There were also improvements made to the means of engaging U-boats i.e. weapons such as the ‘hedgehog’ mortar or the improved Air Ministry and Admiralty depth charges.  It may be argued, however, that the more influential development was that of radar and direction finder technology, aimed at locating U-boats.

An example of ‘Huff-Duff’ equipment.

By its nature, the submarine was “a weapon of position and surprise”, and so the ability to locate U-boats through the use of High Frequency Definition Finders (HF/DF) and 10cm airborne radar (ASV Mark III), both fitted in the first few months of 1943, effectively removed the element of surprise and severely hindered U-boat operations.  Burns supports this by citing Dönitz in a report to Hitler, writing in May 1943 that “the enemy, by means of location devices, makes fighting impossible”.

‘Bombes’ like these were used to simulate the action of the German Enigma rotors.

In addition to technology, any discussion of the training and organisation of anti-submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic also requires acknowledgement of the work carried out by British signals intelligence at Bletchley Park in breaking the German Enigma cipher.  Post-war historians had claimed that the cryptographers at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) had shortened the war and that breaking the Enigma had been a huge success.  More recently however, Ferris has denounced the tendency for historians to over-emphasise the role of signals intelligence, stressing that while its contribution was ‘notable’, the correlation between GC&CS’ successes and the overall Allied seizure of initiative in late 1942 was complementary rather than causal.  With this in mind, although on the thirteenth of December 1942 GC&CS had broken the ‘Shark’ Enigma through the use of a four-rotor electronic ‘Bombe’, complete understanding and rapid deciphering of German signals was not fully achieved until August 1943, after the U-boats had been withdrawn.  In addition by February 1943 B-Dienst, German signals intelligence, had broken the British Naval Cypher No. 3 used for convoys, providing Dönitz with a “presen[ce] in British operations rooms”.  With both combatants therefore by 1943 possessing intelligence on the other’s routes and positions, and with direction-finding technology allowing clearer location of enemy vessels, it may be argued that signals intelligence in comparison played an important, but not crucial role in May 1943.

Training and organisation in contrast was integral to the growing successes of the escort and support groups, with several different elements combining to optimise anti-U-boat operations.  Operational Research scientists under Professor Blackett contributed to the Battle of the Atlantic by engendering a “revolution in organization”; their findings contributing to Horton’s re-organisation of the anti-submarine effort through scientific calculation and research.  From 1941 onward, Blackett and his staff applied scientific findings to naval operations, helping to devise theatre-level stratagems and also solve problems such as the optimum allocation of resources to the production of merchant shipping vis-á-vis anti-submarine escorts.  Arguably Operational Research’s most influential breakthrough, however, was the analysis of shipping losses in relation to convoy size.  This investigation, carried out during 1941 and 1942, concluded that the number of losses was independent of the size of the convoys, with larger convoys being attacked by ‘wolfpacks’ no more often than smaller ones.  It was calculated that by increasing the size of individual convoys and thereby reducing the number of convoys open to attack at any one time, there could be a reduction in losses of up to 56 per cent.  As well as achieving reduced losses, the decision taken to increase convoy size had the secondary effect of freeing up escorts for more proactive work as part of the new support groups, greatly aiding the offensive campaign.

As a result Operational Research contributed greatly to Horton’s organisational reforms of Western Approaches Command and to the way the anti-submarine campaign was conducted.  Operational Research’s findings have been dubbed “quantitative common sense”, however their collation and analysis lead to measurable successes.  The incorporation of civilian scientists so closely into high level naval command structures, reporting directly to the Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff at the Admiralty, demonstrated flexibility and innovation at the highest levels, features notably absent in the German counterpart.

The establishment of support groups marked the progression of the Allied anti-U-boat campaign from defensive to offensive actions.  The average support group comprised destroyers, sloops and frigates, which were faster and had greater range than the corvettes widely used earlier in the war.  The United States’ naval operations historian Samuel Morison recognised Horton’s reorganisation of available resources as a “tactical innovation”, highlighting the ability of the support groups to aid ‘harassed’ convoys at short notice and thus alter the outcome of many such engagements.    Availability of escort destroyers and aircraft carriers and allocation of resources to the North Atlantic had previously been a large problem, delaying the formation of support groups until March 1943 and preventing adequate defence of convoys passing through the mid-Atlantic ‘Black Gap’.  During mid to late April, in contrast, an example of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre’s reports stated that “support groups have been invaluable this week and skilful handling has produced them in the right place at the moment when they are needed”.

