tv 1942 Battles of Midway El Alamein CSPAN August 26, 2021 6:55am-8:00am EDT
senior historian here at the national world war ii museum and also our executive director for the institute for the study of warren democracy. he's also a pretty marvelous guitar player and his jealous of the display that john partial has behind him. but rob the show is yours. thank you, jeremy now the whole world knows and so i'm happy. it's great to be with john parshall and and neil barr to really outstanding scholars on on the history of great battles in world war ii as well as some other things the the theme for this this get together. this final session is jeremy says, you know, we've been rocking in the free world now for nearly two straight days and it's time to bring the conference to a close. we really wanted to do go out with as he said with the bang and we thought a good way to end would be with this concept. that is so beloved of military historians called turning points now before i introduce the two principal speakers, let me say i
have some experience in this field as well a few years ago. i wrote a book called the death of the vermont which amongst other things is about the battle of stalingrad and you don't need to know a whole lot about world war ii to know that many people consider staling rod to be the turning point of the war at least the eastern front now, i'm not sure. i'm one of those people iii i'm a little dubious of the whole concept of turning point and i wrote the book very carefully so that i never said the word turning point and i was lucky the book. i picked up by the book club book of the month club history book club at the time. you know, i helped put my daughters through college with with the proceed. so it was all good. but i remember when the little brochure came about, you know, this month's selections and there's death the vermont by by satino and big bold headlines turning point of world war ii, so i realized that at some point it doesn't matter whether you think staling rod is a turning point or whether you're uncomfortable with the concept people are still going to use it and so you might as well go along with that and at least try to define what you mean pretty
precisely so our two guests today our first of all john partial who will be speaking on the battle of midway. hello john my dear friend, it's good to see you. i see you john john is the creator of the foremost website of in the world devoted to the imperial navy combined fle. dot com which he founded in 1995 his book shattered sword the untold story the battle of midway. he coauthored that with anthony tully to for my money still the definitive account of the pivotal battle in the pacific. he's written for every magazine. you can think of naval war college review us naval institute proceedings naval history world war ii and and probably too many others to to name at this point adjunct lecture for the us naval war college and has appeared on the history channel discovery channel the bbc currently working on a history of the year. 1942 all all fronts all regions, and i really can't wait to read that one when i when it comes out, so john will speak first on
midway. he'll be followed by neil barrio neil. it's good finally to meet you at i've been in admirer of your work for a long time. a neil is a professor of military history a deputy dean of academic studies and education in the defense studies department of kings college london educated. it's a university of saint andrews. he's taught at saint andrews the world military academy join the staff college in 2000 his main research interest concerns the anglo-american alliance in world war ii and he's he has published numerous works, but the one that we're really be jermaine to today's discussion is his excellent history of the battle of alamine, or should i say the three battles of el alamein called pendulum of war so if you will gentlemen, let's start with john we'll go in roughly chronological order midways june and at least a third battle of alamine is oktober 1942. so let's start with john marshall john talk to us about the battle of midway. very well.
