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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Le Jones

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Chapter 26, Chequers, 20 June 1936

1593465460479.png


It was a Saturday, Baldwin realised with a start; in truth, excepting Sunday (Church, of course) every day of his retreat had been much like the last. Lucy, who had kept up her philanthropic pursuits with a circumspection and discretion that had contributed, rather than detracted, from her husband’s relaxation, had already risen and was no doubt reading, or advising the gardener. Some of the children were due to arrive that evening for a relaxing family Sunday with the family. Baldwin panted hard as he rose from his bed, took a moment to recover, and then, putting on his dressing gown, checked the time; it was almost eight o’clock, practically a ‘lie-in’ for a Prime Minister used to six am starts. Walking over to gaze over the tranquil English countryside, he noticed, with a glance, that his red box awaited his attention.

He sighed and, ringing the service bell, opened the box and pulled out the papers with trepidation. Hankey had been as good as his word, reducing the volume of papers sent to the Prime Minister by well over a half, curtailing (with the help of Chamberlain) most of the Party correspondence and (with the help of Eden) removing virtually all Foreign Office briefings. What remained was, for the first time in a long time, both interesting and in sufficiently controlled quantity that Baldwin could study it at leisure. And what he read was increasingly alarming.

“Prime Minister,” one of the housekeepers entered, with a tray of tea and toast. “There are kippers, Sir.”

Baldwin smiled. “Yes, lets. Where is…”

“…in the garden.”

Baldwin nodded in acknowledgment as the housekeeper retreated. Sipping on a piping hot, very rich tea, he took his phosphorus tablets and read the latest on the developments in the Simpson crisis. Except, to Baldwin’s increasing dismay, there weren’t any.

He crunched on some blackened, sooty toast (he had always liked his tea quite strong and bitter, and his toast crudely smoky) and read, in growing shock, at the inaction of his colleagues. Perhaps it was his fault, he wondered. Perhaps it was the lack of him writing a detailed set of instructions (but, he wondered, what guidance should Cabinet members need?), perhaps it was the distance that he had indifferently allowed to grow between the Cabinet members. Perhaps it was the splitting of responsibilities between two politicians who could not be less alike and could not dislike one another more intensely. Baldwin knew that he had erred, but was furious that the Cabinet, so active in supporting a negotiation of the Turkish Straits, so keen to faff over tweaking at the economics, had singularly, palpably, failed to do anything about a constitutional crisis that was being tacitly permitted to fester quietly in a corner.

He closed his slowly recovering eyes as he weighed up what to do. To hurry back would be to invite panic and to question the competence of both or either of Eden or Chamberlain (Baldwin suspected the latter; absence had not made the heart grow fonder). But he realised, with a sinking heart, that his rush to leave had been inefficient and panicked. But what to do? His first instinct was to send a note to Hankey, or to the Cabinet; in truth he had diminishing faith in the Cabinet Secretary or the MPs that he supported in their ability to follow a note. No, he realised, he needed to explain the note in a face to face meeting. He rang the service bell again.

Another member of the staff, another matronly type, quietly entered.

“Could you please get the duty typist to put a call through to Downing Street. I’d like Lord Hankey to attend at his earliest convenience.”

“On a Saturday?” The lady’s stern expression and shocked response to Baldwin’s suggestion made it difficult to not smile.

“Where is my wife?” He decided to seek refuge in a question.

“She’s holding a gardening lesson in the grounds,” the old dragon snapped.

Not for the first time, Baldwin wondered if the frostiness of the Chequers staff was the British version of the slave that used to ride beside Roman Generals. “Respice post te! Hominem te memento,” he quipped.

“Ay, I’ll bet,” the housekeeper said as she retreated.

Having used his Tertullian to good effect, he dressed, scribbled some notes for Hankey, and went for a stroll.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“June is absolutely,” Lucy Baldwin said grandly, “the best time to plant sweet potatoes, mint, marjoram, basil, chives, oregano, and dill. The quality of the soil and regular watering are of course, key.”

“And a little fairy dust!” Baldwin joked, sneaking up behind his wife.

1593465654735.png


“How are you? You slept like the dead.”

“I’m grateful for you leaving me to wake up in my own time. What time are the children descending?”

She frowned. “Just before dinner, I believe. Diana said six.”

“A ha,” he said, preparing to deliver the bad news. “I fear that we may have a guest for lunch.”

“Neville? Or Eden?”

Baldwin was intrigued that Chamberlain received the familiarity of a first name, while Eden most clearly did not. But he didn’t have time to discuss this. “Hankey,” he said simply.

“It is time to rejoin Whitehall?”

“It is time,” he corrected, “to give some direction.” He looked at the motley collection of servants and villagers who were listening to Lucy’s gardening tutorial. “Could you all excuse, things to discuss y’see.”

They walked through the grounds, acknowledging a gardener and waving to the butcher as he made a delivery to the kitchen.

“Beef?”

Lucy Baldwin shook her head. “I ordered Spring lamb.”

He looked impressed, before he remembered what it was that he had to discuss. “D’you think I’m better,” he asked with real interest in his wife’s opinion.

