This is my first attempt at an AAR. Details as below
End of Empire - A British AAR
Version: Semper Fi v2.03c
Starting date: 1938
Game start date 02/11/10
Style: Narrative through the story of two men
Combat difficulty setting will be altered as follows to reflect growing Allied competence
Combat Penalty on the Allied player (ie me) will be -
Start until 1st January 1941 - 20% penalty
1st Jan 1941 until 1st Jan 1942 - 10% penalty
1st Jan 1942 until 1st Jan 1943 - 5% penalty
1st Jan 1943 onwards - Zero penalty
End of Empire
“Sons and Heirs”
Generations of Bailey’s had lived in the Wiltshire countryside around Devizes. The family name was well known in those parts, particularly in the village of Allington in the Pewsey Vale. Farm workers, labourers, were what they were best known as, and often brawlers, fighters and heavy drinkers. Not that they were much different to other families back then. That was often the way it was back in the twenties and thirties of rural Britain, moreso than the traditional image of smocked, stalk chewing yokels. Drink had always been the curse of the Victorian working classes, and many a soul torn to shreds in the trenches had carried that burden into the post war world hoping to escape their torment.
1. The typical rural workers of the late 1920's
Wiltshire had suffered no less than any other part of Britain during the First World War. Many young men, full of bravado and beer, had shaken off the safety of reserved occupation status in their rush to take the Kings shilling, while others from families with long military histories and a loyalty to the Crown of an area that went back to the English Civil War, also pledged their allegiances once again. And so very many never came home, as the many war memorials on village greens and church entranceways bore testimony. By the time it was all over, a million of the Empires sons would be dead, and many of the 750,000 British dead would be factory or mill workers, railwaymen or farm labourers like the Bailey’s. It had been the “War to end all wars”.
Throughout the 20’s, as people sought to forget, war seemed distant to everyone alike. There were fresh troubles to deal with as the world’s economies began to slip into post war decline. It was no different for the working classes of Britain, as industrial strife, poverty and high infant mortality continued to oppress them, so that a newer understanding of the wider world bought to them by advances in science like radio broadcasting passed largely unnoticed. Growing social unrest and the excesses of the elite also passed with little but casual interest while the focus of most poorer men and women’s lives remained on keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table.
And such was George and Dorothy Bailey’s lot. George was a big, rough man, with hands like shovels and a heart as big as an ox. He was skilled in many crafts of the countryside, he could thatch roofs, steam plough, milk a herd and just as easily take a pheasant or three when the mood or opportunity presented itself. Nevertheless he worked hard, was always out of the house at 6 every morning, frequently working 16 hour days in summertime, as was the lot of most farm workers of the time. He often failed to escape the torment of the trenches, and could sometimes be found drunk and delirious in a homebound ditch, or brawling in or out of pubs around the area. There were plenty like him who would oblige.
2. Even in the 1930,s, mechanisation had still not reached the British countryside
Dorothy, Dot to everyone, was a solid and dependable woman, not immune to outbursts of anger herself, but mainly the stone fixed in the ground around which George could secure an otherwise unlikely foundation. Her kitchen was constantly in a state of preparation to feed, clothe and care for a family of husband, 2 sons and 3 daughters. For despite everything, the family was warm and full of that self effacing English humour that allows you to laugh at yourself, and lack of money in no way meant a lack of love or care.
3. The village post office
Jake was the eldest son, stocky, built like a boxer, handsome as sin and with a roguish charm the ladies would find hard to resist as he grew older. Jake was one of those people life made for trouble to follow around. Like his father, he was prone to bouts of fisticuffs but also possessed of mischievous humour and a winning smile, he often escaped retribution for his sins because everyone liked him. Born in the spring of 1920, his upbringing had been tough. Dot had already lost two children by the time Jake was born, one in child birth and another at barely a year old, and he became her favourite as oldest son’s often do. Little that Jake did, including accidentally almost burning down the Manor farm barn, could shake her doting. His charm furnished only a warning from Albert Ball, the local Bobby, and his exploits once again were the subject of laughter in the Plough Inn public bar.