thank you if you could put my first slide up for me in in following with rob's sort of skepticism or guarded usage around the words turning point. my title is midway turning point in the pacific and as you can see, i've got a question mark at the end of that statement, which should be your clue that you know, i think we have to use the word turning point in a very careful manner within the context of a large war like world war ii and it's near cousin decisive battle. that's another phrase that gets trotted out with respect to midway on a pretty frequent basis. you know, what are those really mean within the context of a war like the second world war which just isn't a contest between two countries but is actually a contest between two nation, you know larger lions blocks composed of dozens of nations, you know, can you really have a turning point or a decisive battle within that context and is what i'd like to explore for
the next 10 minutes or so next slide, please. i think the way to sort of start exploring this is to look at the balance of naval aviation within the pacific during this mid part of 1942. and so i have here what i call my carrier scorecards and this is the picture in the pacific immediately after the battle of coral sea in early, may 1942. and so what you see is on the american side of things we've just lost the large carrier lexington her sister saratoga has a nasty habit of running across enemy submarines is taking a torpedo and is in the yard the yorktown class carriers are all operational and the wasp is in the process of being moved from the atlantic to the pacific that hasn't arrived yet on the japanese side of things. they have four very experienced carriers. akagi kagos or you and hear you. they have the newly added hair
of carrier division 5 show kaku and zoe kak we're both just put out of combat as a result of coral sea shokaku collected some bombs that she didn't want zooey kaku's air group was shot to pieces and so they're out of the picture for the battle of midway and the japanese have just recently commissioned the converted carrier. junio and you can see too that they've got a number of light carriers that just lost soho at coral sea, but they still have four other operational like carriers. so roughly speaking the correlation of air power in in the pacific at this point carrier air power is about two to one in favor of the japanese at this point and what that means for the americans is that we've been placed in the defensive sort of stance where we've got a ward off, you know blows from the japanese and the japanese have the initiative in this conflict next slide, please. here's what the situation looks like coming out of midway, you know, ouch if you're the
japanese you've just lost the four best carriers in. inventory and about 3,000 sailors 250 carrier aircraft. this is a very very bad day at the office. the americans have lost the yorktown in return but the net effect. is that now the balance of carrier air power has kind of reached parity, which doesn't sound all that exciting but in the middle of 1942 in the dark dark middle of this year where everything is just going catastrophically wrong for the allies for the americans to be able to claw their way back to parody is immensely exciting and it opens up a whole array of strategic opportunities for the americans that they just didn't have three days ago at the beginning of this battle. now the americans can begin contemplating. can we take the counter offensive in the civic? so we've entered a whole new
stage of the war now, let's think big a little bit and if i could have the next slide. i think from the american perspective any discussion of grand strategy within the war certainly the pacific war starts with this slide, which shows you the gdp of the major combatant nations in the war and i've highlighted the us and blue japan in yellow and what you see is that the americans come into this war with an economy that is five times larger than japan's and they're going to end this war with an economy that's going to be more than seven times larger than japan's and in pretty much any index of military production or war potential that you care to name. we've got it all over the japanese. we have twice the population we pump more than two thirds of the entire world's oil supply at this point comes from the us the us steel production is larger
than great britain, russia and the entire access block combined. so i think you'd have to say in the smaller context of the specific war us versus japan as long as the us can one maintain the political willpower to stay in this war demonstrate that they can also fight competently. we are going to win this war and it's just no two ways around it. but there's a couple of problems, you know here in the midterm. the first is you know, we can't just whip out our wallets and say well we have more money so we win right that's not how the game is played. we have to demonstrate that we can fight competently not only competently enough to defend ourselves, but also be able to take the counteroffensive and and win particularly on the ground and the jury is going to be very much out on that topic for probably about another six months or so the second is that the shape of the war itself is not conducive to us victory at this point.
up until this time the pacific war has really been relatively episodic in nature in that there's been some ground combat in the philippines, but that's ended now there been some carrier battles now, we've done some carrier raids around the perimeter, but there's not any point in the pacific that we are in daily contact with the japanese and that episodic nature was good for us at the beginning part of the war when we were very disorganized and not really well prepared to fight but now in the midpoint of 42 the productive spigots are beginning to turn on in the states and the bottom line. is that even though we have a long term advantage over the japanese. japan is still a modern industrialized nation state the only way to defeat a power like that is to apply cumulative levels of attrition to it that grind its military to pieces and then of japan, we've got to move close enough to the home islands that we can either grab bomber bases and you know ruin their