She looked, as in appraisal, at her husband. “Yes, I do,” she said quietly. “You have unwound in a way that few of us still thought possible. The question, dear one, is this,” she said in a commanding tone. “Do you want to return to Westminster, to take up the reins again, or has this retreat cured you of the sense of duty.”

“Not personal ambition?”

“I know you,” she said softy, “better than that.”

“It’s him,” Baldwin said bitterly.

“His Majesty?”

“Aye,” Baldwin said sadly. “I’m wrapped up in this,” he added, not choosing to add that this was of his making. “We’ll go back,” he said with finality, not inviting further discussion. “But not yet.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

For a man dragged from his own weekend retreat, given seconds to dress and indecorously bundled into a car, Hankey seemed remarkably composed. His reunion with Baldwin was much more heartfelt than either man seemed to be anticipating.

“Prime Minister,” the Cabinet Secretary began, with real warmth in his voice. “It is very good to see you again.”

“Maurice, take a seat,” they were sat in one of the smaller gardens, one that was brilliantly lit by the late morning light. “Cook has rustled up some sandwiches if you’d like some lunch.”

Hankey was surprised; while Baldwin lacked the meanness of Chamberlain, the tightness of Halifax or the nervy indifference of Eden, he was nevertheless haphazard in generosity. Hankey nodded and, as a grim reminder of why he was there, placed two red boxes on the table.

“I hope that’s for show,” Baldwin said gruffly.

Hankey smiled, “some of it,” he admitted, pausing as a tray of sandwiches, together with a tumbler of some type of cordial was placed next to the red boxes.

“Well then. Red boxes, sandwiches and elderflower cordial. I think that we’re ready.” He jerked a fat thumb at Hankey. “You want to know why you’re here.”

“I am curious, Prime Minister.”

“Maurice, I am going to return to Whitehall in a month, give or take a few days. It is clear from your papers that the Cabinet has done nothing to deal with the King’s matter. Is that fair?”

Hankey paused, thinking carefully. “Yes, Prime Minister, it is fair. The only real progress is by the Royals themselves. Halifax is meeting with the Duke of York next week, and the Queen has invited His Majesty to dinner in a few weeks’ time.”

“No clarification on the marriage?”

“Fisher and Chamberlain sent a rather tone-deaf letter to the Palace asking for a meeting; the King played his delaying tactic, with a hint that as the Prime Minister had not resigned, it was the Prime Minister who should be calling.”

Baldwin sighed, and, pointing his face in the direction of the sun, closed his eyes for a few moments. “Trooping the Colour,” he said, “I’ll come back for that, and we can have a call in the margins. Has the King done anything on the Simpson front?”

Hankey grimaced and shook his head. “It has all slowed down. Having declared to you and some advisors that he wants her on the throne, it’s seemingly frozen.”

“Care to speculate?”

Hankey frowned. “I suspect that the King wishes to understand the how of arranging a divorce and then a marriage,” he said carefully. “I wonder if he’s taking advice on the machinery of this.”

Baldwin nodded. “Alright, then. So we allow him a few weeks. My health is better, but I’m not sure that I could the pounding of a summer of endless flitting between Parliament and Palace.” He shook his head. “If he renounces her…”

Hankey, normally so diplomatic, looked, fleetingly, angry. “Sir, this has dragged on for weeks and…”

“…I’m not Neville, Maurice,” Baldwin said tiredly. “I’m keen to not see the King publicly embarrassed by losing the love of his life, or his crown. These attacks in Truth on ‘holders of loose morals,’ they’re from Neville aren’t they?”

“Well, more precisely…”

“…his trained attack dog. That stops. Now.” He handed Hankey a letter. “Orders to Neville and Lang to stop the campaigning on public decency.”

“Can we order His Grace?”

Baldwin shot a knowing look. “I intend to bloody well try. They’re good letters, Maurice, the recipients should take heed of them.”

“I’m sure that they…”

“…I’ve also told Neville not to call on His Majesty, I will do it upon my return. Neville has taken too much on, and has delivered nothing. Neither, on that score, has Anthony,” he handed Hankey a third letter. “Anthony can be let off the leash. Let him go to France, let him negotiate away. Perhaps some good foreign news could serve as a distraction.”

Hankey scribbled some notes and, tidying up the papers, had a question of his own. “Prime Minister, you remember that you approved a meeting of some key chaps to, er, cohere our…”

“…oh, you mean the spy thing.”

“In a way, Prime Minister, in a way.” Hankey had forgotten about the sandwiches and so quickly took a chunk out of a pork and mustard sandwich. “Given that we are seeing increased foreign interest in His Majesty, do I have your permission to, shall we say, give it more clout?”

Baldwin thought, as he nibbled on a sandwich of his own, and then nodded. “Yes please, Maurice. The intelligence apparatus might be important. If our own side,” he pointed at the tatty copy of Truth, “isn’t helping us, then God knows what our rivals are doing.”

There was a slightly awkward silence, as both men swiftly finished their lunch. Finally Hankey broke the silence.

