The History of British Fascism tends to be dominated by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, itself a very a-typical fascist organisation. However Baronet Mosley’s (touted as future British Prime Minister during his tenure in both the Labour and Conservative parties) conversion to Fascism didn’t occur until 1931 when he visited Mussolini in Italy and the British Union of Fascists wasn’t formed until 1932 a full ten years after Il Duce’s march on Rome and 6 years after Hitler had published Mein Kampf.
Mosley wasn’t Britain’s first taste of Fascism then, by far, few appreciate long before Mosley Britain had a flourishing right wing scene of would be Nazi’s and Fascists all trying to work out what these strange ‘continental’ ideologies were with varying degrees of quirkiness. By the 30’s such names as ‘Imperial Fascist League, the British Empire Fascists, the Fascist League, the National Fascisti, the Kensington Fascist Party, the Yorkshire Fascists, the Empire Fascist League, the Social Credit Greenshirts, the British Fascisti, the British United Fascists, the National Worker’s Party, the National Socialist League, the Nordic League and the Right Club.’ (1) Would have been common place in the right wing scene. It was one of these aforementioned groups, The British Fascisti, to whom the honour of being the first British fascist group falls.
Illegal Girls Scouts
In 1908 Baden Powell formed the Boys Scouts, girls were forbidden to join Baden Powell feeling the activities too unladylike. However 2 years later at the first scout rally held at Crystal Palace he was surprised to see a troop of girl scouts march past him.
One of the scout mistresses responsible for this was Blanche Lintorn-Orman and one of the girls her 15 year old daughter Rotha Lintorn-Orman. The girls had got away with joining by only putting their first name’s initial on the application form and their deception had escaped notice by them being them located in rural Liphook far from any other scout organisation. The act forced Baden Powell’s hand, shortly after he formed a female version of the scouts and a year later young Rotha was leader of the only troop in the country with royal patronage, Princess Louise’s Own Bournemouth troop.
This act of female defiance seems to have been the first step in a life of breaching male social convention for the young Rotha Lintorn-Orman and gives us insight into the unique upbringing she had at the hands of her mother. We can also guess from the experience she developed a love of uniforms as for the rest of her life Lintorn-Orman was to either wear a British Army uniform, Red Cross uniform or the uniform of her own personal adult scout troop, to the ranks she would attract such figures as William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) and Maxwell Knight who Ian Fleming would include in his James Bond novels as ‘M’.
Rotha was the daughter of a British army major, but her grandfather was Field Marshall Sir John Lintorn Arabin Simmons and she grew up in a minor gentry household able to afford a servant. When World War One broke out like many women Rotha went to work, but unlike most she did it by joining the army as an ambulance driver serving in the Reserve Ambulance Corp and later the Scottish Women’s Hospital Corps with whom she won Croix du Chairite twice for bravery, serving on the Drins Front in Serbia. In 1917 she was invalided back home with malaria where she joined the Red Cross and became commandant of the Motor School at Devonshire House in charge of training ambulance drivers.
In 1922 Mussolini marched on Rome at the head of his own troop of boy scouts, in Britain it caused heads more to shake than to turn at this strange form of foreign mysticism called Fascism, it was to have an a lasting effect on Rotha. Legend goes that Rotha was in her garden in her Somerset home planting vegetables and alarmed by the Labour Party, the growing influence of the trade union movement and Vladimir Lenin, when an epiphany struck her, to start a fascist party in Britain.
In early 1923 just a few months after Mussolini’s march to power Rotha placed several adverts in the right-wing journal, The Patriot, which read “Seeking Anti-Communists” and within a few weeks and most likely much too her surprise had over 200,000 anti-communists signed up and her mother signed over £50,000 of the family fortune to Rotha to run the movement
Rotha’s then does not only enjoy the unpresidented curiosity of being a woman who founded and lead a fascist party; in 1923 Britain was still months short of its third ever woman MP, women at that time only had limited suffrage (limited by age, wealth and education level) and only had that for 5 years. She was the first woman to found and lead a political party of any kind.
A Very British Fascisti
Rotha started the British Fascisti, but what exactly was a British Fascist? 10 Years later Oswald Mosley was to wrestle with this realising German and Italian forms were not really suited to Britain but it could be said at least Mosley understood what fascism was and why he was modifying it, what Rotha seems to have built is anything but a Fascist movement.
It’s often taken by modern readers as a derogatory put down that at the time many people said what Rotha wanted to create an adult scout troop. However early scouting was quite different to its modern counterpart. Scouts carried Union Jacks and Badon Powell had based the movement not on the militaristic Boy’s Brigade but the individualist thinking cadet corps he was in command of during the 2nd Boer War, scouting was about bushcraft, frontiersmenship and survival skills.