economy through strategic bombing or we're going to have to physically invade the place, you know, that's the way that this thing is going to end. and so if you are the larger stronger heavier opponent which you want to do is create an up tempo constant attritional sort of conflict and we haven't got that now, so if i could have the next slide please if if you are fdr in the latter part of 1942, your to-do list is really very very simple. you need to get the japanese a headlock someplace. it doesn't really matter where and just start giving them the business i think in terms of a sausage grinder, right? it's a traditional warfare. we need to be rolling out of bed every morning knowing that it's going to be a great day today because i am going to absolutely begin guarant. to be killing japanese soldiers shooting down their aircraft a good chance of getting into a
naval battle so that i'm continuing to grind up their navy. that's what i need is a sausage grinder and lo and behold not two months after the conclusion of midway. we get one in that one, but two locations if i could have the next slide. the first is in new guinea where in late july the japanese land a regimental combat team at buna and begin moving over the kokoda trail towards port moresby and you can think of this as the battle of coral sea part 2 into the japanese or intent on capturing port moresby and this is going to kick off a ground campaign. that's gonna drag the australians in and eventually in fairly short order drag a couple of american american divisions in as well. and then about two or three weeks after that occurs the americans land at guadalcanal they here to form, you know, nobody could probably find waddle canal on a map six months ago, but we put a division into
guadalcanal and kick off a six-month campaign for possession of what becomes the most important piece of real estate in the pacific namely henderson field so that kind of the next slide, please. and what we're going to have here over the course of the next six months is a series of naval battles. there are going to be a number of major ground battles. there's going to be a constant drum beat of air combat as the japanese are flying bombers down from the ball to try to put a henderson out of business. you know, so from a nutritional standpoint. this is just what the doctor ordered in the course of this campaign. we're going to shoot down hundreds of japanese aircraft more than 600. we will kill tens of thousands of japanese soldiers will think about two dozen major warships. and so, you know again, this is just what the doctor ordered and it's interesting because as americans we tend to over focus
on guadal canal understandably the australians tend to over focus on kokoda, which is their sort of definitive campaign for the war. but really it's the japanese perspective that i think is the more accurate one from their vantage point in rabaul what they see are these you know, the twin headed monster that is just tearing them to pieces and they cannot keep up with the attritional rate that is being inflicted upon them. this is the kind of war that the americans needed to create in order to have final victory in the larger conflict. so if i could have the next slide. it was the late great historian hb wilmot who brought this out in his midway book. he points out the fact that there's an inherent conflict between having what you might call a decisive battle within the framework of who's outcome is largely been predetermined and i would have to say that i care as you can imagine on the
side of the outcome of the pacific war not world war ii as a whole but the specific war was largely predetermined as long as the americans want to stay in it. so i would have to say that midway was not a turning point at the strategic level. although it was a turning point. i would say at the operational level because it brings down the curtain on the initial stage of operations and creates a whole new type of war. so if i could have the final slide as tony and i said in shattered sword midway is i think the most important naval battle of the pacific war. i would actually argue it's the most important naval battle of all of world war ii not because it was decisive in an absolute sense. but again because it allows the americans to create the kind of war that they need in order to go on to final victory. thanks much. fantastic john. thank you so much as always
fascinating presentation. we'll have i'm sure the audience will have some questions for you a little bit later on in the game and at this point if we could turn things over to neil barr to talk to us about the battles of el alamein neil. if i could have my slides, i'm terribly sorry about that. what rookie era? so i've oh, thank you and there's my slides and so i was saying that but nobody could hear me. i i was saying that i've always viewed el alamein as more than a single battle. but but rather than as a campaign and and i've i've always connected alamine in my mind actually with a famous anti-war poem by robert sosie called after blenheim, which is actually a boat and the duke of marlboro and the 18th century, and i think it's perhaps because blenheim waterloo and alamine still tend to be linked certainly in the british
imagination as victories, whatever the historical truth of the matter and one of the one of the one of the stanzas from so these poor in a sense seems to sum up blenheim and darlene and when he says when in the pool and everybody priest the duke who this great. did win but what good if it came at last quoth little peterkin by that i cannot tell said he but was a famous victory and there seems to be something about alimene in that that it seems dislocated from its physical presence in in egypt. it seems part of the past rather than as part of the future and that's one of the things that i like to discuss in the next the very next few minutes. but so i've always seen it as a campaign and i would argue that there were three major engagements in the desert around isle of maine and thus we need to see those three battles as
part of a whole as a single long hard-fought campaign, which was a pivotal importance to the war in the mediterranean. perhaps not a turning point and it's that campaign that i'd like to try and sum up in just the next few minutes. and so if i can have my next slide, please and and when we think about alamine we often think about it through the lens of personality and we think of it almost as a jewel between romel and orkin lake or between normal and montgomery and in some respects that's due to the propaganda of the time which built the the forces in the desert into this jewel and gave portions through the newsreels of the time where rommel was used as a propaganda tool by nazi germany and montgomery was one of the first british