“Prime Minister, while I am here I may as well get other business done,” he nodded towards the red boxes, “it will save you from having to read about it.”

Baldwin nodded, “good idea, Maurice.”

Hankey pulled out some more papers. “Let’s see,” he frowned, “nearly all military. The Navy has pushed its plan for the Mediterranean basing to Inskip, and the RAF is reorganising its commands.”

Baldwin grimaced, he was not the master of military detail. “Go steady, Maurice,” he said wearily.

“It’s relevant, Prime Minister,” Hankey persisted. “The Navy is pressing for Cyprus again. The Admiralty estimates that the construction of a base at Famagusta has outstanding advantages. First, Cyprus is British territory and therefore we have a free hand to develop its military installations. Second, its geographical position renders the island suitable for use, provided that Turkey is not hostile. Cyprus’ position rules the possibility of any threat from a land advance such as the Italians might develop against Alexandria. Moreover, we believe that Cyprus offers advantages in the way of accommodation and climate, which do not appear to exist elsewhere.”

“Accommodation?”

“A good example, Prime Minister,” Hankey explained, “is that there is a considerable area in which aerodromes could be constructed. Aircraft bases on the island could counterattack any Italian forces in the Dodecanese, while at the same time being within easy flying range of Egypt if required to concentrate in that area.”

“But,” Baldwin said softly, but insightfully.

“The Army believes that there are disadvantages. Firstly, a naval base in Cyprus entails further military engagement for the protection of the site.” Seeing Baldwin look confused, he elaborated. “The need to provide a garrison would strain our military capabilities. “The Air Force points out that Cyprus is only seventy miles from the coast of East Asia. If Turkey ever became hostile, it would render the base in Cyprus vulnerable to air attack, just like we saw that Malta was during the Ethiopian Crisis.”

“It would also,” Baldwin added, in conjecture, “permanently affect political relations between Britain and Turkey. I cannot imagine that young Anthony would like it! What about the money?”

“Alexandria is cheaper,” Hankey allowed, “three million pounds.”

“And Cyprus?”

“It depends,” Hankey began. “Scheme A, our most ambitious scheme, designed to provide the fleet with full operational as well as docking and repair facilities. This scheme would cost approximately twenty five million pounds and would involve an annual maintenance cost of eight hundred thousand pounds. The two other schemes are much cheaper. Scheme B would cost fifteen million pounds with an annual cost of seven hundred thousand pounds. Scheme C is even cheaper, costs four million pounds and with a similar annual cost. Both of the cheaper schemes embrace modified maintenance and repair facilities in Cyprus, with Alexandria envisaged as the operational base for the fleet.”

“Alright, I want Anthony in on this, I agree with it going to Cabinet. When I return it can go on the agenda. What’s next?”

“The RAF Commands, Prime Minister. A note endorsed by the Air Ministry from Air Marshal Courtney. He explains that we will have four Commands. Now, we looked at organising them along regional lines, in a similar fashion to ADGB and its areas, but initially, at this level, they will be functionally arranged.”

Baldwin raised a hand. “AD whatever it was?”

“Air Defence of Great Britain,” Hankey responded immediately. “Of the new ones the obvious ones are Bomber and Fighter Commands. Bomber Command will control, as its name suggests, the Bomber forces, while Fighter Command controls the Fighters, as well as the Army cooperation forces, and the Royal Observer Corps.” Baldwin looked far from convinced. “They are the main frontline forces. We then have Coastal Command, based in the Solent near our Naval seniors, controlling the flying boats, coastal reconnaissance and patrol aircraft. Finally, from the wreckage of the old Inland Area, we have Training Command, running the training units and Reserves.”

“Sounds sensible,” Baldwin grudgingly admitted, “what’s next.”

“Frankly, Sir, we need to work out how we fight the Commands. We’ve put two of the stars, Dowding and Steel, in Fighter and Bomber Commands. The next element, and one for COS and probably Cabinet endorsement, is the replacement of Scheme ‘C’ with Scheme ‘F’. The Abyssinian imbroglio revealed some telling deficiencies. Scheme F sees us increasing our strength to one hundred and twenty four squadrons, around seventeen hundred aircraft.”

“Can the factories provide for that,” Baldwin, understanding ‘the ask’, asked insightfully.

“No, not with existing plant, and that’s why we need the imprimatur of the Cabinet and COS Committee. Inskip proposes to bring into operation plants in Birmingham and Coventry.”

Baldwin nodded. “Tell Neville to get on with it,” he huffed. “But thank you, Maurice, for the update.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

GAME EFFECTS

This is, really, a continuation of the 5 June Admiralty and the ‘Baldwin goes on holiday’ updates. The choice of retreat is Chequers, and here the official country residence makes its first appearance. I’ve based the surly staff members on those at my Inn of Court, who are wonderfully helpful, even if they give the appearance of hating the members.

