Grand strategy the Empire at bay June 1940July 1942

The immediate problem facing the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff in June 1940 was the defence of the United Kingdom and its trade routes. In the longer term, there were the questions of whether and how the war could be won. Churchill placed his hopes in 'immense American supplies' becoming available, and even in Roosevelt bringing the United States into the war once the presidential election in November was over.108 By September a new strategy was in place for a long war, on the assumption that American support would eventually be forthcoming. Meanwhile a German invasion had to be averted.

The role of Fighter Command in the defence of the United Kingdom in 1940 is well known. Less familiar are the roles of the army, navy and Bomber Command. Although the army lacked artillery, tanks and transport after its losses in France, it was still sufficiently strong numerically, thanks to the evacuation from Dunkirk, to impose on the Germans the necessity of mounting a full-scale invasion over several days, rather than a coup de main. The German navy had sustained losses and damage during the Norwegian campaign, severely limiting its ability to protect the large number of ships, tugs, river barges and other improvised craft required to transport the first wave of nine divisions. For the invasion to succeed the Luftwaffe had to neutralise the Royal Navy, and to do that it had first to establish air superiority over the Channel. Bomber Command added to the Germans' difficulties by attacking concentrations of invasion craft in French and Belgian ports.109

107 Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 116-17, 123-30, 137-9, 189.

108 Ibid.,pp. 152, 174; John Colville, The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939-55 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. 283.

109 Bennett and Bennett, Hitler's Admirals, pp. 78-86; Basil Collier, The Defence of the United Kingdom (London: HMSO, 1957), pp. 123-5, 127, 137-8, 175-82, 225-7; Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, pp. 254-61.

The Battle of Britain was the first to be decided by aircraft, with the most intensive fighting by day lasting from 8 August to 7 September. The outcome might have been different if the Germans had persisted with their bombing attacks on radar stations and Fighter Command airfields instead of switching to raids on London. The RAF lost a higher percentage of its fighter pilots in August and September than the Luftwaffe, whose operations were intended to inflict losses on the defending fighters in the air. However, many members of the Luftwaffe command believed that only direct daylight attacks on London would be decisive and, following several RAF night raids over Berlin, the Germans changed their tactics. The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was at the limit of its combat range over London, and the twin-engined Messerschmitt Bf 110 was no match for the single-engined Spitfires and Hurricanes. The Luftwaffe was forced to abandon heavy daylight attacks, owing to losses among its lightly armed bombers, and by mid-October autumnal weather meant that the threat of invasion in 1940 was over. The Germans turned to night bombing to weaken British industry.110

Meanwhile the threat to Britain's trade routes had greatly increased. From France the Luftwaffe could attack coastal shipping and sea ports all round Britain, instead of only along the east coast, and U-boats could make extended voyages in the Atlantic. British losses of destroyers off Norway and Dunkirk had reduced the number of escort vessels, as did the need to deploy destroyers in an anti-invasion role until October. The agreement made by Churchill with Roosevelt on 5 September whereby fifty obsolete, surplus American destroyers of 1918-20 vintage were exchanged for the leasing to the United States of British bases in the western Atlantic was chiefly of political importance, since the destroyers had to be modernised in overworked British dockyards. Nevertheless they were made available at a critical time.111 In the same month the German U-boats adopted their tactic of night attacks on convoys by 'wolf packs' on the surface, rendering Asdic almost useless, and from January 1941 the Germans increased the number of operational U-boats. The winter of 1940-1 was the only time when blockade might have defeated Britain, for the U-boats were sinking ships at a greater rate than they could be replaced, something that did not recur even when shipping losses were higher in 1942-3, for by then increased

110 Air Ministry, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (London: Public Record Office, 2001), pp. 79-95; T. C.G. James, The Battle of Britain, ed. Sebastian Cox (London: Frank Cass, 2000); Murray, Luftwaffe, pp. 43-59.

