VIDEO & AUDIO
REBEL CITY: PODCAST 68
RADIO + TRANSCRIPTS
My name is Graeme Bowman and I’ve just written a book about World War Two called ‘Empire First: Churchill’s War Against D-Day’. Took me longer to write than the bloody war lasted but you gotta remember that Churchill, Hitler and Stalin were hard core full-timers – I’m just a part-time dilettante so you gotta make allowances.
Now, I’m here to tell you that everything we think we know about Churchill and WWII is wrong. That’s a big challenge for two short radio slots so I’m just gonna focus on the two big bookends of Britain’s war in Europe – 1940 and 1944.
Britain could have surrendered in 1940 and Churchill got it right. He was determined to resist but the idea that he was the only person willing to defy Hitler is absurd. And if he was…. what does that tell us about the rest of Britain’s ruling class? If Churchill was the only man prepared to defy Hitler, shouldn’t we just’ve shot the rest of them? If they can’t provide decent leadership in a war with all their expensive education and privilege, what use are they to anyone?
The truth is that loads of people defied Hitler and media portrayals of Churchill as the only man willing to resist fascism are bullshit. And Churchill wasn’t motivated by democracy. Britain’s Empire was the greatest the world had ever seen and it was based on stealing other people’s countries… and their natural resources. And he said nothing against Franco during the Spanish Civil War so defending democracy was no part of Churchill’s plan – it was national survival, pure and simple
Britain avoided defeat in 1940 and the D-Day landings of 1944 guaranteed victory in the west. However, on this other major pillar of the war Churchill was hopelessly and dangerously wrong. He vitriolically opposed D-Day, preferring instead to squander resources in south-eastern Europe and the Balkans, an area he dishonestly described as the ‘soft underbelly’. We know he opposed D Day because he said so. On 19th April 1944, he informed Sir Alec Cadogan of the Foreign Office that [and I quote]:
this battle [Overlord] has been forced upon us by the Russians and by the United States military authorities.
Two weeks later - and a month before D-Day - he told a group of Imperial Prime Ministers that - had he been directing the war - he would have been [and again I quote]:
in favour of rolling up Europe from the South-East and joining hands with the Russians. However, it had proved impossible to persuade the United States to this view. They had been determined at every stage upon the invasion in North-West Europe and had constantly wanted us [the British] to break off the Mediterranean operations.
So, in his own words, Churchill admitted that (i) America and Russia bullied Britain into supporting Overlord, and (ii) left to him, the Allies would have focused on south-eastern Europe. It’s a real mystery why no TV programme has ever considered this issue, a real mystery.
Why did Churchill want to fight Germany in SE Europe and the Balkans? If you look at a map of Europe, it’s the worst place in the world to fight the German Army. Yeah, it’s lovely in the summer but the whole of southern Europe is covered by hills and mountains. The Alps spread across Eastern France, Switzerland and Austria and the Appenines run the length of Italy. Former Yugoslavia is covered by the Julian and Dinaric Alps, Greece has the Taygetus and Pindus, Albania is 70% mountains and the Balkan Mountains link Serbia to the Black Sea. If you’ve ever fought anyone on a stairway, you know its better to be on top than on the bottom and these places are even worse in the winter when you add snow, mud, ice, rain and swollen rivers. Compare this with lovely flat northern Europe where the Great North European Plan runs for 2,000 miles from Urals to the Channel.
And just so you know I’m not making this up, here’s General Montgomery’s description of fighting in Italy. I quote:
The ‘leg’ of Italy is essentially ideal defensive country… [and] the Adriatic winter is severe… On land, progress would become impossible off the main roads owing to snow and mud; mountain torrents subject to violent fluctuations would create great bridging difficulties… The country generally was ideal for delay by the action of small units co-ordinated with skilfully sited demolitions... and our advance throughout was barred and delayed by demolitions on the widest possible scale.
Normandy is 350 miles from Germany’s industrial heartland and the country is lovely and flat. The Balkans are 1,000 miles from the Ruhr and full of mountains. Why would the Greatest Ever Briton want to fight the German Army in such a terrible place? Tune in next week to find out…
Welcome to Part Two of ‘Empire First: Churchill’s War Against D-Day’, a shameless attempt to stimulate interest in Graeme Bowman’s book of the same name.
We closed last week by asking why Churchill – the Greatest Ever Briton – wanted to send Allied troops into south-east Europe instead of Normandy and its simple. Check out a map of Europe. See how south-eastern Europe sticks into the eastern Mediterranean. If you control the eastern Med, you control Suez and the Middle East and Churchill was obsessed with dominating these regions for two reasons.