For those convinced that I am too ‘seized’ by the Med basing argument, I have actually truncated a huuuuuuge argument in the Admiralty and varying committees to get this into something approaching readable. The words used by Hankey are from the varying reports and briefings of the time and I think that the argument is an interesting one; none of the proposed options was perfect and I ultimately agree with the Committee that the cost of a “bells and whistles” facility at Famagusta would be prohibitive; I am not sure I agree with the Army that the garrisoning requirement would be too great, as Cyprus would always need a garrison regardless of the Naval ‘footprint’.

I have also deliberately not specified the Committee forwarding this material to Baldwin; it is probably closest, in scope and attention, to the Joint Planning Committee (who did have the Cyprus / Alexandria / Haifa decision from the services chiefs). The Joint Planning Committee was appointed by the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1927 and supported the Chiefs of Staff Committee (the oft mentioned COS), in theory allowing the Chiefs of Staff to exercise properly their joint responsibility for advising on defence policy as a whole. The members of the Joint Planning Committee were the directors of plans of the three services, reinforced by officers drawn from the Navy, Army and Air Force. The minutes and memoranda were circulated to members of the Committee, to members of the COS, to the Prime Minister, and to other ministers and officials as required. I have, as I wanted to mention the RAF ‘Commands’ system, probably drifted slightly into the Defence Requirements Committee (DRC) work from late 1935; thankfully they wouldn’t necessarily be separated in the PM’s red box!

The Commands were, in my view, one of the many ways in which the RAF just ‘got it right’ in 1936, and we will look at these (Fighter Command in particular) as their story develops through to what’s-coming-over-the-horizon. The varying RAF schemes were a mixed bag; Scheme F was actually approved slightly earlier than portrayed but again I wanted to show some of the Whitehall machinery trying to get s**t done. It was one of the few that delivered/got close to delivering its target, largely because of the use of shadow resources to surge production.

And so with military matters reflected upon, we still have Baldwin, wearily plotting his return. The latin is of course the famous ‘Look behind you. Remember you are a man’; I love it that even this is not agreed (I have gone for my A Level in Classics version, but others are evidently available). What, I hope, has come across is that a couple of weeks away from Whitehall have done wonders for the PM’s health; that this sadly at the expense of clear governance ‘back at the ranch’ is not a surprise given our other updates. Nothing has been done about the King, and we’re approaching the storm…

@DensleyBlair: Everything is, as you say, up for grabs, as this departs further from reality.

@Specialist290: You’d have hated Hoare – he was old money oddly posing as new, and was another member of the anti-American Tories.

@TheButterflyComposer: The Army was weirdly gripped by the RN basing debate, and its senior echelons (Newall and Dill in particular) paid it a great deal of attention. You’re right though – for the RN to sod off in the midst of tense negotiations with the Egyptians would be an interesting decision.

@stnylan: He was quick – and that’s about as positive I can be.

@Cromwell: That’s an interesting point about Spain, and perhaps I am unconsciously sliding it in. Spain plays an important role later on, and I’ve tried to avoid the clichés…

@Bullfilter: Hopefully the other commentators (and this update) have helped on the basing issue, but it occupied an extraordinary amount of Government time in ’36. Astonishing really.

@TheButterflyComposer: :)

@Captured Joe: I actually think that he’d better in something dull and domestic (Treasury, Health) where his sharp mind would be outweigh his slipperiness of character (I also keep having mad ideas of making him DG of MI5 or MI6).

@El Pip: It is fascinating, and it does I think offer a sense of an Admiralty (almost) using the last war to fight the next. The naval base plans were chaotically scheduled, incoherently assessed and kicked out of the long grass (as with much of 30s defence planning).

@BBBD316: Welcome Sir, and thank you for your very kind words. All are welcome here in our mythical 1930s Whitehall club, just pull up a chair, throw away the outdated copies of the newspapers, have a tea (or something stronger) and wait for the chaos to erupt.

@El Pip: Fascinating stuff – the Duff-Cooper bits are the most interesting as he played both sides and all throughout the crisis. He was one of the leading Royalists in the Government.
 
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stnylan

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He may have recuperated, but even in his briefing with Hankey I think I detect a couple of signs he is not as well as he thinks he might be. Still, it looks as though he is not a man built for leisure.

I suspect the staff at Chequers have long become inured to the great and good, even as early as the mid-30s. I don't doubt these powerful men (and later women) seem a lot less impressive when you have to pick their dirty laundry up off the floor, and realise one doesn't eat their peas whilst another has an inordinate fondness for cabbage, and so and and so forth.
 
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Some of the children were due to arrive that evening for a relaxing family Sunday with the family.
Due for a relaxing lie in front of the warm warming glow of a warm fire too, no doubt.

Baldwin panted hard as he rose from his bed
Woof.

curtailing (with the help of Chamberlain) most of the Party correspondence
Chamberlain has been given home affairs and the party to manage.

and (with the help of Eden) removing virtually all Foreign Office briefings.
And yet Eden manages the empire and the outer world. Oh this is such a great idea...

Perhaps it was his fault, he wondered.
Maybe? Maybe?

(but, he wondered, what guidance should Cabinet members need?)
…astonishing.