Film Footage of British Fascisti
Rotha’s idea of the role of the movement is perhaps the most unique thing about it and explains its unusual methods. She had a millenarian vent believing in the coming communist revolution in Britain and the Fascisti role was not so much to become a political force or take power but to try and create trained, disciplined, self sufficient people to get the country running again after a communist revolution. In this respect the image Rotha Lintorn-Orman’s had of her British Fascisti was akin to that of the survivalist movement in the US preparing for the post-holocaust.
The role of women in the Fascisti was equal to that of men, even training wise, female members complained they were expected to change the tyres on vehicles the same as men. While the suffragette movement had ended before Rotha grew up this didn’t stop her having strong opinions on equalising the voting rights for men and women. In fact while most of the suffragette movement had died the one area of radicalism old suffegettes continued in right wing politics, such as the Pankhurst’s Anti-Socialist League, in fact several former suffragette far right groups existed. Membership of the fascisti didn’t just attract proto-feminists but perhaps the most reactionary element of society, the legions of middle aged, middle class, reactionary military wives and widows. It’s unclear by how many the women in the British Fascisti outnumbered the men, but it was quite considerable. Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the British Fascisti was fascist feminism, as later Mosley’s Blackshirts had to tone down the sexist elements of British Fascism much to the derision of leading German Nazis on his visits, in fact 25% of Mosley’s Blackshirts themselves were female and so many women marched with him he had to ban female members form wearing matching black coloured skirts to stop the press dubbing his movement ‘the Blackskirts’.
Politics wise was another curiosity as the British brain at that time didn’t really comprehend fascism, other European countries had the advantage of centuries of absolute monarchies, centralised governments or dictatorships in their recent history. Rotha later was to dislike Mosley’s calling him a communist. It’s quite ironic when the first fascist in Britain sees a man who does actually understand what fascism is and immediately thinks him a communist. The British Fascisti itself spent much of its efforts providing stewards for Conservative Party meetings which in those days were known to come under disruption from communists and socialists. The Fascisti also openly encouraged its members to vote Conservative and it’s two main political lines seem to have been the government should pass anti-union legislation and equal votes for women. In Feminine Fascism Julie V. Gottlieb even suggests the British Fascisti was a feminist response to the Primrose League. The club run since the 19th century for women Conservatives, whose entire leadership and committee were men. Also that Rotha who had seen how women had equal treatment during the war had decided uniforms was another way of female emancipation.
Perhaps then the British Fascisti can be considered an early vision of feminism. A uniformed, marching, tyre changing, Ju Jitsu fighting, millenarian, survivalist, Conservative voting, union jack flying, girl scout troop.
The British Fascisti was more a paramilitary group than a political party, while it stood candidates, the pinnacle of its electoral success was winning just two local council seats. However on the professionalism of paramilitary side it put the British Union of Fascist to shame.
Fearing an imminent communist revolution the British Fascisti had adopted both paramilitary and intelligence wings. Its intelligence wing was run by Maxwell Knight who upon leaving the Navy had become impressed by Mussolini and joined the British Fascisti. Knight’s organised the intelligence wing of the British Fascisti so well he was noticed and recruited by MI5 to become Britain’s top spymaster and the figure ‘M’ in the James Bond movies is based upon him. Knight was said to have members of the Fascisti infiltrate the Communist Party, trade union movement and the Labour Party. Ironically just over a decade later as spymaster he would be sending his agents out to infiltrate the British Union of Fascist and other right wing groups, it was Knight who was responsible for the internment of many British Nazis and Fascists during the war, including Mosley and many of his former British Fascisti comrades. Knight was also the first member of MI5 to suspect the communist leanings of some of its members, however he wasn’t believed by his superiors, perhaps because his earlier membership of the British Fascisti had made them wary of any anti-communist claims by him. Finally it was Knight the former member of a political group lead by a woman who introduced women into MI5 on equal status to men. There had been a few before but he was seen as the man who did most to liberate the service.
The paramilitary wing of the British Fascisti run on strict military principles, members wore uniforms based upon Italian Blackshirts, it was divided into regional ‘troops’, district and county commands, a central command in London presided over by a chief of staff. Both men and women received the same military training including Ju Jitsu and survival techniques.
It was claimed there were 800 commands, with 200 to 500 members in each. When the commands took to organising street patrols from 1924, the highly unusual sight for the time of militaristic, marching and drilled groups of uniformed women was unleashed on the bemused British public. These women’s street patrol according to inteviews with x-members seem to have been one of the main draws for women members. During the general strike of 1926 the Fascisti’s female members were expected alongside the male to engage in violence if needed.