Much of that sympathy stemmed from the common suffering that everyone had endured, and misdemeanours were often overlooked. Especially in Jakes case, because George Bailey died in 1934, when Jake was barely 14 years old, of disease of the liver and other complaints bought on by his excessive drinking. Still, many saw it as a merciful release for a man tortured by his experiences, like so many of his generation. It left Dot to care alone for Jake, his younger brother Jack, and his sisters Emily, Elizabeth and Rose, a task which despite her loss she set about with dignity and vigour. It nevertheless left Jake and his siblings without a father figure at the time they so badly needed one.
And such was Jakes childhood. In some ways a rural idyll, in others already tainted by the horror of war. He went on to work himself on the farm, to bring in money to help his mother, and to begin the journey on the road to manhood. That was in 1935.
Late in 1934, another young man began his scholarship at Queens College, Oxford. He was Edmund Brough-Wilks, just turned 19 years old that summer, the son of wealthy landowner and gentry, George Brough-Wilks. Edmund was born into the pinnacle of British society, in the lush Oxfordshire countryside, to a family with long established links with its Empire and military. His father had taken a commission with the Blues and Royals and had served as a staff officer during the last war, and it was no secret that he wished young Edmund to take a Kings commission also.
But by the time Edmund was reaching his teens, his diminutive size and timid nature was beginning to make a military career look unlikely. His education at Harrow public school soon confirmed that his sporting aptitude, an indicator of male virility in those days as in these, was clearly not up to par. Edmund was very reserved, a scholarly intellectual, a highly intelligent and thoughtful young man, not one who would be at home making decisions and giving orders on the field of battle. It was obvious a rethink was needed, and his father sought to make sure the necessary strings were pulled to secure Edmund a position in a more suitable environment, the civil service.
Edmund’s aptitude for organisation, his eye for detail, and his ability to collate and present information clearly and concisely was later to place him in an enviable position compared to that many young men of his generation would find themselves in.
15th January 1936
4. Britain's popular view of the Fleet
The impromptu Imperial General Staff meeting of January 1936 was a rather informal affair compared to usual routines, but was perhaps the military’s turning point in Britain’s preparations, or rather lack of them up until that point, for what many felt was the coming war with Germany. It was to be a combined services event, and Sir Archibald Montgomery-Massingbred, the then CIGS, welcomed his guests to the palatial surroundings of Gunby Hall, his own home for the meeting, to be followed by shooting on the estate the following day. Among those present were Sir Roger Backhouse, Archibald Sinclair, Lord John Gort and many others. As the guests mingled in the drawing room prior to the meeting, the familiar sounds of fine bone china and cut glass crystal in which liveried staff served the finest teas and French wines, mixed with the lively chatter of these powerful men.
At last, business was gotten down to, and it fell to Sir Archibald to make the opening address. And he pulled no punches. He began with the political turmoil that had beset the country following the last war, the social upheavals of the 1920’s, the depression of the 1930’s and the decline of Great Britain’s Imperial and industrial prestige in relative terms over the period. He weighed this against her future commitments, both at home and abroad, both internally and externally. All the while he kept his comments professionally within the bounds of his purpose, referring only to the events as they affected Britain’s military in terms of budgets, spending, manpower and technology. But by and by, he eventually came to his conclusion.
Although he did not specifically rule war as being inevitable, he echoed the feeling of most military minds in the room when he stated that, as it stood, Britain would not be capable of fighting anything more than a localised conflict for several years. And even though the 10 year rule had been rescinded in 1932, it now fell to each and every man in the room to impress upon his political superiors the state to which things had sunk.
He began with the Army. It stood at only 6 Regular Divisions, backed by reserves that would mobilise a strength of 29 Divisions, less than a third of that of France. It had next to no armour while other countries were pressing ahead with armoured formations of up to Corps strength. Its artillery was next to obsolete, it had no mobile formations except cavalry, its tactics were outdated and its funding for the coming budgetary year was being cut yet again.