Inter-service co-operation was crucial to success in the Atlantic

Airpower too was to play a vital role in convoy defence, and therefore availability was crucial.  The United States’ Navy was undergoing changes in organisation itself with regard to inter-service co-operation with the Army Air Force, but by the end of 1942 it was able to send two squadrons of very-long-range (VLR) B-24 Liberator heavy bombers to aid RAF Coastal Command.

One of the first Allied aircraft carriers used in escort groups: HMS Biter.

The development of different types of aircraft carriers had also been delayed by production problems and their allocation to the North Atlantic postponed due to the prioritisation of other operations, namely ‘Husky’ and ‘Torch’, but the first escort carriers HMS Biter and USS Bogue joined support groups between March and May 1943.  Redford emphasises the reluctance of both the US and British command to divert bombers away from the strategic bombing offensive, however the eventual allocation of air power to Coastal Command support groups especially alongside the newly arrived aircraft carriers was hugely successful.  A study carried out in the summer of 1943, centred on the successes of support groups in May 1943, found that their use in operations raised the number of U-boat ‘kills’ by 45 per cent, with most U-boats being sunk in close proximity to convoys.  In summary it may be argued that rather than as an isolated arm, the contribution of air power to anti-submarine operations was most successful when employed as part of support groups, coordinating with surface vessels.

It is clear that superior organisation of shipping and available aircraft was the key to effectively combating the U-boat threat through the co-ordination of available technology, intelligence and resources, but it was the intensive training and valuable experience of the anti-submarine escort and support groups which optimised efficiency and contributed to improved success rates.  Chalmers claimed “whatever the weapon and whatever the counter, training was the keystone of Horton’s regime”.

The Western Approaches Tactical Unit, Liverpool.

Horton ‘inherited’ the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) in November 1942 which gave synthetic training to escort captains and group commanders in the tactics of convoy battles.  In January 1943 Horton added practical ship-based training on HMS Philante, based at Larne in Northern Ireland, complete with training submarines.  Horton’s emphasis on training was also shown by his decision to increase time in harbour for individual crews for the purpose of intensive training.  By the end of the war, over 5,000 officers had completed a 6-day course in anti-U-boat tactics at WATU.  The diaries of A.F.C. Layard, although not directly applicable to the pre-May 1943 period, provide a favourable first-hand account of Horton’s training programme, Whitby commenting that “one of the great lessons of the Battle of the Atlantic was the importance of continual group training”.  This focus on training was not restricted to escort groups, with improved co-operation between the Royal Navy and RAF at Derby House allowing combined training exercises leading in turn to the adoption of the same signal codes and synchronised navigation, thus optimising the support groups’ effectiveness.  Improved defence of ships in convoy was the key to overcoming the U-boat threat.  The establishment and training of support groups therefore clearly aided the anti-submarine effort far more than any single technological invention or intelligence breakthrough.

To conclude, the organisation of convoy size and structure, the introduction of support groups and Horton’s insistence on widespread, practical training had resulted in a greatly improved and efficient convoy defence system.  By April 1943, Syrett claims, the Allies were fighting and beginning to defeat the Germans with the tools of “aircraft and electronic warfare”.  The word ‘tools’ here is significant.  It is clear that HF/DF, 10cm radar and the ‘hedgehog’, as well as the signals intelligence breakthroughs and aircraft support facilitated greater successes in the location of and engagement with U-boats.  Despite this, it is unlikely that these tools could have been used to optimum effect without the proper experience, training and synchronisation of all elements of the anti-submarine battle.  The development of the support groups represented the transformation of operations from broadly defensive to offensive, and therefore it could also be suggested that Horton’s support groups personified, so to speak, the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic.  The training and organisation of the convoy system was the key to optimising all other advances made, and therefore was hugely important to Allied success in the Atlantic.

The author may be contacted on Twitter @zcvince

Army cuts cast shadow over future of QEC carriers?

The Army cuts announced by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, which will see personnel fall from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, have “increased uncertainty where clarity was needed” according to Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy.

According to Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent at the London Evening Standard, these cuts are entirely “political… [the Army is] living on a wish and a prayer of the most doctrinaire Tory policy that private industry will succeed.”

Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence took a more muted tone, suggesting that decisions should not be made in purely military or business terms, but should also “make societal sense.”

Whilst a lot remains open to speculation one big question is whether the future of the two Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) aircraft carriers that are being built are safe in either Tory or Labour hands?

The announcement today has led to fears that not only the Army but also a major programme will be cut, with some fearing it will be the two QEC carriers that are sacrificed.

At a conference today Mr Fox warned, “One or two major equipment programmes will go” and recommended people “take their shares out of aircraft carriers.”

Cancelling the contract of the carriers would be a massive decision, one that should not be made lightly. The consequences would go far beyond “throwing good money after bad money,” Mr Murphy said.

As Rees Ward, CEO of defence industry association ADS noted, “When we lose capabilities, regenerating them takes more than just building and buying – it will take a generation to rebuild.”

This is certainly true; history has taught us that strategic culture can not simply be bought. This is technological determinism at its ugliest. When a capability is lost, the knowledge and experience of the previous generation goes with it.

Mr Fox strongly criticized how “doctrine [has been] ossified into dogma.” He continued, contesting that the general education of our leaders is “impoverished” because it focuses “too much on instruction rather than wisdom.”

So to lose any ‘wisdom’ would be a major blow to the capabilities of the British Forces. It could lead to a dearth of wisdom that could be vital in the next 10-20 years.

To paraphrase Mr Murphy, “the coalition of cuts will prevent bringing together the coalition of the capable.”

It would be foolish to throw away generations worth of experience, especially in the case of the UK’s carrier strike capability.

Professor Trevor Taylor of RUSI gives another angle, believing that the “carriers are rock solid safe”. He reasoned that it is necessary “to take in the wider factors” aside from cost savings alone. One of the key factors preventing the cancelation is the damage it would cause to Anglo-American industrial and political relations.

Cancelling the aircraft carriers will mean the cancelling the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contract, Taylor argued. Apart from the obvious strategic implications this would have, the move would as also suggest the UK had lost significant faith in US industry to provide world-beating capabilities.

The rhetoric coming from the Labour camp shows no sign of lacking faith in the F-35B. Labour MP Alison Seabeck stated “the F-35B is an incredibly capable piece of kit … it is the right one put forward.”

A view unsurprisingly supported by Mr Ward: “The F-35B is likely to offer the best capability.” For Ward, ensuring a sense of confidence in the market for industries to come to the UK and invest seemed to be a priority.

The UK is currently the second largest defence exporter in the world, providing over 300,000 jobs and contributing billions to the economy. To lose the confidence of the market would be a disaster; as one of the panellists at today’s conference said “R&D and S&T are vital to this country. We can not turn it off like a tap – it would be death for this nation.”

Whilst Mr Fox’s prophesy is yet to be proved or dispelled, the belief of this writer is that at least one carrier will be flying the Union flag in a few years time. The question is then: Which major programme will be cut?

What factors account for the British army’s victory at El Alamein in October- November 1942?

This is an essay from one of our second year war studies students. Comments welcome.

The British army won the Second Battle of El Alamein rather than the Germans losing it. Although Axis forces played some role in their defeat, it was the British who determined the outcome. This essay will demonstrate that the British were able to defeat the renowned ‘Desert Fox’, Erwin Rommel by exacerbating German political and strategic issues to generate favourable conditions for a British victory. The structure aims to show that through the control of Malta the British were able to deny the Germans the necessary supplies for victory. The disparity in available resources dictated the attrition style of warfare the British leadership wanted to fight. Material superiority on its own would not decide the victor, for the British had suffered defeats at Gazala and Tobruk whilst enjoying such superiority. This suggests that something had changed, the change was in the form of a new leader, General Montgomery, and thus his impact will also be examined.

Rommel understood the correlation between available resources and the capacity to fight, consequently with limited supplies he was greatly hindered in his ability to do so. An army cannot fight if it does not have the supplies, particularly in the case of motorized warfare that relies upon fuel. According to Rommel “The battle is fought and decided by the Quartermasters before the shooting begins.”  He uses his limited fuel supplies to illustrate this, stating that “with only 300 kilometres worth of petrol per vehicle… prolonged resistance could not be expected; we would be completely prevented from taking the correct tactical decisions and would thus suffer a tremendous limitation in our freedom of action.”  One example of this was how the Germans were incapable of performing a counter-attack because “Not only could we not have kept a mobile battle going for more than a day or two, but our armour could never have returned to the south if the British had attacked there.”