111 Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 353-68; Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, p. 348.

shipbuilding in the United States offset British losses.112 It was in the period 1939-41 that Coastal Command was least effective against U-boats. Fortunately the Luftwaffe gave a low priority to attacks on merchant shipping, although for a time in 1941 its long-range reconnaissance aircraft played an important role in guiding U-boats to their targets.113 What is striking is that, despite the danger to Britain's trade routes, Coastal Command received a lower priority for new aircraft than Bomber Command. To understand why one has to look at how Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff hoped to win the war.

Notwithstanding Germany's conquests in Europe and trade with the Soviet Union, British intelligence still believed in the summer of 1940 that the German war machine was vulnerable to economic warfare on account of shortages of food, oil, rubber and textile fibres. Economic warfare was broadly defined, to include bombing and sabotage of industrial targets and communications, as well as blockade to deny Germany access to overseas trade.114 The Chiefs of Staff produced a Future Strategy paper on 4 September 1940 in which they predicted that the Germans' oil stocks might be exhausted by June 1941. They believed that the Germans could improve their position only by bringing the war to an end by defeating Britain, or by driving the Royal Navy from the Eastern Mediterranean, thereby enabling them to import oil from Romania and the Soviet Union by sea. The Chiefs of Staff concluded that an Italo-German attack on Egypt was likely within the next six months; that any steps to deprive Germany of oil would hasten her defeat; and that Britain should aim 'to pass to the general offensive in all spheres and in all theatres with the utmost possible strength in the spring of 1942'.115

The belief that the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt might be a decisive theatre was not new. When Italy entered the war the British had four capital ships and an aircraft carrier at Alexandria, and a further three capital ships and an aircraft carrier at Gibraltar, against four operational Italian capital ships (plus two refitting), but the danger of attack from the large Italian air force led the Admiralty at the end of June to consider abandoning the Eastern Mediterranean. Churchill vetoed the idea, and in July urged that the air defences of Alexandria and Malta should be reinforced, although the Battle of Britain was about to begin.116 Then in

112 Marc Milner, 'The Battle of the Atlantic', in Gooch (ed.), Decisive Campaigns, pp. 4566, at pp. 49, 52.

113 Air Ministry, Rise and Fall, pp. 104-16; Bennett and Bennett, Hitler's Admirals, pp. 913, 143.

114 Hinsley, British Intelligence, vol. I, pp. 234-41.

115 'Future strategy', COS (40) 683, 4 Sep. 1940, CAB 80/17, TNA.

116 Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 388-90, 392-3; Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, pp. 295-8.

August, at the suggestion of the CIGS, Dill, the War Cabinet agreed to send 154 infantry tanks - about half the total available - to Egypt, although the outcome of the Battle of Britain was uncertain.117

It was, however, to Bomber Command that Churchill looked for decisive offensive action against Germany. On 3 September he wrote: 'fighters are our salvation, but bombers alone provide the means to victory'. He believed that only by pulverising 'the entire industry and scientific structure' of Germany could Britain hope to overcome the enemy's 'immense military power'.118 The Chiefs of Staff's emphasis on Germany's shortage of oil pointed to a more precise target. Oil refineries and synthetic plants were to be attacked whenever conditions were favourable, for example in good weather and when there was a full moon, but attacks on enemy morale by raids on Berlin or other urban centres were to be made at other times. Bomber Command was instructed by the Air Staff to follow the German technique of using incendiaries to start fires and then high-explosives to prevent fire brigades from tackling the fires. This was the technique that became known as area bombing.119

The Future Strategy paper of 4 September saw the purpose of blockade and bombing as wearing down the German economy until it would be possible for the British army to re-establish itself on the continent with a good chance of success, even although it would be inferior in numbers to the German army.120 Churchill had created the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in July to pursue economic warfare by sabotage and to enable European resistance movements to prepare a general uprising to assist major operations by British forces.121 In the same month he had set up the Combined Operations Command to carry out raids using purpose-built landing craft, and by 1941 the production of many types of assault craft was under way, including ones big enough to land tanks on beaches.122

The execution of the strategy worked out in September 1940 involved two choices: first, the balance between the offensive and defensive use of

117 See Reynolds, In Command of History, pp. 191-3 for how Churchill came to claim credit for this decision.

118 'The munitions situation', memorandum by the Prime Minister, 3 Sep. 1940, WP (40) 352, CAB 66/11, TNA.