Alumni & Fall
Some quite notorious historical figures also passed through the ranks of the Fascisti, some who left to form of join more genuine Fascist or Nazi organisations such as William Joyce and Arnold Leese.
William Joyce, who defected to Germany at the outbreak of World War Two and became the infamous Lord Haw Haw got his facial scare while at a British Fascisti parade, he believed a Jewish Communist responsible and the incident is said to be the source of his fervant Nazism. Arnold Leese was a vet and militant vegetarian, teetotaller, animal rights activist perhaps the most fanatical anti-Semite Britain has ever produced, despite not believing Nazi racial theory and having no objection to Jews other than Kosher food. Leese who left the British Fascisti in 1924 and formed the Imperial Fascist League in 1928 claimed he found no Fascism in the British Fascisti, but “conservatism with knobs on”
The demise of the Fascisti came from being both too moderate for some and too extreme for others. A large section broke away in 1926 to join the male dominated, non fascist, Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, the dispute being sex and politics based. Moderates feeling the Fascisti too extreme defected, but a lot women members not wanting to be under a male organisation stayed. Much more of the membership was lost to newer genuine fascist organisations disillusioned by the tame fascism, groups like the National Fascisti, Imperial Fascist League and a dozen more were to whittle away members.
When Mosley formed the British Union of Fascist, Union, was an idealistic term as he didn’t really have ideas of giving the other groups choice, those Fascist groups that refused to choose to unite with him, he would force to or destroy. The last large section of the Fascisti defected to Mosley lead by Neil Francis Hawkins in 1932, the remaining anti-Mosley Fascisti was down to 500 members and found themsleves under constant violent attack from the Blackshirts. Britain’s first Fascists were ultimately killed by Britain’s last.
Rotha received much criticism personally for her masculinity, never married, doing a man’s job and never being seen out of uniform. She herself would play Santa Claus at the Fascist Children’s Club Christmas parties and won a fancy dress contests dressed as a grandfather. Rotha also after World War One had increasingly become dependant on drugs and alcohol, like so many men who saw similar service she was most likely suffering shellshock and paranoia, the later of which may have fuelled her communist takeover scenario. Shortly before her death in 1935 at just 40, her mother cut off her allowance as she believed British Fascisti members were supplying her with drugs for cash.
Had she lived, unlike other prominent British Fascist leaders it’s doubtful she would have been interned during World War Two, a Home Office report in the 1930′s assessing the dangers to national security of the various organisations in Britain, reads it considered her a “harmless lunatic”.
(1) British Fascism and the Measures Taken Against It by the British State – David Botsford
Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement – Julie V. Gottlieb
A century of British Fascism – John Hope
The War of Three Kingdoms famous to most as a bloody series of revolutions and civil wars fought across Britain and Ireland in between 1638 and 1651 where dozens of factions all fought, allied, betrayed and re-allied against one another, where religious fanaticism married political radicalism and blatant opportunism, and a million people lost their lives. It all ended at the battle of Worcester in the west of England in 1651 when Oliver Cromwell defeated the invading Scottish Army of Charles II…………..Or so we’re told.
With Britain exhausted from over a decade of strife Cromwell’s regime was faced with the daunting prospect of re-igniting the economy. At that time the wealthiest place in the world was the West Indies and it was to the New World where Cromwell envisioned the restoration of Britain’s fortunes. Of course there was a problem, the West indies were mostly under the control of Spain, still the main enemy, not France since the days of Elizabeth. But now at last Britain finally possessed a land army to rival Spain: the New Model Army Europe’s finest fighting machine and the first modern army in the world since Roman times made up entirely of grizzled veteran soldiers and officers worked up through the ranks entirely on merit.
In 1654 Cromwell fired the first shot against Spain by occupying Santo Dominigo and then taking Jamaica soon after that and thus the Anglo-Spanish War of 1652-60 began at Cromwell’s instigation. Britain wasn’t alone in fighting Spain, as France was already at war with her, so quickly to two countries formed an alliance with 7000 New Model Army (or Ironsides as they had become known) troops were to France to bolster French armies fighting the Spanish, 3000 of these were included in the army of Vicomte de Turenne giving perhaps the finest general of the age the finest soldiers.
In 1658 Turenne was given the task of invading Flanders and seizing it from the Spanish, taking with him taking 15,000 troops including 3000 Ironsides he laid siege to the city of Dunkirk. The Spanish response was swift and within a few weeks an army under Don Juan of Austria with the Prince de Conde another great French commander as his military chief arrived to break the siege. Conde’s force also numbered 15,000 men and included a British contingent of 2000 Royalists in exile led by Charles II’s younger brothers, the Duke of York and Duke of Gloucester consisting of three regiments, two of English royalist and one Irish, though there were a good many Scots in all three.