In contrast, the British had been steadily building up their supplies to be “better prepared to take the offensive against the Germans.”  According to Churchill the army had a “two-to-one superiority in numbers and at least a balance of quality.”  This is supported if cross referenced with Rommel’s estimates which provide similar figures and state that these included inferior Italian tanks of which “most of them were decrepit, and barely fit for action.”  Rommel also lamented that the British had “apparently inexhaustible stocks of ammunition”  claiming that under one artillery barrage the British had fired five hundred rounds for every one of the Germans.  It is clear to see how without even taking other factors into account Britain’s material advantage severely curtailed Germany’s ability to fight.

There are several reasons for the difference in each side’s resources and perhaps the most important was the role played by Malta, a small island that is situated between southern Italy and North Africa. Despite huge effort, the Italians were unable to capture the island from the British. This provided the British with an “unsinkable aircraft carrier”  in an ideal position from which to “harry enemy ports and supply routes across both the Mediterranean and the desert.”  The British certainly seemed to take full advantage of this position, Rommel stressed that they virtually “[paralysed] our sea traffic”  citing that they were only receiving “40 per cent of our absolute minimum needs.”

Another reason for the outcome can be found by comparing the strategic cultures of the opposing forces. Stephen Bungay refers to Britain’s colonial experiences as having a major influence, suggesting that “the British Army was used to fighting small colonial wars with primitive infrastructures. As a result, its doctrine emphasized logistics.”  This is contrasted with the German system which believed it would be fighting primarily in Europe and would therefore rely on railways as its primary form of transport. The logistical capabilities of the two armies therefore developed along alternate lines, the British, prepared with a motorized logistic chain and the Germans, with inferior numbers of motorized transport and still using horse and carts.  From this it is clear to see why the Germans had difficulty in supplying their troops.

Many historians have tended not to blame Rommel for the failure, with some, such as Alan Warren arguing that he “had lost the battle but had got the very maximum out of his army.”  This may be a fair comment if we look at defensive preparations he made, which Bruce Watson claims “posed a formidable barrier”  under the conditions Rommel found himself in there is little more he could have done, to try too aggressive a strategy would have been foolish and enhanced the probability of defeat. Richard Holmes agrees, believing that “the Germans, regardless of the commander on the day, had few real tactical alternatives at Alamein.”  Rommel himself believed he could have done no more, “I’m happy in my own conscience that I’ve done all I can for victory and have not spared myself.”  He criticized those senior to him “the military career of most of the people who aimed these accusations at us was notable for a consistent absence from the front, on the principle of… “far from the battle makes old soldiers.””  This reproach further illustrates how he believed that he was not accountable for blame. John Bierman and Colin Smith agree, blaming Hitler “only if Hitler could be persuaded to take his mind off of Russia long enough to spare the Panzerarmee at least a couple of armoured divisions … could the Axis hope again for a victory.”

However, is Rommel immune from blame? One argument against him is that by attempting to seize opportunities through bold action he “pushed his logistics to their limits… They often paid off… [and] when they did not, he berated the quartermaster.”  This would suggest that Rommel believed that his job was to achieve the results and that it was somebody else’s responsibility to ensure he could do this. This notion is flawed, to blame another is to imply that you rely on them and therefore that they prescribe the strategy. This is not true of Rommel, rather he expected others to follow and make his strategies work, instead of designing more practical plans. It must be conceded that Hitler’s focus on Russia and Italian weakness created a difficult climate for him to work in. However, it does not help to follow a strategy that often stretched an army’s logistics to the limit, progressively degrading the force. This can be seen from how instead of remaining in Libya on the defensive so that he did not outpace his supply chain he “[ignored] his orders and [tried] to kick the British out of Egypt… [causing] a supply problem which in the context was insoluble.”  This reveals that Rommel had an acute misunderstanding of the political climate, a key component in the makeup of a good general and necessary for victory.