119 Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, pp. 155-60.

120 'Future strategy', COS (40) 683, 4 Sep. 1940, CAB 80/17, TNA.

121 David Stafford, 'The detonator concept: British strategy, SOE and European resistance after the fall of France', Journal of Contemporary History, 10 (1975), 185217, at 202. See also M. R. D. Foot, SOE in France: An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France 1940-1944 (London: HMSO, 1966).

122 Churchill, Second World War, vol. II, pp. 217-23.

air power; and second, the allocation of sea, land and air forces as between the Middle East and Far East. As regards air power, the availability of better night-fighters for Fighter Command, and the movement of many Luftwaffe units to Eastern Europe in spring 1941 in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union, meant that debate centred on whether bombers were better used to attack Germany or to support the navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Air Staff had no doubts that the proper use of bombers was in the strategic air offensive, but by March 1941 merchant shipping losses were so great that Churchill directed Bomber Command to give priority over the next four months to attacking U-boats at sea, in dock, or in building yards, and to counteracting Luftwaffe operations against shipping. German battle-cruisers at Brest were also bombed, although the head of Bomber Command was sure that there was not much chance of destroying these ships.123 However, when there was a marked reduction in merchant shipping losses in July 1941, Churchill demanded to know why new American bombers were being allocated to Coastal Command instead of to the bomber offensive, and in October the First Sea Lord and the CAS had to resist pressure from the Prime Minister to transfer aircraft from Coastal Command to Bomber Command.124

From December 1941 merchant shipping losses began to mount again, partly because the U-boats were able to take advantage of American unpreparedness when Germany declared war on the United States on 10 December. There was a debate in Whitehall about the relative advantages of protecting shipping and bombing German towns. The most extreme viewpoint was put to Churchill by the head of Bomber Command on 17 June 1942. Harris claimed that the 'over-swollen establishment of the purely defensive' Coastal Command achieved nothing essential, either to Britain's survival or the defeat of the enemy, and prevented very few shipping losses. He believed that Coastal Command should be redirected from its 'mainly futile' defensive role to the offensive, in combination with Bomber Command.125 In fact, as we have seen, it was in 1942 when Coastal Command at last became proficient in attacking U-boats; what it needed were long-range aircraft. Agreement on the allocation of aircraft between Bomber Command and Coastal Command was not reached until November 1942 (see below, p. 217).

Meanwhile, the inability of Bomber Command to do significant damage to oil targets, or transport systems, which for a time became an

123 Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, pp. 165, 167.

124 Buckley, RAF and Trade Defence, pp. 127-8.

125 Memorandum by Harris, 17 June 1942, PREM 3/19, TNA.

alternative priority, led inexorably to area bombing. The technical reasons for this policy have already been noted. The question asked here is: what did Bomber Command hope to achieve by way of fulfilment of the overall war strategy of weakening Germany prior to re-establishing the army on the European continent? By the autumn of 1941 the chief target was the morale of German workers, but Churchill doubted whether, in the light of British reactions to bombing, such a strategy would be decisive. He wrote to the CAS on 7 October that, if the United States entered the war, the air offensive 'would have to be supplemented in 1943 by simultaneous attacks by armoured forces in many of the conquered countries which were ripe for revolt'.126 Following heavy losses in November 1941, the Prime Minister insisted that Bomber Command's strength should be conserved until the spring of 1942.