The Royal Air Force was hardly in any better position. Many of its aircraft designs had been obsolete even before they went into production. Its most modern fighter aircraft was a bi-plane that other countries bombers could outpace. Its “strategic bombers” were hopelessly outdated, without the range to hit anything except countries that could only be considered allies. Most seriously of all, it lacked anything like the numbers of pilots, crews and ground staff to sustain anything other than light wastage in a conflict lasting weeks, let alone years.
Of the services, perhaps the Navy was the most well off, but perhaps because it had to be. Britain was an island, and in order to protect itself, and its burgeoning Empire, it had to maintain a strong navy. But this picture of strength, the largest navy in the world, was largely an illusion. To begin with, it had no modern aircraft carriers, and some of those it did have had been conversions from vessels laid down as battlecruisers. In a world where most recognised the coming importance of airpower at sea, this was calamitous.
Its battleships, with the exception of the Nelson class, all dated to the Great War. They lacked modern gunnery systems, any realistic kind of anti-aircraft defence, and above all were hopelessly outclassed in speed by modern warships. The same was true of its battlecruisers, even if HMS Hood was respected the world over.
5. HMS Warspite entering Malta during the late 30's
All of its heavy cruisers and almost all of its light cruisers were of Great War or early 1920’s vintage, and some had been refitted no less than 5 times. All suffered the same fault of having been designed before airpower had been considered a viable threat at sea, and hence had little in the way of practical air defence. They were slow compared to modern German or Italian vessels, required more crew and used more fuel.
The destroyer situation was even worse. This type of vessel was becoming even more supremely important in naval warfare, yet two thirds of British destroyers were obsolete by modern standards. Many had no anti-aircraft defence at all, and considering the threat of Germany’s much talked about submarine building programme, had not advanced in ASW since 1917. There were slow, lacked range, and many were daily out of service due to breakdowns. Added to the fact that Britain’s own submarine force was also small and neglected, it was a pretty grim picture overall.
But Massingbred was a great believer in finishing on a high note. While Britain’s armed forces had been neglected, her Schools, Universities and learning institution’s had not, and she still lead the way in very many technologies. Added to this was the fact that the quality of Britain’s soldiers, sailors and airmen was among the best in the world, and her strategic position that controlled Western Europe was still very strong. All they had to do now was to persuade those who employed them that to harness these things together with greater investment in technology needed to be done now. For if war did come in the next few years as many believed it now would, Britain would be unable to fight it.
There was rapturous applause and much calling of “Here here”, followed by charging of glasses before the guests went on to discuss the minutiae of the day’s events, but the tone of the meeting had been set. There were to be no more heads in the sand.
23rd July 1936
The cabinet had met no less than 3 times already during 1936 to consider the issue of defence spending, but Stanley Baldwin’s government appeared to be wallowing in a quagmire of claims and counter claims as to the relative strengths of the British Armed Forces. As long ago as 1934, a plan to increase the size of the RAF by 40 squadrons over the following 5 years had been approved, but by anybodies standard, nothing appeared to be happening. Straight after the January meeting of the IGS, the Air Minister went on record saying that Britain would be ahead of German aircraft production for the next 3 years. Hardly had the echo of this statement died away when in May, the newspapers were reporting that Britain would need to produce 3800 aircraft within only 2 years, twice the current estimate, in order to keep up with Germany. No wonder everyone was confused, not least the RAF who continually pointed out that all this talk had produced no new aircraft at all yet in 2 years.
It was the same with the Royal Navy. The previous 2 years had been ones of talking and little in the way of action. In fact, the only real achievement was based not on Britain building ships, but in both Britain and Germany not building them, contained in the Anglo-German Naval agreement that had been signed the previous month. Back in February, following the IGS meeting, the Government had approved a report calling for the Royal Navy to be expanded and the Army to be re-equipped, yet no agreement on designs, requirements or timescales had yet been reached, yet alone orders placed. It was all becoming rather messy.