What will now be assessed is how the British contributed to the outcome of the battle. In contrast to the Germans, the British lacked a leader with the dash and daring of Rommel. Perhaps this is why he has been given such merit; despite material inferiority his ‘plucky’ style had won battles. Montgomery was a different type of General; James Holland asserts “he was certainly no innovator.”  This point is somewhat irrelevant, Montgomery’s strengths laid elsewhere, Bungay describes him as a ‘Thatcherite’ and an ‘Autocrat’ , whilst Williamson Murray adds that he was “great motivator, trainer and realist”  With the army in the condition it was prior to his entry, these qualities were what was needed. Through extensive training he reformed the Eighth Army and created a coherent doctrine. His strategy may have been conservative, but it was one that would guarantee victory.

Montgomery was familiar with desert warfare, being a battalion commander in Alexandria and had commanded a division in Palestine during the Arab revolt in the late 1930’s.  His strategy and doctrine combined the different arms of the British forces, Fred Vigman shows how the allied forces came to agree, “The Field Service Regulations June 15, 1944, [conceding] that no one arm wins battles.”   One vital aspect was “Monty’s beliefs on how air power should be used to support the army”  Rupert Smith affirms this, “[he made] the maximum use of his air force to isolate the battlefield, thus reducing the enemy forces in depth and depriving them of the opportunity to assist their own forces.”  This was used in conjunction with huge artillery bombardments that Rommel describes as “torrential” where “everything that went into it… was ground into dust”  and produced “serious signs of fatigue and a sense of inferiority among our troops.”  The huge volume of firepower laid down by the air force and the artillery supported the infantry with the World War One style ‘creeping barrage’ helped create the breakthrough necessary for victory.

Montgomery was also aided by with the luxury of being able to decipher the German’s codes with ULTRA, which was the codename given to intelligence gained from the breaking of encrypted enemy communications. Roger Spiller claims that ULTRA “To an extraordinary degree… had lifted that fog from the battlefield”  It certainly had provided Montgomery with masses of information, one German account professed that “I was staggered at the exactness of his knowledge, particularly of our deficiencies and shipping losses. He seemed to know as much about our position as I did myself”  This extensive knowledge would clearly have aided the British cause and as seen from his knowledge of the German supply ‘deficiencies’ impacted upon Montgomery’s strategic thought.

In conclusion the British victory at El Alamein can be put down to two key elements, logistics and leadership. By controlling both the sea and air surrounding North Africa the British were able to significantly weaken the Germans position and impose their will through a battle of attrition. The British were able to build up their strength in and overwhelm the enemy. They were aided by Rommel’s cavalier nature, which initially saw him win some impressive victories but in the long term weakened his army by straining his supply chain to exhaustion. Yet it was Montgomery who through vigorous training and by combining the different arms of the British forces proved to be the difference, he was the catalyst that finally demonstrated allied superiority, EL Alamein ”proved that they had learnt how to translate strategic advantage into military success on the ground.”

Dissertation by Tom Pert – ‘Colonel John Hutchinson and the Committee of Nottingham: Civil-Military discord amongst Parliamentarians in the First English Civil War, 1642-46’

We have a new dissertation piece today from Tom Pert. Some useful notes on sources for any one interested in the English Civil War, so have a read.

As any student of a history-related topic knows, absolutes are non-existent and whereas theories of earlier scholars differentiate quite clearly into black and white, the reality is a mass spectrum of grey. Such is the case with the English Civil War as although the generalisations made by earlier scholars such as Christopher Hill, Alfred Wood and Lawrence Stone have been reviewed in more recent years by subsequent generations of historians, they still hold considerable sway in the study of the topic.

This dissertation, therefore, intends to examine the divisions that emerged within the Parliamentarian ranks during the First English Civil War and, using the example of the internal conflict between Colonel John Hutchinson, governor of Nottingham Castle and other members of the parliamentarian Committee of Nottingham, examine the claims made by earlier historians that divisions within the parliamentarian ranks were between ‘Locally-minded moderates’ with civic roles and ‘Nationally-minded radicals’ emerging from the military.

The project also seeks to evaluate the seriousness of such divisions and whether they hindered the ability of the Parliamentarians (in the case of the town of Nottingham) to successfully defend their areas from Royalist attacks. In doing so, the dissertation shall draw on the evidence from contemporary sources, primarily ‘Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson’ by his wife, Lucy, as well as other primary materials such as newsbooks detailing any such military action, entries in the journals of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and also the correspondence of any key figures such as Hutchinson’s arguably staunchest opponent  Dr. Huntington Plumptre (member of the Committee of Nottingham) as well as that of Colonel Hutchinson himself.