Turenne seeing his siege about to be lifted decided to attack despite having only equal numbers. Conde caught somewhat by surprise by the haste in which Turenne marched on him elected to defend and sought out a viable defensive position, eventually settling upon almost flat area of beach. The position was sound with his right flank anchored by the sea and his left to a canal on the shore, only one notable terrain feature sat upon this otherwise completely flat battlefield. This was a large 150 foot tall sand dune, he saw this would give him some advantage over the enemy and deployed his line across it. He deployed his best Spanish infantry on top of it and considered it would be too costly for Turenne to attack as both armies were even in infantry and cavalry. Conde was confident in his position, with no way to flank the army and the right a strongly defensible position, Turenne would have to assault his centre and left where he could mass his troops in depth. Or so he thought.
Any ordinary commander would have been perturbed by the seemingly superior position of the Spanish, but Turenne was no ordinary commander and came up with one of the most cunning battle plans in history to defeat them. He knew the tide would go out in a few hours and he could charge his cavalry around the right flank of the Spanish through the retreating waves. But he also knew a great commander like Conde would quickly see this and expand his line to accommodate, so he had to prevent this. He elected to this with madness by doing the one thing Conde couldn’t have thought he was stupid enough to do, assault the dune. He would launch an attack across the centre and impenetrable right leaving his left weak against Conde’s strong left. This would look not only look incompetent to the Spanish tie up all his troops but it would tie up all their troops on their right and centre too so they could not fill the gap on their flank from the retreating tide. Then at the right moment he could strike. It was a hell of a gamble, but that’s maybe the only way one great commander can break an almost perfect defensive position of another.
Turenne began his assault tasking the Ironsides with the job of mounting the slope and assaulting the Spanish troops on the dune. Comde had deployed the British Royalist troops just to the left of the Dune, it seemed the two British contingents would be within sight of each other but not actually engage. Half the Ironsides began firing vollies into the Spanish at the top of the hill while the other half began to make their way up the Dune coming under withering fire from the Spanish defenders as they did, the casualties were horrendous but the Ironsides didn’t buckle and after upon reaching the summit both pike and musket launched a ferocious charge at the Spanish. For several minutes brutal hand to hand combat took place between the Spanish defender and Ironside attackers. Seeing this the Duke of York personally commanding the Royalists lead reinforcements up the hill to aid the Spanish and once again 7 years after the Battle of Worcester Roundhead fought Cavalier. However even with Royalist reinforcements it wasn’t enough and Ironsides fighting like tigers smashed through the Spanish and Royalist lines sending them fleeing down the dune in confusion. Ironside commander Morgan then rallied the Ironsides and managed to stop them pursuing, instead reforming them on top of the dune.
As the dune fell Turenne judged the sea was shallow enough launching his horse around the Conde’s right and to the rear of the bemused Spanish and Wallons. Almost instantly the right and some of the centre of the Spanish army facing infantry to the front and cavalry to the rear broke or surrendered without a fight with three notable exceptions, the three Royalist regiments who continued fighting, the reason being they were engaging the Ironsides that hadn’t assaulted the hill, for the second time that day Roundhead was meeting Cavalier, old scores were being settled and a ferocious musket and pike duel was ensuing, and aprivate battle taking place oblivious to events around them.
Meanwhile in an attempt the save the day Conde counter attacked on the left with everything he had and very nearly broke though, personally leading three cavalry charges and having his horse shot beneath him he broke through the French right and almost looked like doing the same the Turenne’s right as had been done to his, but for one stubborn regiment of French guards who held ground in porcupine formation firing vollies into his cavalry foiled him.
Conde knew when he was beaten and set about saving what remained of his army and personally organised the retreat saving half his army. Meanwhile the only remaining formed units of his force on the field, the Royalists, were locked in bloody battle with the Ironsides, finally realising the situation they were now surrounded, alone and facing the entire French army they agreed to surrender, but not to the Ironsides, instead to the French regiments that had now moved up on them and that they become French not Ironside prisoners.
Two of the great generals of French history had met, Conde and Turenne, in an almost even battle where one of the great tactical manoeuvres in history was executed to perfection, both these forces with a small contingent of British troops fighting old grievances that spanned two decades and were still boiling strong. How strong this was and how much more ferociously the British troops engaged one another than the French and Spanish can be illustrated by the battle figures. Of the 1000 Spanish casualties over half came from the 2000 Royalists, two of the three regiments were completely destroyed. Of the 400 French casualties most of them came from the Ironsides. For the French and Spanish it was almost a delicate eighteenth century battle of manoeuvre where one army outwitted by another and seeing the position futile gracefully retreated or surrendered. For the British it a was a blood curdling enraged slaughter session where two hated foes tore shreds out of one another as part of a 20 years long vendetta.