Perhaps it was the splitting of responsibilities between two politicians who could not be less alike and could not dislike one another more intensely. Baldwin knew that he had erred,
Oh really? I do think the man has gone quite potty if he thinks he merely erred in leaving the country alone at the top at this time.

Ay, I’ll bet,” "Oh, fuck off," the housekeeper said as she retreated.
You keep misspelling the phrase and yet use it so often... :)

You’re right though – for the RN to sod off in the midst of tense negotiations with the Egyptians would be an interesting decision.
Incredibly public, incredibly embarrassing for the army and FO, and probably would lead to some very worried telegrams from the Dominions (and later from South Africa) on what the hell was going on. Still, there wouldn't be much in the way of alternatives if they were going to move everything to prepare for a new war, they have to start shifting stuff now. And it would become fairly clear to the Egyptians and the foreign agents that the RN had suddenly and mysteriously zoned out of the until then incredibly important negotiations, and now it was army reps doing all the talking, whilst swearing violently whenever the admiralty lot showed up.
 

Specialist290

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Well, at least Baldwin has had a restful vacation, which has undoubtedly served to put his mind somewhat at ease. Still, I have this feeling that right now we're in the relative calm before the storm, and that whatever he comes back to when he does return from Whitehall is going to make the events of the prior months look like a picnic.
 
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Cromwell

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I'm getting an impression of a rested rejuvenated PM in a good position to return to the fray.

The first cabinet meeting should result in some fireworks. Time to whip those ministers into shape.
 

Kurt_Steiner

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Cyprus could be an unsinkable aircraft carrier.
 

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Cyprus could be an unsinkable aircraft carrier.
I think so. For all the worry about Turkey, their airforce isn't that good to perform several bombing runs on a well-defended naval base. They'd have to join the Axis and then play host to a portion of the German or Italian airforce to do some damage.

And since we know from hindsight that the Italian airforce was terrible and the germans were good but couldn't replace the planes or pilots, spreading the axis airforce out even further than OTL would actually be a good thing.
 
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El Pip

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It is interesting that Baldwin has such little faith in either Nev or Eden to handle the Abdication that he feels he has to return to see it through. Admittedly he's probably right, but you do wonder if a rejuvenated Baldwin perhaps feels tempted to look beyond those two for his successor? After all if they can't handle this, what else will they not be able to handle?

On the Command Decision, think you are being a bit too generous. Fighter Command was a bit of a dumping ground squadron wise and comes across as very much 3rd on the list after Bomber (obvs) and Training (because it trained bomber crews). Coastal is last because the Air Staff didn't even think about them enough to hate them. The light bomber squadrons ending up with Fighter Command probably doomed any hope of a proper CAS/Tactical airpower doctrine developing inter-war, as Fighter Command was no more fussed about the subject than Bomber Command was.

That said, given how late the decision was about a proper Expeditionary Force, it probably didn't matter. The existing army co-operation squadrons could do aerial policing and Imperial duties and there was, from the very top, no need for the armed forces to consider sending a large force to Europe.
 

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Baldwin grimaced, he was not the master of military detail.
A man after my own heart.

Somehow managed to neglect this update having had it open pretty much since it went up! No bother, all caught up now. Baldwin certainly seems like he's enjoying himself, but I do worry that he's more convinced that he's well again rather than actually experiencing the real thing. It's mildly astonishing just how little seems to have been done in his absence, and I dare say it wouldn't be the world's biggest surprise if he were to skip Nev & Tony and wheel out someone else as a successor. Though one does have to ask who that might be. Unless this is all an elaborate ruse to give us The King's First Minister, Pt . II and we end up with Halifax blithering his way around the abdication. (I've been reading some of KFM this week, incidentally.)

In any case, the crisis looms ever larger. How long before the proverbial hits the fan?
 

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Another elegant and interesting chapter, as always. I do hope your own in-game military planning and decision making is not as tortured as what you're paraphrasing from OTL! :D
a couple of weeks away from Whitehall have done wonders for the PM’s health; that this sadly at the expense of clear governance ‘back at the ranch’ is not a surprise given our other updates.
He will regress just as quickly as he improved while away, alas. Let's hope he can last long enough to get something useful done before he goes toes-up after having his heart and credulity severely strained back at Whitehall!
Cyprus could be an unsinkable aircraft carrier.
Unsinkable perhaps, but badly out of fuel and supply if Gibraltar and the Suez fall, with no escape route. I have my doubts about it as a truly viable option. If some think Alexandria is no good because it can be threatened by land, then Cyprus is moot: not much use if the Suez falls. By which time it is just as in range of enemy aircraft based in Egypt as it is friendly ones now. I reckon it's Egypt or just bug out of the Eastern med entirely.
 
