A few days after The City of Limerick was sunk, on the 23rd the British Prime Minister met some of his closest advisers, constituting 'Winston's talk shop'. As of last week Sir John Dill was present in place of Gort who had taken the hint and resigned before being officially sacked. In spite of his illness Dill was fast proving to be the right man for the job, because the post of CIGS required as much diplomacy as military skill, and thanks to eating Canadian and British-made antibiotics like others their breakfast, he was in good enough shape to do the job. Churchill respected Dill in spite of earlier clashes, and he was glad that the man had accepted the post. Field Marshal Alexander had not been very annoyed that Dill had been promoted over his head, but had instead been glad that his plan had been approved after some delay. Dill's first act after receiving the shoulderboards of a Marshall of the British Empire had been to tell the Prime Minister that he expected three things from both his men and the Government: first he did not like interference. 'Suggestions' would be accepted gladly, but would be subject to examination and approval of the IGS, he would expect the Ministry of Defence to allow his field commanders leeway and had pointed to the disaster of Jubilee as proof of what meddling did saying that he would back his men to the hilt, and thirdly he had assured Churchill of both his personal loyalty and intention to win the war as fast and as cheaply as possible. That he had been ADC to the King and was therefore backed by palace didn't hurt.
And yet now he had to brief the PM about how the war was likely to widen even further which barely seemed possible. The IGS had met yesterday, and now he was meeting with the PM aboard HMS Warspite as she was in Scapa Flow, due to go into the dock for a major refit before deploying to the Far East. The PM was officially here to supervise how his favourite Battleship was laid up for the refit where she would receive increased anti-air armament and some upgrades in her electronics and other equipment, but Marshal Dill had flown up here and intercepted him before he boarded the plane to Belfast and then back home. The PM was always up to date on this matter anyway, but he could not possibly have heard all of it, because Dill had gotten off the telephone less than twenty minutes before boarding the plane up north. Dill was not to take over Officially from Gort until the end of the month, but he was already pretty much running things while Gort came to grips with the fact that he had been the one to fall on his sword for the recent costly failures. Dill had been a surprise choice, and it was unclear just who and what had convinced the PM to jump over his shadow and even offer the post to Dill, rumours had it though that Eden had pointed out that a Diplomat was needed on the post more than anything else, because not only would he have to be able to juggle the needs, wants and personal failings of three major front commanders and several more Naval Commands, but also keep good relations with the rest of the Allied nations, for their Armies were essential to victory.
So very grudingly Churchill had bowed to the inevitable and had appointed the new Marshal, only to discover that the conditions said man connected to acceptance were such that his own influence on the running of the war was diminished even more. Inside the Army 'Winston's daft little schemes' were not particularly well liked, and now even the CIGS was even less open than them than Gort had been. Alas, such was the way of things in politics, at least he could be sure that the IGS was going to competently led.
The Marshal, the Prime Minister and CinC Home Fleet, Admiral Tovey were sitting in the Captain's Quarters of the Battleship and almost informally discussed the Irish situation. Churchill was not a great admirer of the Irish, having been the one tasked with surpressing the Irish revolt that in the end convinced the Government of the time to propose Home Rule. And yet he understood the situation the Irish found themselves in and lisstend attentively when Dill talked.
“I have been talking with our man over there before I flew up here, and they say that the Irish are leaning more and more towards joining the war. From what I've been told, most of the civilians in Ireland are torn between being scared, uncertanity about what will happen an a type of fury about what has happened like only the Irish can have.” Dill paused to collect his words. “I believe if they continue to be pushed, they will fight, no matter their relation with us.”
“As you know their trade deals with us are about to go public, and then we can't re-negotiate them, not even through the poles. We will be stuck with them.”
“Do I detect a hint of disapproval, Marshal?” Churchill asked seemingly innocent and Dill replied equally innocent with “Not at all, Prime Minister. It is just a statement of fact and also a question if we can afford to part with a large number of military equipment and technology at this point and with the upcoming operations.” After a short pause he added. “After all, Sir, I am not fully aware of just what we are selling them, I haven't been able to pull the files from the MoD before coming here.”
That wasn't exactly true, but Dill hated to admit it that Churchill was right. He did indeed disapprove of large-scale arms sales to a neutral nation this short of a major operation, but he also realized that the Irish needed to be supported, so the little white lie represented the middle way for him. After all, there were 20 Allied Divisions waiting in North Africa for the front to widen so that they could be deployed, 12 British, chiefly the 1st King's African Rifle Division, another South-African Infantry Division, two more Canadian Divisions, the Quebec recruited 11ème Division Blindée du Canada (11th Canadian Armoured Division) and the 22nd Canadian Infantry Division, together with five French-Algerian Divisions. And that was not all, because now the Divisions that had been formed in the African parts of the Empire on outbreak of the war began to become operational in mass, giving the British an unprecedented manpower reserve that was beyond expectations, even allowing the IGS to keep the remainder of the Indian Army in the Far East. The Allied forces would still be horribly outnumbered, but less so than it had been expected before the war.