After the battle Dunkirk fell to Turenne, who was criticised later by Napoleon for not using this victory as momentum to march on and capture Brussels. Some of the Ironsides stayed to garrison Dunkirk while the rest campaigned on in Belgium for another year, though never to meet another Royalist. Dunkirk and Mardyke became part of Cromwell’s Commonwealth until sold to France in 1662. The Anglo-Spanish War along with the Franco-Spanish War were the conflicts that finally broke the Spanish Empires back, never again would Spain be a force. Britain annexed Jamaica and used it as springboard to control of the Caribbean, the richest prize in the world for the British Empire before India.
WWII two still isn’t an entirely historical subject. Many of the records are still classified by governments. Telling of the events are still highly political and the way children are educated about it interfered with by states. People who theorise about it in the wrong way are even jailed in certain countries. WWII is not just history it is still current affairs and what comes in hand with that, propaganda. So we can never necessarily take the mainstream view read without the appliance of a lot more scepticism than other more historical subjects. In this piece I’m going reassess one such subject. One promoted so much by the media and education system you would think it can’t possibly be challenged, but here I will challenge it. The topic is Appeasement, that most reviled of pre-war practices and I am going to ask if the appeasers got it right and Churchill wrong.
Britain’s actions in the early part of the war and are usually portrayed in one way, something we are taught to regard with reverence that being Churchill’s defiance in face of the Nazis and his accompany patriotic speeches about beaches and white cliffs. Even to ask if this was a mistake smacks of heresy and the metaphorically bonfires are lit minds before the speaker has even finished talking. But I’m going to persevere and propose Churchill was a mistaken and not only that but the thing we are religiously evangelised to disbelieve such as Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement, was a good thing.
What is Appeasement?
First when people think of appeasement, they think of simpering spineless politicians giving in to Hitler demands of weakness. If they give him a little, he won’t take more. This is the way we have been told to think of appeasement and few of us have questioned if this is actually what it was. Did the politicians really believe Hitler wasn’t an Oliver Twist and wouldn’t ask more? Even the most naive mind when asked to explain these facts couldn’t but wonder the absurdity of how could people with such simplistic views ever come to rule a superpower. But people don’t wonder this but accept a distortion they have been fed by the disciples of Churchill instead.
So what is appeasement really? Simply put it is Machiavellian politics. In the political Realpolitik, the situation in Europe was quite clear to Anglo-French politicians. Two evils not one existed, the USSR and Nazi Germany. These two powers had an intense and seemingly irreconcilable dislike for one another. Hitler had proclaimed in Mein Kampf he intended to invade the Soviet Union and everything that was happening in Germany seemed to confirm this.
So face with this reality, what would the good Machiavellian do? Harry Truman before he was president provided probably the best answer. He proposed supporting and supplying whichever country the war was going worse for until that country got on top then swapping sides, and continue doing this until both countries are completely ruined. Appeasement then was two things, doing nothing to stop the inevitable war between Germany and Russia and if possible doing everything in your power to promote it.
The doing nothing to get in the way involved doing many Machiavellian things, such as turning a blind eye to Hitler’s domestic and international policies, even the betrayal and sacrifice of Czechoslovakia. This was the game Chamberlain was playing, hardly a wimp out, instead utter cold blooded ruthlessness.
Appeasement Goes Wrong
So where did it go wrong? There were a number of factors. While one can be laid directly at Chamberlain’s feet, he lost his nerve, many others were beyond his control.
The intelligence agency Abwehr, Germany’s pre-war security service, anti-Nazi, and out of Himler’s control, answering directly to Hitler was able to report that they had successfully spied on the Russian government and were able to ascertain the Russians were completely aware of the aims of British appeasement and determined to thwart them by avoiding war with Germany. This lead to Hitler dispatching von Ribbentrop to Moscow to meet Molotov and the German/Russia treaty was signed, prompting Hitler upon hearing the news to declare, “I’ve got them”.
It’s been pointed out that Hitler was the least trustable treaty breaker in Europe, and Stalin a sufferer of extreme paranoia. So why did Stalin ever trust Hitler? In fact Stalin trusted Hitler so much that when the Germans built up three armies on the Soviet border, Stalin had some of his reconnaissance aircraft crews sentenced to death for reporting the built up as traitors for lying about his ally, and when the invasion took place for the first few hours orders came from him directly to front line troops not to fight back as it was a mistake and Germans would never attack them.
So a chain of unexpected events that could never have happened in the wildest imaginings of the Machiavellian British appeasers. The fact was no-one in Britain or France could even conceive of the Germans and Russians signing a treaty and it came as such a shock to them it panicked them, the whole Machiavellian strategy they had been pursuing seemed to crash about their ears.