Firstly, the Suez Canal was Britain’s gateway to India – Britain’s wealthiest possession – and secondly, Suez was also the conduit through which Middle Eastern oil flowed, and both things were vital to Britain’s status as an Empire and a superpower. Put simply, Suez was the pivot on which Britain imperial project turned. Don’t believe me? Here’s how Anthony Eden – Churchill’s successor - described it in 1929. According to Eden - and I quote – Suez is Britain’s
back door to the east [and]… the front door to Europe of Australia, New Zealand and India… [Suez] is, in fact, the swing-door of the British Empire, which has got to keep continually revolving… I am not content… to leave the protection of… the jugular vein of the British Empire to the goodwill of the people of Egypt.
Sixteen years later - in 1945 – he identified controlling the eastern Mediterranean as [and I quote again]:
a matter of life and death to the British Empire since... it is there that the Empire can be cut in half. Consequently, we are bound to give the Middle East an extremely high priority when allotting our available resources… For this reason alone, we cannot afford to resign our special position in the area.
That’s why Churchill was obsessed with Suez and the eastern Mediterranean. It was the jugular vein, the vital artery of the British Empire and Churchill was determined to dominate this region because - without it – the Empire was dead. In other words, Churchill supported operations in south-eastern Europe as ALTERNATIVES to Overlord because he was more interested in advancing British oil and Empire interests in the Med than in defeating Hitler. Let that sink in – the Great Champion of Liberty and Freedom prioritised advancing British oil and Empire interests in the Med over defeating Hitler.
The massive mountain ranges in the region meant that southern Europe could never be called a ‘soft underbelly’ and when the Americans proposed operations in the Riviera- the only part of German-occupied southern Europe that could have been called soft - Churchill opposed them Why? Because this operation would have confirmed France - and not the Balkans – as the decisive Allied theatre and Churchill wasn’t interested in liberating western Europe. And the vast distance between the Balkans and the Ruhr – Germany’s industrial heartland - ensured that operations in southern Europe could contribute nothing to Germany’s defeat. Churchill’s only rationale for supporting Balkan operation was reinforcing British control of the Mediterranean and this became an urgent priority following the Soviet victory at Kursk in July 1943, the biggest tank battle in history. From this point on, Russia dominated the Eastern Front and this was bittersweet for Britain and America. Sweet because it guaranteed Allied victory but bitter because if Russia replaced Germany in Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia, it would gain direct access to the Mediterranean and the idea of Soviet warships operating in the so-called British ‘lake’ gave Churchill the screaming abdabs.
That’s why he initiated the disastrous Dodecanese campaign in autumn 1943, it was all part of a lunatic scheme to lure Turkey into the war and block the Soviet advance into the Balkans and when that failed – he initiated the disastrous Anzio campaign in January 1944 to try to maintain Italy as an active theatre and a springboard into Yugoslavia and Albania. When both operations failed, he scuttled off to Moscow in October 1944 to sign the Percentages Agreement with Stalin, giving the Soviet dictator control over Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania in exchange for British control of Greece. Why did he want Greece – geography! Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania are all land-locked or face the Black Sea and were of no interest to Churchill. Greece has a major Mediterranean coastline and this was vital to Churchill.
All this matters for 4 big reasons:
Firstly, it destroys Britain’s presumed moral authority. If Churchill was more interested in defending British oil and empire interests in the Med than in defeating Hitler or liberating western Europe from Nazism, we’re not the good guys anymore – we’re just a grubby little Empire advancing its own interests.
Secondly its basically Brexit in a nutshell… think about it… Churchill prioritised Britain’s GLOBAL oil and empire interests over liberating WESTERN EUROPE and if that’s not Brexit I don’t know what is
Thirdly, Churchill’s famous 1946 speech in which he denounced the ‘Iron Curtain’ cutting Europe in two is a masterclass in hypocrisy. Churchill and Stalin jointly installed the rail from which the curtain descended - through the Percentages Agreement - and Churchill was more than happy for Stalin to get Eastern Europe as long as Britain got Greece and the Mediterranean.
Finally, the end of the war and early years of the Cold War would have been very different indeed had Churchill’s idiotic plan prevailed.
Firstly, the war would have lasted another year and millions more would have died in the death camps, on the battlefields and in Germany’s ruined cities.
Secondly, if the Allies had gone into south-eastern Europe, they would have been bogged down in sterile campaigns in Italy and the Balkans while Stalin’s tanks raced across lovely flat northern Europe. Britain might have gained access to India and the Middle East as a result of Churchill’s ploy but Stalin’s T-34s would have replaced Hitler’s Panzers at Calais, not a great return on six years of war and not helpful for British security. Instead of being divided East
West, Europe would have been divided north-south with Russia dominating prosperous northern Europe and Anglo-America dominating the impoverished south. Stalin would have bossed the early stages of the Cold War and the whole history of the world would have been very different indeed so it is extremely fortunate that Roosevelt and Stalin forced Churchill to support Overlord against his wishes.
If you want to know if this is all true, buy my book ‘Empire First: Churchill’s War Against D-Day’ and find out. Thank you.