Nevertheless, July’s meeting achieved three important results. First, that naval rearmament must begin first, and quickly. Second, that the RAF should follow, but with emphasis on building fighters and tactical bombers over strategic forces. And third, that the Army would be re-equipped as a mobile force before any expansion would take place. These conclusions were passed on in subsequent legislation, so that by the end of 1936, the following objectives and timescales could be met
1) Strategy and requirements agreed in order that warship orders could be placed
2) Shadow factory system instituted so that facilities to re-equip the Army and to build aircraft would be in place by the beginning of 1938
3) That threats to the UK and Empire were prioritised and forces placed in relation to that threat, even if that meant abandoning attempts to defend parts of the Empire
If 1936 had achieved anything, it was that even if Britain had decided to rearm, she had to prioritise what she would defend. The overwhelming might of Britain’s pre WW1 days had gone. If the Empire was threatened, it was no longer certain that Britain could defend it and herself concurrently. All of this became accepted policy in the Defence White Paper of 1937.
12th March 1937
Even Jakes charm couldn’t get him out of this one. Even Albert Ball admitted as much to Dot. Jake was in the cells in Devizes after a disturbance in the town, during which Jake had hit another man with a wooden pole. It didn’t matter that Jake protested he was attacked, it didn’t really matter what it was about or if a girl had been involved or whatever. The young man’s parents wanted Jake prosecuted and Albert had to follow that through. Dot was beside herself, and it appeared that Jake could easily go to jail. Albert took pity on her this time, and more out of sympathy for Dot he said he would see what he could do.
He went to the local magistrate. He explained the situation. He explained that Jake and his brother and sisters and lost their father, that Dorothy was trying to bring them up alone. He explained there were extenuating circumstances. Could anything be done? The Magistrate, JP Bucknall, was old school, an authoritarian who would have like nothing more than to see the likes of Jake Bailey locked up. But he respected Albert Ball. He mulled it over for a few moments before replying. The young man needed discipline. He needed to learn a trade, see the world, become a man. When he had done that, perhaps he would come back a better citizen. If Jake joined the forces, he would speak to the boy’s parents, see what could be done. It was his last chance to come good.
And so it came to pass. The charges were dropped and Jake was released. Dot hit him with her broom a few times, then burst into tears and hugged him for all her worth. The following month, he passed his medical and entrance test, and on the 25th April 1937, Jake left Pewsey railway station on a train bound for Winchester ATR.
28th April 1937
The first of the Royal Navy’s new generation of warships was laid down that week too. HMS Ark Royal was the first of the navy’s modern carriers, a beautiful ship that was to epitomise the Empire she represented in every way. But even before her hull had been completed, plans to lay down her sister ships were shelved in favour of an even more modern carrier design, the Illustrious class. The Illustrious class was to be faster, with better armour and anti-aircraft protection than Ark Royal, so it was an easy decision to take. HMS Illustrious was to be followed by no less than 3 sisters, HMS Formidable, HMS Victorious and HMS Indomitable.
At last the program of priorities had been decided and a log jam of orders began to be placed by the War Ministry. No less than 5 new modern Battleships of the King George V class, HMS George V, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Duke of York, HMS Anson and HMS Howe. These were all armed with new 14 inch guns with greater range than the previous 15 inch main armament. They were much faster, more powerful, better protected and required less crew than previous designs. They would form the nucleus of the navy’s new battlegroup strategy.
The decision was also taken not to build any further heavy cruisers, but to standardise on the new Southampton class light cruiser, and no less than 8 new ships were to be ordered in 1938, along with 10 new destroyer flotillas, with more of both to follow. The aim was now to achieve a target of 50% of destroyers and light cruisers to be of modern design by no later than 1941, including wastage. It was ambitious, and with current industrial resources, not possible. But things would change, and the Admiralty knew that.
All these designs and orders had been made with policy in mind. The only problem was that this policy was not yet known below those in senior staff positions, yet alone made public. But as the months wore on, it would become increasingly difficult not to address the issue of strategy in realistic terms. The next cabinet defence committee meeting in November was scheduled to address that thorn.
6. Shipyard workers at Jarrow on Tyneside
3rd September 1937
Edmund Brough-Wilkes graduated that autumn. By way of celebration, he went to Paris, drank lots of wine and cognac, got laid, and had a good time. Many Frenchmen he met understandably didn’t want to talk about war, until they realised he was going to work for the British Foreign office. Then came a barrage of questions. What did he think would happen? Would Germany go east, or would the war resume where it had left off in 1918? Would Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with France again? And many others.