‘Image and Reality’ – the writings of Wilfred Owen and his role in Britain’s changing attitudes to the process of War

Keeping with our multi-disciplined nature, here is an essay by English Literature student Dawn Redman.

Wilfred Owen grew in stature posthumously, to become the most widely recognised spokesperson for his generation of First World War poets. Initially published by contemporary poet and mentor, Seigfried Sassoon together with editor Edith Sitwell, his work drew withering condemnation, analysis and critical support in the years that followed his death. The lexicon of commentaries, stretch from the immediate post-war years, to the writings of the twenty-first century Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, confirming the equality and continued relevance, of both the poet and the critique. The secondary sources reviewed will therefore span some ninety years.

In a cruel irony that paralleled Owen’s realist verse, he was unable to secure publication in his own lifetime. The poet’s work contrasted sharply with the more valedictory, jingoistic clarion of war, viewed in the work of Brooke and Pope, running contrary to the necessary recruitment messages, issued by the British Government, in support of Field Marshall Haig, the later discredited commander of allied forces in France. Owen’s death, in the final week of The Great War, communicated to his family on Armistice Day, has perhaps served as a beacon towards his work; his life was taken by the violence he abhorred, just before hostilities ceased. Wilfred Owen commented, during his lifetime, on the poet’s duty to warn, (Featherstone, 1995, p. 7), a warning that for him came too late.

Kendall’s ‘The Pity of War?’ particularly focuses on Motion’s opinion that “all poets since Passchendaele had been staunchly anti-war” (Kendall, 2003). He stresses the importance of Owen’s realistic and perhaps ground-breaking poetry, which conveys “pity” and “truthfulness,” together being the “crucial ingredients” in writing about a war. Owen’s honest, yet gruesome imagery throughout his works enabled others to try to understand the true nature of warfare, as he quoted, “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity”  (2003). Motion believed that Owen’s poetry was a turning point for writings of this epoch and the eras that were to follow, as he stated that “Towards the end of the First World War, amidst the squalor and tragedy of the Western Front, something fundamental changed” (2003). The transition from the victorious glorification of war, portrayed in poetry such as Brooke’s sonnet sequence ‘1914,’ to Owen’s innovative realism, enhanced the pity that Owen desperately wanted his readers to feel.

It is not a surprise as to why only a “few of Owen’s poems were published during his lifetime” (Featherstone, 1995, p. 126), as editors and publishers alike would have felt the necessity to publish poetry which painted an idealistic image, like that of Brooke, rather than Owen’s condemnation of war. There would have been a resistance of publishers during the war to prevent his poetry from demonstrating such sordid reality. Millions of soldiers died in this brutal war, and the government would have needed to continue recruiting in order to replace these vast numbers of deaths. The idealistic, patriotic poetry would have therefore inevitably encouraged men back home to enlist in the war effort in order to make their country proud.

Jessie Pope, one of the most well-known female war poets, wrote jingoistic, motivational poetry, highly suited to a recruitment drive. She attempted to promote war as something exhilarating and exciting, by urging men to join up and fight for their country: “Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played, / The red crashing game of a fight?” (Khan, 1988, p. 19). Pope’s refusal with the reality of war was against everything that Owen’s work stood for. Although widely published during the war, Pope’s literary reputation began to decline sharply, as awareness of Owen’s anti-war poetry grew. Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum est,’ epitomises his denouncement of those who preach the values of war, his view is accurately reflected by Kendall, insisting that “war poetry is, or should be, a matter of experience” (2003).

Joyes has stated that Owen’s “posthumous publication has made him pre-eminent among British First World War poets” (Joyes, 2009). Owen’s poetry was published in 1920 by Chatto & Windus, with an introduction by Siegfried Sassoon, one of Owen’s closest friends and mentor. Sassoon edited Owen’s poems, needing the objective editorial aid of Edith Sitwell (Cooke, 1996, p. 28). Sassoon, as a combat poet, held similar views to Owen on the subject of war, particularly in opposition to the political nature of warfare, affirming that, “I am not protesting against the military conduct of the War, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed” (Sassoon, 2005, p. 161). Sassoon’s influence on Owen encouraged him to continue writing realistic poetry when they met at Craiglockhart War Hospital and Campbell, the author of ‘Combat Gnosticism,’ qualifies that Owen and Sassoon “wrote poetry which privileges direct combat experience whose ostensible purpose is to educate an ignorant civilian populace of brutal realities it would prefer to ignore…” (1999, pp. 209-210).