It was at that point Chamberlain lost his resolve and drew a line in sand in Poland and was swept to war by the country, rather than sacrifice the Polish pawn too as he should have done. As history shows, it turned out the be a rather futile and misconceived gesture. If we think for a moment, what would have happened had Chamberlain kept his nerve? What if he hadn’t drawn a line in the sand in front of Poland, rather whispered in Hitler’s ear, it’s yours if you want it?
British ears had not heard Hitler say upon Ribbentrop’s news “I’ve got them” and they faced for the first time the idea the two countries would not go to war. This was a mistake but was it a mistake Talleyrand or Richelieu would have made, two men who would have been appeasers themselves and had a healthy disdain for Churchill. Would they have held their nerve, written off the German/Russian treaty as meaningless or even read it as the Machiavellianism it was, most likely.
Had the appeaser kept their nerve, Poland sacrificed history tells us Hitler would have attacked Russia a year earlier, a stronger Russia as many note and Truman’s utterly divisive scenario could have been enacted and 4 years later the British and French armies could have marched unopposed from Berlin to Moscow trampling on the putrid rotting corpses of 80 million German and Russian men, women and children and the charred tundra that is all that remains of two countries utterly eviscerated back into the stone-age.
Appeasement Goes Right
As much as appeasement failed diplomatically, lost to the public is its success militarily as it won the Battle of Britain. While chamberlain was holding off fighting Hitler one thing not even his worse critics deny is he put the British economy on a war footing, something Germany didn’t do until 1943. He also did it well, recognising the importance of the air wing over other arms all eager for to be the major recipient. It was this emphasis on planes that saved Britain in the Battle of Britain.
The military importance of the delaying can’t be emphasized than in these statistics. Chamberlain is often criticised over Czechoslovakia 1938, but these figures should make the ludicrous of this apparent.
In 1938 the time of Czech invasion, all UK fighters were biplanes until December 1938 when the first 4 Hurricanes were delivered. By mid 1939 500 were delivered.
Combat Aircraft production
1939……. 3,161……… 1,476
1940……. 7,771……… 6,201
1941……. 11,732……. 7,624
1942……. 16,102……. 11.266
Total Modern Combat Aircraft in airforces.
Year……… Britain……….. Germany
Sept 39…… 1,660………… 2,916
Aug 40……. 2,913………… 3,015
Dec 41……. 4,287………… 2,561
Dec 42……. 5,257………… 3,440
In 1938 Britain wasn’t capable of conducting an air war with Germany. By 1939 the RAF was half the size of the Luftwaffe but building planes at twice the rate. By the end of 1940 both sides were even and after that the RAF left the Luftwaffe behind.
Appeasement the Sequel
After the fall of France the supporters of appeasement raised their voices again in support of an armistice with Germany. While first wave appeasers like Chamberlain are misrepresented as gullible fools not Machiavelians who lost their nerve, the second wave of appeasers are reviled in modern history books that idolise Churchill’s unwavering self righteousness, as traitors. It’s certainly true but disproportionately publicised a few who argued for the armistice had Nazi leanings, many more though less publicised had more nationalistic British sentiments than Nazi arguing why should we let an ideologue like Churchill destroy and bankrupt the empire to save a bunch of inferior foreigners. Many of the appeasers were just pragmatists advocating sensible realpolitik who saw the wisdom of a regrouping and unmolested arms build up.
Hitler of course had a completely unrealistic view and even imagined Britain supporting him in his invasion of Russia, so why not play on this. So I ask what if our Machiavellian appeasers not Churchill gained control of the country? Could they not have signed the peace treaty, patted Hitler on the back and said we’ll be right behind you all the way to Moscow, even nudge him forward in that direction, said here we’ll even sign a treaty saying so…….. All the time holding a poisoned dagger behind his back and knowing the moment the first German troops set for on Soviet soil the alliance treaty to becomes used in the next Downing Street bowel movement.
When I began this piece I hoped to show that if the appeasers had kept their nerves or run the war not Churchill, it would have gone better for Britain. Certainly not in a noble way. No glorious sacrifice of the empire on history’s last great crusade, but an “et tu brute” or rather “et tu Großbritannienon” on the ides of April.
Appeasement these days is portrayed as the strong Churchill vs. the weak appeasers, this is a terrible misrepresentation, it is a much more familiar contest that took place, one taking place in the parliaments of all nations on earth today, one between the ideologues and the Machiavellians. The dreamers blindly and deafly targetting what they believe and those who manipulating their way to what they realistically can get.