commanders to really harness the power of the new media of the newsreel with his distinctive look to stamp his personality on on battlefield and on 8th army. but that concentration on personality i think has taken as a way from the true nature of what the alamine campaign was actually about. so if i can if i can have my next slide, please. i think it's worth reflecting on the real emergency of the british situation in june july. 1942 dorman smith here on on this slide. he was expecting to either be victorious or be a prisoner of war within a matter of days and and in many respects. i see the fighting around darlamane at the beginning of july as being one of the moments of the second world war even though it's really considered as
such but it's one of those movements where the events decisions and even time and space narrow down to a handful of decisions. and if army had not been able to stop role at alamine in the early days of july. it's quite likely that the british position in egypt would have collapsed and i think that would have had a profound. fact so instead of that actually holding an alamine it stabilizes britain's positions throughout the middle east and ultimately that enables british recovery at for the later years of the war. and if we can go to the next slide, please. and the swirling fights that take place in july a huge casualties. no further result than the fact that rommel has been or almost army has been halted and and it leaves a sense of stalemate and
a sense of unfinished business which leads to the rest of the campaign. and next slide, please. but i think we also need to be wary of an approach which is overly focused simply on the nature of the fighting in the desert and in fact to understand the campaigners are fall. it's vital to place the ear and naval operations in sharp relief and file for the armies. the allen campaign is all about this the 40 mile front up to a depths 30 miles either way and for the royal navy the desert air force and their access counterparts and indeed for the american bombing force that's in the stood at that time and that small spot patch of sand is only a very small part of this. the era naval campaigns are taking place over a much wider canvas and in fact in order to really understand what happens at alamein we need to think of
it in terms of supply and that goes further to consider the ships factories and workers which go almost across the globe and send forces and material to the egyptian desert. next slide please. and that's brought into stark relief actually with rommel's final attempt to reach the delta in august 1942 where he commits his army to movement without having the fuel to complete the movement. and in fact alum helfer looks very similar to gazala. rommel's great victory in in the summer of 1942 and the reason he's not able to defeat the army in august. it's very much down to those problems of supply and the power of the desert air force as well as the 8th army. next slide please.
when we consider alumin, there's so many controllies which surround the campaign many of them either created or or in part because of the myth that builds up our own montgomery, but this is the one that i really feel i need to share with you and montgomery claims that orkin like only had plans for a retreat when he takes over 8th army and that is all part of the image that montgomery builds of himself as this new broom to sweep clean in the desert. yet, it's quite clear that the blueprint for montgomery's third battle of alamine is actually developed by auckland lake before he sacked. so one of those alternative facts of the war which sometimes gets overlooked. and if i can have my next slide, please.
so the third and final battle of alamine, whatever we call it becomes a real trial of strength and it's often it's often believed that the eighth army had. an overwhelming amount of force to push against the panzer army africa, and this was somehow a foregone conclusion in fact the depth of the axis defenses the nature of the fighting in the desert and the difficulty of cracking open those defensive positions actually made the battle far more hard-fought and far more close run than perhaps people have looked at it subsequently. i'm and in some respects that final battle of alamine. it has many echoes in fact of british offensives in the in the first world war let alone. at the second next slide please.
so, how can we sum up this campaign in in just a few minutes? it's it's actually quite a challenge and corelli barnett in his brilliant like iconoclastic book the desert generals. i actually claimed that the third battle of alamine never needed to be fought because the torch landings in french north africa would make it irrelevant very very quickly afterwards. he claimed that this final battle of was a political battle. well, of course in that sense all battles are political and that that shouldn't surprise us. in fact the final victory at alumin. it was vital to the progress of the allied cause in the second world war whether it's a turning point whether it's as profound a
battle or a victory as the style and grover midway remains arguable. certainly for britain at the time this seemed to be the greatest british victory since waterloo and when the news arrives it certainly seen as such there's services of thanksgiving church bells silence since the invasion of 1940 are wrong in celebration. and so the british people always remember that event. churchill of course plays his part in reinforcing the significance of el alamein. so it is a political battle of prime importance for britain. not for her allies for churchill. he can claim to be the far-seeing statement statesman who had shaken up the middle east command and brought victory.
form montgomery. he becomes famous and a household name throughout britain almost overnight and it cements his position as a successful general. and for the british army, they learn operational methods and tactics which enable them to prevail against the german army in increasingly tough battles and defenses throughout the rest of the war. and but the campaign of alamine is underpinned by a strategic logic which even by the later stages of the war seem not to make much sense. this is it's an imperial campaign in some respects which harks back to the imperial logic of the past, but it's also a high intensity campaign, which was very much a part of the defeat of the axis. so there was perhaps more about alamine that looks to the past than to the future.