Critic Joyes, comments further that the influence and authority of Owen’s poetry is what Samuel Hynes calls the “‘aesthetic of direct experience.’ The idea ‘that only those fought could speak the truth about war’” (Joyes, 2009), indicates that it is solely soldiers who can accomplish compelling and expressive poetry, as their eyewitness accounts truly encompass the reality of war. The sense of realism that Owen portrayed within his poetry, is the antithesis to writers such as Henry Newbolt, who did not fight, yet wrote positive recruitment literature, in which he encouraged soldiers to “Play up! play up! and play the game!” (Newbolt, 2000, p. 26), expressed in ‘Vitai Lampada.” His lack of ‘direct experience,’ along with Rupert Brooke, who’s “experience of war was minimal,” (Featherstone, 1995, p. 14) supports Hynes’ statement in which poetry by those that actually experienced trench warfare, like Owen, were the writers who have created a greater legacy in modern day society, unlike the idealistic and disenchanted poetry in which “writers reacted against Brooke when the true nature of the war became clear” (p. 15). In many ways, Brooke’s view of war was the popular view of deeds of great daring and heroism; he determined the way post-Victorian people felt about war. However, Owen’s succeeding literature was principally concerned with overturning the kind of views Brooke embodied, which is supported by Kendall, who reinforces that “It is now not Brooke’s glory, but Owen’s pity, which ‘everybody feels’” (Kendall, 2003). Despite Owen’s posthumous publication, one notes the substantial shift in the popular view of war from Newbolt’s work of 1897 to Owen’s first publication in little more than a generation.

Some critics would disagree with the idea that it was Owen’s innovative realist poetry that was the turning point in how people perceived the nature of warfare. Yuval Noah Harari argued that “the nature of war changed sometime around 1916, which led to a change in its image” (2005, p. 48). He suggests that writers like Owen did not unmask “war’s eternal face, but simply reacted to technological changes in the nature of war” (Harari, 2005, p. 48), which consequently gave way to the soldier’s transition from hero to victim. Harari puts forward the idea that the disenchanting aspect of war “is a permanent face and universal feature, that may be masked or unmasked, but not changed” (2005, p. 48).

Owen’s poetry had an influence on poets of the next generation, including Cecil Day Lewis, who was sufficiently moved to edit an edition of Owen’s work, commenting that he composed poetry “that will remain momentous long after the circumstances that prompted them have become just another war in the history books.” He praised Owen’s poems in the introduction to ‘The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen,’ for the “passionate nature of the indignation and pity they express” (Day Lewis, 1963, p.11).

Although Owen’s poetry influenced many writers of succeeding generations, W. B. Yeats, as author and poet, was a staunch detractor from Owen. He wrote a “withering damnation” (Campbell, 1999, p. 210) of the latter’s realistic verse in a letter to Dorothy Wellesley. Yeats pointedly omitted Owen’s poetry from his anthology ‘The Oxford Book of Modern Verse,’ in which he stated that “passive suffering is not a theme for poetry” (Yeats, 1936, xxxiv). Yeats also chose to exclude the poetry of Rosenberg who was critical of the war, however included various poems by Brooke and Grenfell, both concerned with heroism. It seems quite evident that Yeats believed that poets should be celebrating courage rather than truthfully depicting the horrors of war. He strongly felt that poetry should not be about the ‘passive suffering’ of Owen’s portrayal and held the view that: “If war is necessary, or necessary in our time and place, it is best to forget its suffering” (Kendall, 2003).

Keith Douglas was a World War Two poet who “found Owen’s legacy threatening to his own poetry” (Kendall, 2003). Douglas puts a slightly different spin on Yeats and “insists that if war is necessary, it is best to learn as much as possible from the suffering.” He had sympathy with Owen, as a combat soldier himself. It may be that he extended this view to his duty as a soldier, having abandoned his “safe job as a camouflage officer” (2003) and “head for the front line,” commenting in his prose, “I never lost the certainty that the experience of battle was something I must have” (2003).  Douglas’ admiration was limited. He had little time for predictable attitudes, repetition and long range commentary – although he undoubtedly admired Owen as a soldier-poet, being one himself, he took issue with Owen’s stance about warning, “All a poet can do today is warn,’ stated Owen — but what warning can a poet give now, that has not already been given ad nauseam?… ‘my object (and I don’t give a damn about my duty as poet) is to write true things, significant things in words each of which works for its place in a line’” (Kendall, 2003).