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El Pip

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Unsinkable perhaps, but badly out of fuel and supply if Gibraltar and the Suez fall, with no escape route. I have my doubts about it as a truly viable option. If some think Alexandria is no good because it can be threatened by land, then Cyprus is moot: not much use if the Suez falls. By which time it is just as in range of enemy aircraft based in Egypt as it is friendly ones now. I reckon it's Egypt to just bug out of the Eastern med entirely.
The vulnerability of the Suez pinchpoint was known and had been allowed for. There is the Krikuk-Haifa pipeline to bring in oil from the Iraqi fields (and even further afield if required) and a large refinery is under construction in Haifa. There's also a (mostly) coherent railway network from the Red Sea to the Eastern Med, so you can get supply in from the Eaast.

Of course if Britain has lost control of Gibraltar, Suez and the Red Sea then you will struggle to supply Cyprus. But at that point Britain probably has larger problems!

Not to say I think Cyprus is a good idea for a base, I don't think it is, but it's certainly viable.
 

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The chief problem with a Mediterranean base is that, simply, there is no good place to put it if you assume that Italy, France, Spain and/or Turkey might be actively hostile. The problem is only going to get worse as aircraft range, speed and payload improve, but the essence isn't going to change: the Med isn't wide enough for security from land-based air attack.

So despite all the discussion, I think the options are pretty simple: to spend a fortune on a poorly-situated base on Cyprus, which will require airfields and a substantial garrison and essentially do no more than duplicate Alexandria, or to develop Alexandria and Gibraltar, of which the former has a large and relatively non-hostile workforce, a defensible border and ample room for air and army basing.

The 'King George V' class get, I think, a lot of unjustified criticism based on 'Prince of Wales'. Her turret issues were mainly caused by the ship being unready for active service, and her crippling torpedo hit off Singapore was frankly no more damaging than similar torpedo strikes on German, Italian, Japanese and American capital ships.

And as for the main caliber... as has been said, it was 'good enough' and that is really all that mattered. I don;t care for the quad turrets, and I'd have been happier with a 15" main gun, but - really - compared to Axis battleships, the 'KGV's were good ships for the tonnage despite being excessively wet (IE turning A turret into a swimming pool).

I'm really enjoying this and look forward to you writing more. Quickly.


I do have a question to put to readers from Britain. Were the deep austerity measures of the day necessary or could other policies have succeeded? I do understand that the world was in the grip of a massive Depression, and I do know that Hooverian policies in America were not helping. But - as an example - could the Empire have enlarged its deficit and invested in infrastructure and productivity? Or would some modest re-armament been do-able at an earlier date, minimizing some of the collapse of the armaments and shipbuilding industries? The austerity doesn't seem to have helped with either economic recovery or deficit reduction and it certainly meant that the armed forces were inadequate when they were needed.
 
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DensleyBlair

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I do have a question to put to readers from Britain. Were the deep austerity measures of the day necessary or could other policies have succeeded? I do understand that the world was in the grip of a massive Depression, and I do know that Hooverian policies in America were not helping. But - as an example - could the Empire have enlarged its deficit and invested in infrastructure and productivity? Or would some modest re-armament been do-able at an earlier date, minimizing some of the collapse of the armaments and shipbuilding industries? The austerity doesn't seem to have helped with either economic recovery or deficit reduction and it certainly meant that the armed forces were inadequate when they were needed.
I suppose the honest answer is that it will depend on who you ask. Austerity is after all a political choice, and I can see no reason why it should have to be taken as historically imperative that the choice be taken every time. That said, on a pragmatic level, the establishment at the time simply had no appetite for spending. Even the Labour Party at this point (or at least, that benighted faction who threw their lot in with the National Government) were in the grip of more or less Gladstonian economics. (Previous Labour chancellor Philip Snowden essentially regarded the deficit as a moral failure, so that gives you some indication of the parameters of the debate.)

There was probably also a sense that a lot of fairly important people simply hoped that rearmament wouldn't be necessary, though this is more of a hunch I have than an actual analysis of the historical record. The peace party was influential on both sides right up until the end of the decade.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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The chief problem with a Mediterranean base is that, simply, there is no good place to put it if you assume that Italy, France, Spain and/or Turkey might be actively hostile.
Christmas turkeys, I feel that if every single Mediterranean power large and small was hostile to Britian at the same time then the FO royally screwed the pooch. Not just because the would take some doing from Britian perspective but the med powers in general hate each other a lot more than they hate interlopers. But yes'm, the problem with the med, and Europe in general, is that everything is so close together that air attack is both fairly easy and very destructive if the bomber gets through.

And at this time, they all believed the bomber would always get through. Hence the fear.

Were the deep austerity measures of the day necessary or could other policies have succeeded?
Depends on whether you believe austerity is ever justified or worthwhile on a practical level. Basically the real question is, was rearming earlier feasible and worthwhile compared to the political cost involved?

I'm now going to talk about deficit spending, which it should be noted became popular after the depression and especially postwar, so there's a lot of hindsight bias here. But essentially, because of how economy, debt and financing works, if a country's economy is big enough, wealthy enough or trusted enough (essentially, if it's industrialised, post industrialised etc) then you basically have near unlimited amounts of debt to play with because debt for such economies is cheap, to the extent that they make money off having it, and usually, own most of the debt themselves internally (I.e. the different departments and agencies ran by the government). That which is not owned internally mostly belongs to other governments, who themselves have debt owned by governments etc. The central bank of each country then usually grants bonds relating to the deficit, so individuals within the country can invest in their own state and even more money can be made from debt.