Churchill's faith in the value of a strategic air offensive was partially restored in 1942. His scientific adviser, Lindemann, now Lord Cher-well, persuaded the Lord President of the Council, Anderson (himself trained as a scientist), to set up an enquiry by two scientists, Solly Zuckerman and J. D. Bernal, into the effects of bombing of British cities. Even before the enquiry's findings were circulated in April 1942, Cherwell was advising Churchill that the best use of Bomber Command would be to damage the German people's morale by destroying their homes. Cherwell wrongly anticipated that Zuckerman and Bernal would show that area bombing would break the spirit of the German people, whereas the evidence of Hull and Coventry suggested the reverse was true. Nevertheless, he did not allow that evidence to weaken his case, which was based on a belief that German cities would be subjected to far heavier bombing than anything experienced by the British. He assumed that the over-ambitious programme for producing 10,000 heavy bombers over the next fifteen months would be fulfilled, although in February the Ministry of Aircraft Production had made the first of what proved to be a series of modifications to the programme to make it more realistic. Sir Henry Tizard, a scientist who had been advising the Air Ministry since the 1930s, and who favoured the proposed policy of area bombing in principle, demonstrated that Bomber Command would not have the resources to strike a decisive blow before mid-1943 at the earliest, and that the attempt to do so might lead to the loss of the war by the diversion of aircraft from other purposes, including trade defence. The Cherwell-Tizard debate paralleled the debate between the Air Staff and the Naval Staff, and a judge, Mr Justice Singleton, was asked to review the likely results of bombing Germany. Singleton reached no

126 Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. I, p. 184.

clear conclusions in his report on 20 May 1942, but he did make the point that the bombing offensive helped the Soviet Union by forcing the Germans to divert resources to air defence.127

This was a powerful consideration at a time when there was pressure on Britain from the Soviet Union and the United States to open a second front in France.128 In the spring and summer of 1942 Bomber Command was beginning to have some success, including a spectacular one-thousand bomber raid on Cologne on 30 May. Harris, who had established excellent relations with Churchill, argued that the strategic air offensive could reduce a continental land campaign to a mopping up exercise.129 Churchill did not take so exaggerated a view of air power, but in a review of the war position in July 1942 he looked to a combined British and American air offensive to cripple German U-boat and aircraft production, and to prepare the conditions for major military operations on the continent.130

Meanwhile the defence of the Empire and overseas interests had been a heavy burden on British, dominion and Indian forces. The Italians had made the first moves, occupying British Somaliland in August 1940, and pushing fifty miles into Egypt from Libya in September. The British forces in the Middle East lacked modern equipment, and the Australian and New Zealand contingents there were still undergoing training, but the bold stroke of sending modern tanks to Egypt gave the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Middle East, Wavell, the means of defeating the Italian army in Egypt in December and advancing to the border of Tripolitania by 9 February 1940.131 The Regia Aeronautica proved to be less of a threat than anticipated and the Royal Navy seized the initiative in the Mediterranean, disabling or sinking half of Italy's capital ships and 8-inch-gun cruisers between November 1940 and March 1941.132

This successful period was brought to an end by the intervention of the Germans, first by sending Luftwaffe squadrons to the Mediterranean

127 The Singleton report is reproduced in Webster and Frankland, Strategic Air Offensive, vol. IV, pp. 231-8. For Zuckerman's account of Cherwell's misguided use of the British evidence, and of the Cherwell-Tizard debate, see Solly Zuckerman, From Apes to Warlords 1904-46, An Autobiography (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978), pp. 141-8, 405.

128 Churchill, Second World War, vol. IV: The Hinge of Fate (1951), pp. 281-308.

129 Memorandum by Harris, 17 June 1942, PREM 3/19, TNA.

130 Memorandum by the Prime minister, 21 July 1942, reproduced in Churchill, Second World War, vol. IV, pp. 781-4.

131 For the decisive impact of British tanks on the the Italian army, see Lucio Ceva, 'The North African campaign, 1940-43', in Gooch (ed.), Decisive Campaigns, pp. 84-104, at p. 87.