With vast amounts of research it is evident that throughout many generations there have been detractors of Owen’s realistic verse, like Yeats, who deemed the poet to be “unworthy of the poet’s corner of a country newspaper” (2001, p. 9) because “he is all blood, dirt, and sucked sugar stick” (p. 9). Whereas, on the contrary, the support of Owen’s truthfulness of the harsh realities of war is also manifested within critics, such as Douglas, who was clearly influenced by Owen’s poetry but also stated that a poet cannot simply just warn. It is interesting to see that he fought as a soldier-poet in World War Two, as he criticises Owen but must harbour enduring admiration. It is sufficiently significant that Andrew Motion, as a former Poet-Laureate, and great writer of our generation, would seem to subscribe to the view that Owen’s honesty and realism was crucial in the understanding of war. As Motion’s whole article on pity, it is clear that he was influenced by Owen, even as a man ninety years out of his generation. Owen left behind a magnificent legacy and this essay has demonstrated how he has been hotly debated critically. In the time that existed between Newbolt’s ‘Vitai Lampada’ and Owen’s first publication, an entire attitude to war that had prevailed for well over one hundred years during the imperialist era, has shifted almost completely and is never to return. People’s views of his poetry have gradually changed over time, as during the start of the war, whilst he was still alive, little of his poems were published, which is most likely due to the fact that recruitment, motivational literature was more inspiring for people to hear, when compared to Owen’s harsh realism. However, as the war continued, with the hope of the people gradually diminishing, Owen’s poetry appeared to have more of an impact and his readers started to understand the grim nature of warfare. Owen is Britain’s most admired war poet and still to this day is seen as, “not a war poet, he is the war poet” (Dickey; Greiner, 2004, p.244).

The Falklands and Scotland… a balancing act?

Britain’s claims to sovereignty over the Falklands are being challenged by Argentina, who believes that the islands they call Las Malvinas belong to them. The dispute can be juxtaposed against arguments closer to home that rage over independence for Scotland.

These two disputes highlight how complex and awkward issues relating to legitimacy and power can be. England has historic ties to both Scotland and the Falklands; the former has been united with England since 1707, whilst the latter had their 189 year relationship re-affirmed thirty years ago when Britain fought a war in order to defend the islands. Yet both have other pasts, Argentina used to rule the islands for a period around 1822, whilst there is a long history of conflict between Scotland and England.

There are many differences politically or culturally between England and Scotland, with their right to self-determination not as clearly stated. The arguments in favour have more to do with geography – that a united island pulls more weight than a divided one. In a recent speech David Cameron said “I am one hundred percent clear that I will fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together… to me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation — it matters head, heart and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out.” The consequences of separation could have a significant impact upon the makeup of Great Britain, with potential for calls Wales and even separatists in Cornwall to grow louder.

In contrast, no one can claim that the UK has close geographical ties with the Falklands. Instead, leaders in Britain are insisting that the islanders have the right to self-determination. Sir Mark (son of former PM Margaret Thatcher) stated “the UK has no intention in imposing any changes in the sovereign status against the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.” This rhetoric is clever, it conveys a sense of democratic choice, whilst being safe in the knowledge that the Falkland islanders identify themselves more closely as British than Argentinian. Keeping the islands is of benefit for the British economy, with an estimated £115 billion worth of oil possibly in the surrounding sea.

Argentine documentary producer Tamara Florin who visited the islands has illustrated this, arguing that contrary to popular belief in her home country, “there is nothing Argentinian about the islands. The people eat fish and chips, they have dinner at 6pm, they’re British. The only thing that is remotely Argentinian is maybe the landscape that resembles barren Patagonia and the thousands of still active landmines that the Argentinian forces left behind.”

As a final thought, how far should history play a role as a determinant in ownership? Should legal treaties not be respected? The alternative is endless contention and disputing of territory, whereby tenuous links are drawn upon in order to justify actions. This seems particularly futile considering that many previous imperial nations can argue some kind of entitlement to many places. It is time that countries, such as Argentina stop making claims to pieces of land they no longer possess, particularly ones they have not had for nearly two hundred years and have developed cultures closer to their current rulers.