But - as an example - could the Empire have enlarged its deficit and invested in infrastructure and productivity?
Yes. In fact the British were, of all countries, ideally placed to 'safely' boost their deficit because they had numerous developed economy dominions to buy debt from and with. In essence, they didn't just have the option of imperial preference in term so of trade but debt as well, had they played it right. Historically speaking, the UK has usually handled being in debt very well, to the point that even when they genuinely were close to bankrupting themselves in the napolenaoic wars, they were tanking the economy slower than their rivals were their own.

Such are the magical properties of debt. Used properly, it's basically, to use a horrible phrase, a magic money tree. There are of course, some horrible drawbacks to the system but if you happened to have an empire made up of economies also in the debt game, you could lend and borrow from each other, and because the whole economy of the empire was growing, and managed if not controlled centrally, deficit financing make a lot of sense for the empire.

In fact it makes so much sense that I suspect there is a horrible nasty hole in the centre of such an idea that several people are bound to drop kick me on. Still, it would make for an interesting AAR idea to have a group of accountants from modern times dropped into the 1918 Treasury and told to make it run 'properly', what would happen?

Or would some modest re-armament been do-able at an earlier date, minimizing some of the collapse of the armaments and shipbuilding industries? The austerity doesn't seem to have helped with either economic recovery or deficit reduction and it certainly meant that the armed forces were inadequate when they were needed.
Well there seems to have been quite the political movement on this topic because at one time Churchill was cutting defence spending and later chamberlain was building it back up again. Basically, at a certain point even the war hawks had to cut back on the budget, and when it was very clear the war was coming no matter what happened, the hardest doves were piling on the cash.

And remember that we are talking about government intervention in the economy, something which these days is controversial, despite mountains of evidence proclaiming the good it can do, especially in times of crisis. Back then, they debated on whether putting all the treasure in a big hole and doing little with it was a good idea or not.
 

DensleyBlair

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Such are the magical properties of debt. Used properly, it's basically, to use a horrible phrase, a magic money tree. There are of course, some horrible drawbacks to the system but if you happened to have an empire made up of economies also in the debt game, you could lend and borrow from each other, and because the whole economy of the empire was growing, and managed if not controlled centrally, deficit financing make a lot of sense for the empire.

In fact it makes so much sense that I suspect there is a horrible nasty hole in the centre of such an idea that several people are bound to drop kick me on. Still, it would make for an interesting AAR idea to have a group of accountants from modern times dropped into the 1918 Treasury and told to make it run 'properly', what would happen?
I am just about the furthest one can get from understanding how finance works, but reading this I do get the sense of watching The Big Short. And now I'm thinking that this 1918 Treasury AAR probably has to star Christian Bale...

It is also worth mentioning of course, considering the question of political movement on the issue, that the so-called "Treasury view" of public spending (something like it doesn't have an effect on growth or unemployment because it crowds out what would otherwise be a commensurate amount of private sector funding) was given its name and character by none other than Winston Churchill. One of its keenest critics, incidentally, was the then-arch-Keynesian Oswald Mosley.
 

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The vulnerability of the Suez pinchpoint was known and had been allowed for. There is the Krikuk-Haifa pipeline to bring in oil from the Iraqi fields (and even further afield if required) and a large refinery is under construction in Haifa. There's also a (mostly) coherent railway network from the Red Sea to the Eastern Med, so you can get supply in from the Eaast.

Of course if Britain has lost control of Gibraltar, Suez and the Red Sea then you will struggle to supply Cyprus. But at that point Britain probably has larger problems!

Not to say I think Cyprus is a good idea for a base, I don't think it is, but it's certainly viable.
All good historical points I’m sure, but still a very round about a way to supply a major naval base, and a supply line vulnerable at many points: many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. Which, by the time you are forced to maintain it that way, well ... what’s the point of it anyway? And you have your med fleet trapped there, unable to use the Suez as an escape route? Still a non starter in my book as a major base.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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All good historical points I’m sure, but still a very round about a way to supply a major naval base, and a supply line vulnerable at many points: many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. Which, by the time you are forced to maintain it that way, well ... what’s the point of it anyway? And you have your med fleet trapped there, unable to use the Suez as an escape route? Still a non starter in my book as a major base.
Smacks of a 'we have to have a plan for this but...' plan forced/come up with by the navy because the British needed to have something on the books for what to do if Egypt fell, and suez was lost.

Never mind the fact that if Egypt fell, and suez was lost, it didn't really matter where's the med base was because the fleet would have to leave the sea ASAP anyway...