it's the last time during the war when broadly defined and independent british army fights and wins and and although british forces fight alongside their american counterparts throughout the rest of the war from alamine onwards britain's position is over overshadowed by the growing might of the united states. ultimately, then the victory at alamein ensures that the british empire would end with one last ray of military glory before the son said on what had been the world's largest imperial project. and alamine that final military achievement of britain as the last great as a great power was in that sense also the last hurray of the british empire. so today the logic of those imperial objectives have no completely evaporated and i think that's one of the reasons why alamine seems dislocated in a sense.
so ultimately alamein was much more than just a simply a famous victory. i think it was a pivotal pivotal campaign in the sector world war which helped to shape the outcome not only of that war but of much else besides. thank you. me a wonderful presentation. thank you. thank you so much. um, i think what we like to do now is kind of go on into a little round table session just the three of us kind of shooting the ball about what it means to have a turning point and world war ii with also some specific discussion of the the two battles under under consideration as well as my own battle, which is the battle of stalingrad. you're too global experts on midway in alamaine respectively john and neil, so i'd like to start with the obvious question. what is a turning point in a war the size of world war ii what could be considered a turning point?
i noticed both of you studiously avoided over using the terms turning point having said that it shows up in book titles. it shows up in films. it shows up and even in casual discourse on world war ii we hear it again. and again, i just like to see if we can get some specificity. maybe john first again going that chronological order and then over to neil. how would you define a turning point in world war ii agent? thanks a lot. um, yeah, there you you know, it's funny. i i actually was was rethinking this even this morning and you know for someone who's been thinking about midway now for the past 20 years you would think that my opinions on the matter are set in stone, but they're really not um, i i have real problems coming out with any sort of a global definition of what a turning point is in this war and actually the sort of the realization that that i came to this morning again was that you really have to start thinking in terms of or we at
the grand strategic strategic operational or tactical level when we start dispensing these ants so i feel more comfortable talking about midway at the operational level that it had some profound operational effects. i think you can call it a turning point at the operational level, but i think in the larger picture of world war ii again, you know between a conflict between dozens of nations. i don't know that you really can have a clearly delineated turning point. i'm not sure that it exists. yeah. oh, it's it's such a difficult question in some respects. and so if i was like remember, you're not even being paid for this. this is this is if i was here if i was going to define a turning point in any way then i i'd see it as a a switch in the initiative and that's probably the tactical really operational
level and i think you can see that to some extent, you know from from john's greek presentation about about midway from alamine and indeed stalingrad. it's weird does the initiative swing but it becomes in many respects just a discussion point and who gets to decide what are turning point is and it tends to be after the event. so people in 1942 and people in 1942 really recognize that things have changed and if there's a political reason to i said as there is for churchill and then yes, you'll declare something as a turning point, but does that mean that the war is necessarily going to go all in the in the allies favor after these supposed turning points? that's clearly not the case. and and what does it mean for a combat soldier in 1943 or 1944
to be fighting, you know a desperately hard battle whether it's in in the air the land or the sea that there's been a turning point, you know a few months or even a year before and does that make their job any easier and i think the answer is is new. and so it's a it's a difficult concept. it works for historians because we can we can argue about it and we can choose them but in in terms of the reality during the war, i'm not convinced that it works and the british example without me though. it means something to the british people. for that time and in that sense, it provides a morale boost and i suppose that is important. it's not very good. don't briefly that one of the things that my friend rich frank point pointed out to me. there's a couple years ago now was that, you know, just about a month after the victory at
midway. there is an opinion piece in the new york times that says that the the business of war has gotten so large and complex that that it's beyond fdr's ability to really be an effective commander-in-chief and that he should appoint a military super commander to oversee the war effort and so back to your point about neil, you know, was this even recognizable as a turning point within the war within the context of 1942 i would argue that it was the midway certainly was not recognized as that in the year 1942 certainly not during summer of 42 you know, i like neil but your your notion of changing of when the initiative changes that that's a good one having the initiative is so important you get to pick and choose your spots pick and choose your targets. your enemy is on his back foot constantly reacting to things that that you're doing the more i think about turning point. i i guess where i'm uncomfortable with it is that there's a discrete event that
turns any war and let me give the example of stalingrad. i think when we say stalin bro, you all know what you two of course know and i bet most of the audience a little listening knows as well. we mean the surrounding of a german field army inside solomon the germans had four field armies and their southern campaign and now they lost one the biggest one it was cut off and eventually marched off wholesale in captivity. but you know that only happened because the germans showed up at stalingrad and said and that was in november the germans showed up and selling right two months earlier with without enough strength to take the city. and that only happened because they launched an offensive in june in the southern front that that was far under resourced. you know, the germans are already down a quarter of a million in terms of the the sort of replacement deficit units are at 40% of their nominal strength. they're raising divisions amongst the hungarians romanians and italian armies because they lack the number of divisions themself and then you know you go bad. why do they do that?