If the military of one country rounds up the citizens of another country, forces civilians into labour, uses punitive measures, intimidation of relatives and terrorism against those who resist, it is called a rogue state, a monstrous regime, but when the same state does it against it’s own civilians, it’s called conscription.
For any human being the desire to live one’s life without taking the life of another would seem not only to be an admirable desire but a basic human right. Between the 1965-75 the government of the United States tried to take this right away from many of its citizens. However totally unexpectedly in one of the great civil disobediences, organised at grass roots level, in the barrack rooms, boot camps, stockades, military towns, West Point itself and even on the battlefields of the Vietnam. GI’s fought back and won, this is their story…
From modern movies anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the Vietnam War will know that there was some dissent amongst the ranks of the masses of conscripted GI’s. In these movies the anti-war ranks of the army are usually portrayed as hippies, peaceniks, druggies and drop-outs, drafted reluctantly into the army while clean cut volunteers from good families get on with the job.
In reality it is from neither of these places that the GI revolt began but somewhere even more unlikely, the most elitist of all US military units, the Green Berets.
For both the left and the right this has strong political ends. The right being able to distinguish between the professional military and a few hippy conscript troublemakers and the left wishing to see the rebellion of the people not the elite forces who were lackeys of the oppressive the state they oppose.
But contrary to the political agendas of both, the GI Revolt began long before any conscripts had been deployed in Vietnam and surprisingly amongst the ranks of the Green Berets. In 1964 these professional oppressors were deployed in Vietnam to perform a duel purpose, of enacting a Hearts an Minds policy and advising the South Vietnamese Military.
However for many Green Berets the hypocrisy of the policy began to become apparent. Green Berets were given basic medical training and deployed in villages giving crude medical treatment, while there the USAF was carpet bombing the villages. The deployed Green Berets equipped to treat minor fungal infections in a few children instead were being given the shattered bodies of dozens from bombing raids.
Meanwhile other Green Berets deployed as advisors with the South Vietnamese Army were encountering different problems. Decorated Green Beret Donald Duncan who later sat on a War Crime Tribunal described many incidents when American lead patrols arrested people who may or may not have been VC sympathisers who were routinely handed over the South Vietnamese interrogators who used extreme and brutal methods of torture on them. Duncan who initially supported the war explains how this contravened everything he was brought up to believe in. In 1966 he quit the Green Berets to become one of the most outspoken opponent of the war.
Howard Levy a Green Beret doctor also took a stand, refusing to train any more people because he considered what he was doing immoral. The Levy case demonstrated how widespread and early the revolt began in the professional army. In 1967 he was court marshalled and spent 3 years in prison. What was remarkable about his case was each day he attended the court marshal he was cheered by hundreds of GI’s on the base who regarded him a hero.
The stand of the Green Berets hadn’t gone unnoticed and it was as early as 1966 when the first mass refusals by soldiers to go to war occurred. The first such case to come to public attention was the Fort Hood 3 who publicly refused to go. The Fort Hood 3 chose to publicise their case nationally, whereas many other chose a different method, the Underground Railway. This was movement set up the smuggle deserting GI’s and draft dodgers overseas, mostly Canada and Sweden.
The US military’s reaction to these early signs of revolt was to try and stamp it out by ever increasingly draconian sentencing. The Fort Hood 3 were court marshalled and received 5 year gaol sentences. A Lieutenant Henry Hal received a 2 year sentence for merely carrying placard at a demo and 2 Marines received 6-10 year sentence for organising a meeting to discuss whether it was right for black people to fight in Vietnam.
Government figure estimate 560,000 people committed draft law offences during the Vietnam War. And a total number of 1,500,000 GI’s went AWOL. Over a 100,000 people went into exile to avoid the draft.
In 1968 the Vietnamese launched the TET offensive, for many of the half a million US soldier deployed in Vietnam this came as an awakening. The ease in which the Vietcong and NVA moved across the country and the widespread support they found in the south, brought home the total failure of the Hearts and Minds policy and the lies of their own leaders that they were there to protect the south Vietnamese who clearly saw them as an occupying enemy.
Most deserters headed for the sanctuary of Canada, but a few moved to the hippie communities of California. The Nine for Peace were a small group who called the press and publicised their resistance. They sought sanctuary in a church and chained themselves to the ministers.
Many deserters were sent to the military’s stockades, however this was becoming a major problem for the military as they quickly became overcrowded, some having as many as 3 times their capacity staying there.
In the most audacious act so far, soldiers in San Fransisco began planning the first open GI anti-war demonstration. One of the problems facing them was how to publicise it without getting arrested. Susan Schnall a military nurse and came up with a solution. In Vietnam the USAF was dropping leaflets in North Vietnam encouraging the people to defect. She proposed hiring private plains and flying over military bases dropping similar leaflets on the GI’s. Her flight was successful and thousands of GI’s learned of the protest, however the military were to get their revenge on her. She wore her uniform on the demo and was later court marshalled for making a political statement while in uniform.