7. Paris in the early 30's. War was a million miles away.
Edmund didn’t really know the answers to any of these questions, least of all when he was drunk. His French was good and he nodded a lot, agreed when he thought he should do, and shook his head sympathetically when it seemed appropriate. To him, war seemed unlikely. How could war, of which he knew nothing, happen in a country as beautiful as this? Nevertheless, it was clear that many of the Frenchmen he met were worried. There was a surrealism about France it was hard not to notice. A country widely regarded to have the finest army in Europe, riven by internal conflict, governed by the principles of messy compromise, and where everything seemed either to be out of order or closed on the flimsiest of pretexts. Though he knew little of war, it was hard to imagine that this country had fought a grinding and bloody contest that had cost over a million of her young men’s lives barely two decades ago. His overwhelming impression of the French was of a country that was too busy fighting among themselves to notice the threat of any looming war. When he was sober, the thought depressed him.
8. French troops training pre-war. Many of their weapons were obsolete in this period.
He returned home at the end of October, to find that his father had arranged a flat for him in Shepherds Bush, west London. He was due to take up his position at the Foreign office in a week’s time, so he busied himself buying furniture and moving belongings into his new flat, exploring his new locality, preferring not to eat in fine clubs and restaurants, as was his pedigree, but in local cafe’s and hostelries. He soon began to feel at home among the down to earth people of the suburb, and soon he had found a bar where his polished tone made him something of a celebrity. He couldn’t help but notice the difference between the English and the French whenever the prospect of war came up as a topic of conversation. These working class English seemed to accept that war was coming, indeed were almost eager for it. He wondered if they would feel the same if it were their homes being shelled by artillery or bombed by aircraft.
The following week, he began work, at first in Whitehall, but by the end of the week he had been moved to an office by the river Thames at Pimlico. To start with it was boring. Endless reports, sifting through information, collating it, preparing figures for ministers and legations, embassies overseas and anyone else in the service that needed it. The previous summer, Spain had descended into Civil War, and he found himself engaged on tasks related to Spain, Britain’s relations with her, and in collecting information for various people which he soon realised were senior ministers in Neville Chamberlains new government. It wasn’t long before people were starting to specifically request he be engaged on their task. Edmund was quickly becoming very sought after.
25th November 1937
The cabinet defence committee’s objective that November was to prioritise threats. In Spain civil war still raged, while across the other side of the world, Japan and China were locked in conflict. Closer to home, it appeared that German expansionism was undiminished, while Italy still clearly had ambitions in the Mediterranean and Africa.
It was unanimously agreed that Germany currently presented the greatest threat to Great Britain. While still not letting the cat completely out of the bag, Herr Hitler had shown enough of his hand to persuade Britain to begin rearming, whilst remaining hopeful that war could be avoided. Therefore, until such times as Germany showed clear signs of peaceful intent, the main focus of rearmament would be on Northern Europe.
The second greatest threat was ruled to be Italy’s intentions in the Mediterranean. If she were to be allowed room for manoeuvre, it was quite possible that the Suez Canal might fall under Italian control, along with Gibraltar, effectively sealing off the Med and strangling Britain’s worldwide trade. Her proximity to and her alliance with Germany only magnified her threat status.
Japan was currently held to be the least threat, locked in a huge war with China as she was, and it was felt that she lacked the resources to threaten British interests significantly while she was so engaged. Nevertheless, it was clear that British colonial interests in the Far East, such as Hong Kong and Singapore would be extremely vulnerable should conditions change such that Japan was able to move south. It was here that the toughest decision had to be taken. Britain could not hope to fight a war against all three Axis powers simultaneously, a scenario which could easily arise. A token ground force was cheap enough to maintain, but Britain could not afford to keep a naval presence in south east Asia when every ship the navy possessed would be needed to combat the combined might of the German and Italian fleets. After much disagreement, it was finally decided that the fleet would be withdrawn east of Ceylon during 1938. It was a tough decision, but one of those that had to be taken. The small force Britain could maintain was likely to be destroyed piecemeal if hostilities did break out anyway. Therefore from September 1938, the navy would withdraw to the Ceylon line. The salient points the meeting agreed were as follows –
1) Germany was to be considered the prime enemy.