132 Roskill, War at Sea, vol. I, pp. 300-1, 419, 427-31.

at the end of 1940 and then by sending an army into Bulgaria in March 1941 with a view to coming to the rescue of the Italians, whose attack on Greece in October 1940 had turned out badly. A paper dated 16 February 1941 by the Director of Military Operations, Sir John Kennedy, made out a cogent case for Wavell's army pushing on to Tripoli, to deny the Germans a foothold in Africa and to improve air cover for British ships in the central Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the Chiefs of Staff decided on 23 February that for political reasons some ofWavell's forces should be sent to support the Greeks.133 Cyril Falls subsequently described British intervention as 'a sorry tale of political and strategic frivolity'.134 Certainly there was a case to answer. The Chiefs of Staff regarded the enterprise as hazardous. The RAF was short of aircraft, especially fighters. Although Wavell considered that there was a good chance that an enemy advance could be stopped, the detailed military appreciation that Churchill requested was never received. Churchill himself felt that the loss of Greece would not be a major catastrophe, provided Turkey remained an 'honest neutral'. The official history suggests that the decisive factor was a feeling that it would be less damaging to British prestige to suffer defeat than to leave the Greeks to their fate.135

Falls had the benefit of hindsight. While the British were preparing to send troops to Greece, the Germans were establishing their Afrika Korps in Libya, the first troops having arrived on 8 February, and a panzer and a light (mechanised) division were ready to take the offensive at the end of March. By that date the British had two armoured divisions in the Middle East, but one was refitting after its successful operations against the Italians; the other was divided between Cyrenaica and Greece. The Germans' advantage in armour and the daring of their commander, General Erwin Rommel, led in April to the British being driven from Cyrenaica apart from the port of Tobruk, which withstood an eight-month siege. Meanwhile the Germans drove the British Commonwealth expeditionary force out of Greece by the end of the month. To complete British discomfiture, Crete was taken by German airborne troops between 20 May and 1 June. German air power inflicted heavy losses on the Royal Navy, which found itself on the defensive, concentrating on supplying Malta.136 On the other hand, success was not all on one side.

133 The Business of War: The War Narrative of Major-General Sir John Kennedy, ed. Bernard Fergusson (London: Hutchinson, 1957), pp. 80-5.

134 Cyril Falls, The Second World War: A Short History (London: Methuen, 1948), p. 91.

135 Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. II, pp. 442-7; Churchill, Second World War, vol. III: The Grand Alliance (1950), pp. 89-90, 92.

136 Playfair, The Mediterranean and the Middle East, vol. II, esp. pp. 12, 147.

By holding Malta the British retained a base from which to attack Rommel's seaborne supplies. An Iraqi government suspected of proAxis sympathies was overthrown and the country occupied in May, and Syria was wrested from Vichy control in June. These campaigns preventing German penetration of the Middle East were undertaken mainly by formations not equipped to the standard required to face the Afrika Korps (horsed cavalry were used by the British army for the last time in Syria). The Italian forces in East Africa were defeated between February and May 1941, removing a potential threat to communications through the Red Sea.

The presence of two German divisions, and their Italian allies, on the Egyptian frontier in late April had a profound effect on British grand strategy. On 28 April Churchill issued a directive in which he stated that the loss of Egypt and the Middle East would be a disaster of the first magnitude, second only to a successful invasion of Great Britain. On the other hand, he believed that the danger of Japan entering the war was remote and that, if she did, the United States would almost certainly come in on Britain's side.137 The CIGS, Dill, pointed out on 6 May that it was 'an accepted principle of our strategy that in the last resort the security of Singapore comes before that of Egypt'; yet Singapore's defences were well below what was required.138 Churchill responded that Singapore required only a small fraction of the forces required for the defence of Egypt, and that therefore Singapore and Egypt were not comparable alternatives.139 Churchill's refusal to agree to air reinforcements for the Far East proved to be crucial. After the fall of France, defence policy in the Far East had been recast, given the need to retain a British fleet in the Mediterranean, and the likelihood that Japan would use French Indo-China as a springboard for operations. The Chiefs of Staff considered in August 1940 that it would be necessary to defend the whole of Malaya, not just Singapore. Primary responsibility for the defence of the peninsula had been given to the RAF, but of the planned frontline strength of 336 aircraft, only 150 were in place in June 1941, and no more than 158 in December, many of them obsolescent. The army's garrison remained at the size that had been planned on the assumption that the main burden would fall on the air force, although in

137 'Directive by the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence', 28 Apr. 1941, WO 216/5, TNA.