In the wake of the arrests following the demo and the further overcrowding of the stockades tensions rose. At Presidio Stockade a prisoner was shot for refusing work detail. Quickly a protest over this started in the prison. Several GI’s organised a sit down protest at role call. They were read the riot act by the army and then put on trial for treason facing the death sentence. The military’s continued over reaction to the protests had further and further been isolating them from the public, but it was the Presidio 27, proved the final nail as the scandal went countrywide.
With the rising in popularity of the revolt across America a series of ant-war coffee houses began to appear. The coffee houses fulfilled a multiple roles. Acting as places free from the military where GI’s could unwind, chill out and avoid any talk of the military and war they also acted as nexuses for GI’s opposed to the war to meet and exchange ideas without repression on there ideas by the military
One of the ideas to emerge from the increased organisation of the revolt was the underground newspapers than started to circulate at military bases. Baring names such as The Last Harass, Fun Travel and Adventure, Four Year Bummer and Fatigue Press. The newspapers mocked the officers and military establishment as well as told first hand stories of veterans real experiences in Vietnam.
The military as soon as it realised what was going on banned them but it was a futile effort and the phenomena exploded until almost every military base in and outside the country had one. Draconian methods were used to stamp them out. GI’s suspected of involvement had drugs planted on them and were arrested.
In 1968 in one of the most notorious events in the protest against the war occurred where police attacked demonstrators at the Democratic Party Conference in Chicago. Deployed in the area were soldiers from Fort Hood who were originally intended for the job. However days before the troops deployment a midnight protest had broken out amongst the soldiers who objected to being used against fellow soldiers at the demo. A battalion of MP’s had to be sent in to break up the protest and imprison the ringleaders. Even then the military chose to handpick the men they sent to Chicago leaving out suspected peaceniks. Despite this when hostilities broke out at the demo between protestors and police the troops were never sent in, the army were now unsure which side the GI’s were on.
In 1968 the soldiers of Charlie Co 11th Brigade cold bloodedly murdered 500 innocent villages mostly women and children in the village of My Lai. The US military managed to cover it up for a year before it was exposed by the press. When the army finally had to answer for it, they swept it under the carpet calling it an “isolated incident”.
In reaction a groups calling themselves Vietnam Veterans Against the War held a public enquiry into the conduct of the US army in Vietnam. The enquiry exposed that far from an isolated instance testimony after testimony by veterans showed that My Lai was just one of a multitude of similar event, but when much deeper as GI after GI confirm. The orders they had been given were the same ones as had created My Lai.
The next move of the GI Revolt was on the militaries most sacred day, Armed Forces Day. The GI’s organised an alternative parade, Armed Farces Day. Steadily each year the parade gained moment until by 70-71 it was attracting thousands.
Increasingly a new phenomena grew throughout the army known as ‘fragging’. Where soldiers in a unit would kill NCO’s or officers who they considered would get them killed. The most popular method was a fragmentation grenade. Effectively the most competent leaders the army were being killed and the most timid and incompetent left alive
Colonel Robert Heini made the statement “By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam, is in a state approaching collapse. With individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug ridden, dispirited, where they are not mutinous”.
In 1971 a company from the 1st Cavalry Division was deployed protecting two US artillery batteries on the border. Two North Vietnamese Regiments were moving in on the batteries. The commander of the Cavalry troops ordered them to venture out and organise a night ambush on the advancing NVA. The GI’s refused the order but went a stage further when they sent a petition to the press announcing they were refusing to fight. The petition stated they would rather face court martial than fight and in the event of mass prosecution their only defence would be public opinion
By now the heavy handed responses of the military was being replaced by a broad sweep under the carpet. The company was quickly redeployed from the front line and no further action taken. Instead another unit was ordered in to replace them. However the new unit hearing what had happened to their predecessors immediately refused to fight too, and within weeks the whole US army was refusing to fight.
Effectively the US army had ceased to exist as a fighting unit. Nixon’s hand was forced, he had to make the pledge American ground troops would no-longer engage in offensive actions. All American units were withdrawn from the frontline, fighting the war was left entirely in the hands of the South Vietnamese. The war was now simply a matter for the politicians to hide the state of the army and spin doctor the history books to play down the GI revolt.
The GI Revolt proved to be one of they great civil movement of American history, and demonstrated it impossible in an open society to conduct an unjust war with a conscripted army, a lesson well learnt in for Iraq.
References and Links
Sir, No, Sir: The GI Revolt – BBC