The new Chief of the Imperial General Staff, picture taken in 1941
Churchill knew none of the Marshal's thoughts even though he suspected.
“I am sure we can spare some of next month's production of Spits for the Irish? Besides, since the Canadians have decided to send only one additional Armoured Division instead of two we have some vehicles to spare.”
That these were all meant for either additional African units was besides the point, after all Britain, Canada, India and increasingly the Australians were churning out plenty of war machines, if not as much as it would have been liked.
“Of course, Prime Minister.” Dill said smoothly.
“Coming back to the matter at hand, my people tell me that most of the Irish see us as...the lesser of two evils as it were, and most think that the Communists and their friends are clearly the bigger evil.”
Churchill nodded in agreement and took a sip from his drink.
“The Irish aren't stupid in that regard but god help me if I know what De Valera expected when he asked the Ivans to apologize.”
The other men in the room made sounds of agreement but the only politician in the room knew as well as the military men that politics more than anything had convinced De Valera to demand one more than anything.
“So what do they want exactly?” Tovey asked.
The Marshal went over the list he had been given by the PM and Tovey suppressed the urge to whistle.
“That should boost them a bit I should think.”
“Considering that this is about 500% the number of tanks they ever had combined, then yes.”
“Can they support this?” Tovey asked.
Dill knew the answer and explained that RLC and RAC were already and very very quietly assisting the Irish Army in preparing for the arrival and expected training tasks. He also went on to describe the state of the Irish Army.
The round was however interrupted when the Captain of Warspite knocked on the door and asked for entrance. CinC Home accepted the message, excused the Captain and then read it silently.
The other two men waited patiently and when Tovey looked up again they knew that it was something big.
“It seems that we might have to rethink our strategy, Gentlemen. The Axies have begun mining Irish waters.”
That got their attention, and Tovey could see that the highest-ranking Soldier of the British Empire was itching to make use of the ship's luckily already installed new and expensive comms equipment.
“How can we know that?” asked the Prime Minister even though he had his suspicions.
“Well, according to the Irish, so far we have seven atlantic-bound freighters sunk, and according to this an Argentine freighter full with iron ore was sunk off Dublin by a mine six hours ago.”
“And we only hear of this now because......” Dill asked.
“Well actually it was originally thought to be sunk by a U-Boat, and it wasn't until one read an eye-whitness report in the Times that it was realized that area was too narrow for that, so it had to be a mine.”
“And the message is saying that?”
“Words to that effect, yes.”
The PM hadn't said anything during that exchange. Inwardly he mused that he would have to quietly make direct contact with De Valera, because if he hadn't lost his touch, then the Emeral Isle was about to boil over, because the Communists were the only ones the Irish hated more than the British.
“Marshal Dill, what can we do to help them right now if it were so desired by them?”
“Western Approaches Command has several minesweepers standing by at my orders. I took the liberty of alerting them yesterday.”
“Good, I should think that the Irish will want them sooner rather than later.” the PM said. “What about the Air Force?”
“We already have Sunderlands in the Western Approaches, without bases in Ireland itself it's difficult to do more. I think that Coastal Command is keen on them, because it would allow us to close the last gaps on the North Atlantic routes to Canada.”
The gaps the Marshal was talking about were not long, and could be avoided if one took a northern route that took them within range of aircraft flying from Iceland and northern Scotland, but bases in Ireland would allow the convoys to take the central Atlantic Route and cut much off their transit time. Britain was depending on the booming electrical and medical industries that had sprung up in Canada before the war, for example 80% of the antibiotics that kept the troops at the front alive came from Canadian sources, and only because the industrial Capacity for production in the UK was hampered by a lack of energy more than anything else – seeing that most was needed for the production of tanks, while in Canada a great many former US companies had set up shop. Johnson & Johnson was producing anti-biotics near Ottawa, Raytheon Canada was producing RDF, Wireless and ASDIC sets that were fitted to half the ships in the Royal Navy. Many of these companies had barley survived, and even more had died or been swallowed by existing ones, but now they proved to be extremely valuable for the war effort. In due time, the PM knew, they would also begin producing an Air-to-Air RDF set that would have Cunningham and his Carriers dance rings around the Japanese.
“So what are we to do now?” Tovey asked.
Churchill tuned out when CIGS began to brief Tovey on upcoming operations and instead put his mind to other matters. The First Sea Lord was due to retire soon, and would need replacing, and Admiral Tovey was wasted on a job like CinC Home which was, to be perfectly honest now the backwater of the RN, a sideshow since the surface fleets of the Axis powers had been destroyed for all intents and purposes. As First Sea Lord he would not have a combat command, but being the senior Officer of the Royal Navy entailed lots of work, since he would not only battle the U-boats but also the Treasury and Parliament, he had to give Cunningham as CinC Naval Forces South-Pacific Command the ships he needed. The forces of history were moving, and Churchill sensed that the next few weeks would have a big influence on how the world developed for years to come. He hoped that the Allied Armies proved up to the task, because if they did not then god help the Allied cause.