By a,l means plan for it, but let's be honest, the British have to defend Egypt, Alexandria and suez to the hilt or all is basically lost in Europe and any far eastern war just got a lot worse. I just don't see the point in trying to protect an ear when the neck is very clearly still going to be the vital spot to hit, no matter how good the earring is. Alexandria is the port, and the suez is the lifeblood of the empire. There's no way of changing that without massively changing what the empire holds and where, so you might as well heavily upgrade and reinforce and invest in Egypt and Alexandria, because you're going to have to fight to the death over it anyway, whatever you do, so you might as well make it easier with better defences, and make it the home port everyone, admiralty and enemy alike, are going to treat it as.
 
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The Great Depression was only really bad in the exporter countries (which was the US and Germany in the 20s). In contrast Britain had never really 'roared' in the 20s but as a consequence never fell into the depths. I'm not saying it was a nice experience for anyone, but it was 'just' a bad recession for Britain not a horrific Depression that other countries experienced. Nice graph below of relative industrial output shows this;



As is required by her constitution, France remains a weird outlier for idiosyncratic reasons around politics and gold. Once you accept that the Japanese economy isn't a great comparison at this point, because much of that growth is due to 'acquiring' Manchuria in 1931, Britain stands out as getting the response about right. The big spending cuts, Geedes Axe and so on, had been post WW1 and there's an argument they were mismanaged, but during the Depression government spending stayed broadly flat, even trended up. There was no austerity, it wasn't a massive debt fuelled splurge, but then one wasn't required.

I'd also remind everyone that the Weimar hyperinflation experience was less than 10 years prior. No-one in power was going to be relaxed about buying loads of government debt with freshly printed money (or money created on the Central Bank balance sheet, which is the same thing but with less effort). Inflation is a thing, even if in the modern world it has become a strange beast only sighted rarely in exotic locations.

That said a hypothetical group of accountants dropped into 1918 would probably do fine, they'd get on well with the Treasury and probably not change much. Because they are accountants and so don't do grand economic theory. You could try it with economists, but they'd just fight amongst themselves and achieve nothing, as is traditional for their caste.

As a final point I'd say rearming during the Depression is the exact mistake Italy made, you end up with lots of kit certainly, it's just all badly out of date by 1939, at which point you need to do it all again.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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I'd also remind everyone that the Weimar hyperinflation experience was less than 10 years prior. No-one in power was going to be relaxed about buying loads of government debt with freshly printed money (or money created on the Central Bank balance sheet, which is the same thing but with less effort). Inflation is a thing, even if in the modern world it has become a strange beast only sighted rarely in exotic locations.
It did happen though, at least to a degree, because one of the solutions the germans came up with for getting out of hyperinflation was to relaunch the currency and have foreign banks and governments buy the debt up as loans and treaty agreements (which worked, in the sense that had the crash not occurred, the economy was growing quickly enough to repay the debt with interest, yet naturally led to Germany even more vulnerable to the international market because if anything happened to it, not only would the exports collapse but so would the foundations of the whole economy).

It's difficult to argue however that GB should have done anything differently, since they didn't really do anything wrong with their recovery and managed to rearm fairly promptly when they needed to...I suppose you'd have to really like british industry and want it to be boosted back up to the numbers it was at in the 1870s, comparative to the rest of the world. But, the OTL 30s industry base was pretty good, the british didn't have much trouble rearming with home-grown stuff so far as I know.

One of the biggest issues with comparing 30s finances and economies to 2010s is that, by and large, the money was still in stuff that existed in reality. The factories and railways and shipyards went bust? You still had the faculties there to work with and rebuild. The problem with investor sectors is that it encourages HUGE investment in stuff that doesn't really exist outside the heads of the stockmarket.

That said a hypothetical group of accountants dropped into 1918 would probably do fine, they'd get on well with the Treasury and probably not change much. Because they are accountants and so don't do grand economic theory. You could try it with economists, but they'd just fight amongst themselves and achieve nothing, as is traditional for their caste.
Just so. It's actually one of those scenarios which sounds good but wouldn't change much because by post-war November 1918, it's all far too late for the big changes you would probably want to make in an AAR. Probably more beneficial to have this team sent back earlier and instructed to make sure all the what-if machines invented in the 19th century but didn't get off the ground until after ww2 actually got made properly. Stuff like the difference engine.

Or go back and try to write economic treatises on how capitalism is inherently doomed to collapse...oh...wait...

Sometimes butterflies aren't as big a change as you might think.
 
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Interestingly, the rural agricultural South in the US suffered more slowly from the Depression than the industrialized North, but the effects eventually hit just as hard and lingered longer. Programs like the Tennessee Valley electrification were very helpful.

When I posit Britain re-arming earlier I am not advocating an Italian-style "buy everything now" shopping spree that leaves no money for later needs. Instead I was thinking of a steadier, higher rate of expenditures aimed at keeping plants open and jobs available as well as preserving capacity for things like Italian adventurism. "On Seas Contested" details the issues faced by the Royal Navy when new construction was at last approved and funded: the armor, machinery and armaments plants, and the shipyards themselves, had been gutted by lack of orders and were not able to quickly resume production (or not at all, in some cases). If you aren't familiar with the book, I recommend it; the book is uneven, but lays out how the major navies of WW2 intended to fight the war, what equipment they had that did and did not function as intended, and then how they actually conducted operations.