138 'The relation of the Middle East to the security of the United Kingdom', 6 May 1941, WO 216/5, TNA.

139 Prime Minister to Chief of General Staff, 13 May 1941, WO 216/5, TNA. For Churchill repeatedly holding up air reinforcements for the Far East, see Churchill War Papers, vol. III, pp. 81, 476, 774.

July 1941 the new commander in Malaya, General A. E. Percival, estimated that five divisions, instead often brigades were required. As the official history notes, it was evident by that date that 'existing plans for the defence of Malaya had broken down'.140 Nevertheless, Churchill, anxious to support the Soviet Union, which had suffered heavy defeats since June, particularly with regard to its air force, preferred in August to offer to send 445 modern fighter aircraft to Murmansk.141

Most of the controversy over the fall of Singapore is centred on naval strategy and in particular the loss of a new capital ship, the Prince of Wales, and the battle-cruiser Repulse when they were attacked off the coast of Malaya by Japanese aircraft on 10 December 1941. Churchill had told the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand at the end of October that the Prince of Wales would be the best possible deterrent to Japanese aggression, and he boasted to Stalin that it could 'catch and kill any Japanese ship'.143 His blindness to the danger of land-based air attack is surprising, in view of British losses off Crete a few months earlier. His defence in his memoirs was that, after the Japanese declaration of war, the capital ships should have crossed the Pacific to join the American fleet, the existence of an Anglo-American fleet being the best possible shield for Australia.144 The Admiralty's plans had been more ambitious, aiming at offensive action in the South China Sea by a fleet of older capital ships operating under cover of land-based aircraft. During Anglo-American naval talks between October 1940 and April 1941 the Americans had made plain that they expected the British to make a substantial contribution to the defence of the Far East. In August the Admiralty became aware that the Americans intended to hold the Philippines in strength, and by September its plans envisaged holding a line from Hong Kong to Manila, with the latter being used as

140 Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. II, pp. 506-7; J. M. A. Gwyer and J. R. M. Butler, Grand Strategy, vol. III (London: HMSO, 1964), p. 278.

141 Churchill, Second World War, vol. III, p. 403.

142 There is a huge literature on this subject, most of it highly critical, including Paul Haggie, Britannia at Bay: The Defence of the British Empire against Japan 1931-1941 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); Ian Hamill, The Strategic Illusion: The Singapore Strategy and the Defence of Australia (Singapore University Press, 1981); Arthur J. Marder, Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, Strategic Illusions 1936-1941 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); W. David McIntyre, The Rise and Fall of the Singapore Naval Base, 1919-1942 (London: Macmillan, 1979); and Alan Warren, Singapore: Britain's Greatest Defeat (London: Hambledon and London, 2002). Christopher Bell, 'The ''Singapore strategy'' and the deterrence of Japan: Winston Churchill, the Admiralty and the dispatch of Force Z', English Historical Review, 116 (2001), 604-34, points out that the purpose of sending out the Prince of Wales and the Repulse was to deter war rather than to make a commitment to a particular war strategy.

143 Churchill, Second World War, vol. III, pp. 469, 5 25. 144 Ibid., p. 547.

an advanced base for six British capital ships, provided it could be made secure from air attack.145 In the event, the necessary dispositions had not been made by December.