2) In the event of hostilities, France would be supported with an Expeditionary Force (under British control)
3) The agreed size limit of the Army set early in the 30’s (nominally 32 Divisions with reserves, but only 29 in reality) was to be rescinded. The 60 Division Army was now the desired target in the medium term, but a decision on this would not be taken until the following year because motorisation of ALL the Army’s Infantry was currently underway, and it was as yet impossible to calculate the industrial requirement to motorise 60 Divisions. In the meantime, the Army were invited to place submissions for their requirements.
4) Until Italy’s intentions became clear, a strategy of containment would be followed in the Mediterranean
5) The Navy was to be withdrawn from the Far East during 1938 to reinforce the European theatre.
6) Hong Kong and Singapore would only be held as bastions, but no reinforcements would be sent in the short term.
7) On land, Burma would be the stopline, but only minimum forces could only be spared in the short term.
In essence, the bones of a defensive opening to any conflict had been agreed, while at same time making the preparations to put in place the industrial requirements that would be needed to take the war to the enemy. British policy, at least, was now set.
9. British reserve troops in training
6th January 1938
Jake Bailey had completed his basic training by the end of the previous summer. He was posted to 1st Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, (KRRC), then part of 10th Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. At least he was going to a Regular division, something he would be thankful for later.
The division spent the summer and autumn in Kent, training on Romney Marsh, forced marches in full kit, digging in then filling in the holes again immediately they had completed them, running, milling (boxing) and weapon handling skills. The emphasis was on fitness, fieldcraft and preparation. Jake had never felt so exhausted. But he was learning to work with his mates in his section, to rely on them as they relied on him. He learnt that he had to do his share. There was no shirking and no wasting. They all had to keep each other alive, because when the crap hit the fan, each other was all they would have. He was becoming a man.
At Christmas he got leave and went home. Dot was so happy to see him she was crying her eyes out again. He laughed that he couldn’t do anything right, she cried when he went, she cried when he came back. But the community welcomed him with open arms too. In the Plough he was treated as a hero and never bought a drink all night. It was like a whole new world for him.
In January when he went back, he learned they were going to Scotland on exercise.For the first time in his life he felt he belonged.
16th March 1938
Events began to speed up as winter drew to a close. Intelligence learned that Hitler had abolished the German War Ministry and created the OKH, while at the same time removing the last officers who might have presented any opposition. In March, German troops marched into Austria and the country was annexed on the 13th.
The French then gave assurances to the Czechs that they would honour their treaty obligations, but all this was swiftly undone the following month when Daladier became French Prime Minister, immediately bringing appeasement back to the negotiating table. The British Government appeared to be making similar noises. Poland meanwhile, continued its enmity with Lithuania, the Spanish Civil War raged on, and Japan and China were still locked in bloody conflict.
Edmund Brough-Wilkes watched all this happen, both in the newspapers and in the correspondence and requests for information across his desk. It felt like he was living in a bubble, insulated from life outside work, for having signed the Official Secrets Act he was forbidden to talk about anything he did and he took it deadly seriously. But he heard people talking about these events and the silly things they said and it all seemed so unreal. For the first time, he realised that war was slowly, but very surely creeping up on them all.
10. Chamberlain on his return from Munich
30th September 1938
Peace in our time
As Chamberlains words faded away from the airwaves, Britain and the rest of Europe settled back to the reality of what their politicians had achieved. The Sudetenland is occupied the following day. Those who know the truth of what has happened to the Czechs are secretly shocked. Among them is Edmund. The “Munich Agreement” is now history, and many realise that a line has been crossed, and that far from being “peace in our time”, war is now virtually certain.
11. German troops enter Czechoslovakia
Among them is Winston Churchill, who broadcasts an address to the United States condemning the agreement, saying exactly what many already think, that they, as well as we, should prepare for war.