Britain's Far Eastern strategy quickly collapsed. Hong Kong fell on 25 December. The largely inexperienced British, Australian and Indian troops in Malaya were no match for Japanese veterans of the Sino-Japanese war who landed in the north of the peninsula, where they quickly seized airfields built for the RAF. The surrender of Singapore on 15 February, and the loss of 140,000 men, mostly taken prisoner, to a numerically inferior Japanese force, was a shock that Churchill blamed on the failure of those responsible for the defence of the base there to turn it into the fortress of his imagination.146 He did not explain how even a fortified Singapore could have been held once the numerically inferior RAF had been defeated. The conquest of Malaya gave Japan 75 per cent of the world's natural rubber and 66 per cent of the tin, and the subsequent loss of the Dutch East Indies provided her with enough oil for her needs. The loss of Burma between December 1941 and March 1942, and Japanese naval raids on Ceylon in April, accompanied by the sinking in the Indian Ocean of a British aircraft carrier and two cruisers, reinforced the sense of British powerlessness. Fortunately the Japanese did not press home their advantage. On 5 May British forces landed in Madagascar to deny the Japanese bases on that Vichy-controlled island. Even so, the preservation of communications across the Indian Ocean depended on the success of the US Navy in the Pacific.

The priority given to the defence of Egypt had disappointing results. British Commonwealth forces built up there engaged in a series of battles in the Western Desert from 18 November 1941, eventually ending the siege of Tobruk on 8 December, and driving the Afrika Korps out of Cyrenaica. However, Rommel counter-attacked in January-February 1942 and recovered most of Cyrenaica. In late May he mounted another offensive, driving the Eighth Army back into Egypt, where it made a successful stand at El Alamein in July. Most disappointing to Churchill was the fall of Tobruk on 20 June. He heard the news while he was in conference with Roosevelt in Washington and, when asked by the President what the United States could do to help,

145 Ian Cowman, 'Main fleet to Singapore? Churchill, the Admiralty, and Force Z', Journal of Strategic Studies, 17 (1994), no. 2, 79-93. Bell, 'The ''Singapore strategy''' shows that Cowman's belief that the Admiralty sought to conceal its plans from Churchill is unfounded.

146 Reynolds, In Command of History, pp. 296-7. For an illuminating account of the campaign, see Masanobu Tsuji, Singapore: The Japanese Version (London: Constable, 1962).

replied: 'give us as many Sherman tanks as you can spare'.147 Once more Britain had to turn to the United States for help.

British strategy from the fall of France to July 1942 was ambitious with regard to defeat of Germany, but was not, on the whole, a success after the Battle of Britain. The Germans were able to offset the effects of blockade by plunder of conquered countries and by putting pressure on neutrals to supply raw materials. The strategic air offensive against Germany was not decisive because Bomber Command lacked the technology and numbers to damage German industry. Moreover, strategic bombing had its opportunity cost. Air power might have been used to greater advantage against U-boats and in support of the army and navy in the Middle East and, especially, the Far East. British agents and commandos helped to inspire the European resistance, but the prospects for widespread revolt against the Germans in Europe seemed remote, except in Yugoslavia and Greece, and even in these countries the resistance was weakened by conflict between Communist and non-Communist forces.

The defeat of the German army would depend upon the operations of Britain's allies as well as on those of an enlarged British army. Here sea power could make a contribution: munitions sent to Murmansk could encourage the Soviet Union to soldier on, even if some of the equipment was inferior to Soviet models, and the responsibility for ensuring that the Arctic convoys got through fell to the British Home Fleet. The Luftwaffe, U-boats and German surface vessels posed such a threat in 1942 that the Admiralty wanted to suspend the convoys during the long summer days. Roosevelt insisted that the convoys continue; Churchill promised Stalin that they would; but when two-thirds of the merchant ships in convoy PQ 17 were lost in July, even Churchill had to agree that no more convoys would sail to Murmansk until the autumn.148 July 1942 was not a good time to suspend aid to the Soviet Union, for in that month the Germans took the Russian fortress of Sevastopol and were advancing towards the oilfields of the Caucasus, and Stalin was bitterly reproachful of the British decision. Fortunately there was another route by which supplies could reach the Soviet Union, through Iran, which British and Soviet forces had occupied in August 1941 to suppress German influence. However, the German advance in the Caucasus in 1942 raised doubts about the security even of this route, or

147 Churchill, Second World War, vol. IV, p. 344.

148 James P. Levy, The Royal Navy's Home Fleet in World War II (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003), pp. 108-25.

indeed about the northern flank of the British position in the Middle East.149

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