well, they did that because it was the last crack at the soviets before the american before american arms came into the field and where that come from. i came from moscow on 40 when i think you see the point i'm making that there's a continuum it i i think that often we read about a turning point and john it's like an american football a pick six. one side's doing great and suddenly there's an interception and you take it to the house neil. you're like a football british football team that scores an own goal, but things are going beautifully and then all the sudden they're just falling apart, but i think what we have here is if you're stalin grads, certainly, there's just a long continuum of events that that lead to it and you know, one more thing neil. i'll just throw this in at the end and see if you guys can comment on it, you know, it didn't really even change the initiative the germans launch one last gigantic offensive in the summer of 1943. and that is of course the the curse offensive so just i thought about i i would tell students for years in class. so turning point.
don't even bother me returning point. they go crazy because they know there's a turning point of world war ii, but even on the initiative level i'm not your style and broad qualifies there. yeah, i think that's very much true at midway too in that you don't even see the initiative really shifting over to the americans. now what it is. it's a point of balance and it's going to remain in in balance all through the guadal canal campaign. it really isn't until i would argue, you know late november of 42 when the americans finally tip that and now have decisively grabbed the initiative in the pacific war and are now on the offensive but you know midway didn't really midway just created the conditions whereby we could contest for the initiative it would take the bottle canal campaign to decide that question. neil what about learning curve? yeah, go you go, please i'm gonna chime in there in the sense that turning points. it suggests that there's an
inevitability about the course of a war. whatever war it might be and i suppose as human beings. we want to think that we want to think that there is inevitability there but as historians, we really can't we really mustn't almost any event could have could have happened after alamein after stalingrad and that would have changed the calculus and people at the time simply don't know that so while it's a human need to i think think that things are turning that things are getting better and things can get worse and at the time you're simply not going to know what's coming around the corner. that's i really like your point. you're an infantryman in 1945 and you're slogging through some german village and there's a waffen ss unit in your way. and i think you say yourself. well, hey, we have the initiative. so things are going to come out. all right. yeah, i think it's probably a
little dice here than that. but what about this notion and maybe this would be for neil of the there's a long learning curve. i don't know of any army in the world had a steeper tougher learning curve than the british hath army originally western desert force and then eventually british eighth army alamein the three alamines. don't just pop out of nowhere. do they the same army had just been handled very roughly in in june at that bizal and over. yeah, so i'm going to be scathing of the british army here in the sense laura the the british western desert force actually is very well trained. it has very good doctrine. it knows how to fight in the desert far better than the italians or indeed the germans when they first arrive and but against the the german doctrine against the german panzer divisions, they find that nothing works and they get trapped into a cycle of
improvisation of trying new things constantly and every time it fails so they keep switching they keep changing and it has to be said, you know, the the british forces in the desert have weaknesses in particular equipments that are really vital in desert fighting. one of the most important actually is is there radios and the british can't use combined warfare in the way that the germans do because the radio is simply don't have the range and but anti-tank guns etc. so they get trapped into this cycle this expediency of trying new things and it all fails and and it's actually it's during the pause from july at the end of july until october with the notable exception of alum alpha. it gives them time to really draw all those lessons together and particularly with new equipment and the six-pound
randy tank gun, and of course the american equipment the the sherman tanks that come in dragged unwillingly in some cases from there from american units, but that's what really enables them to learn the lessons of two years of desert warfare and come up with the ways of crunching the way. access defenses you know, we're getting closer to the the moment of the program where we throw it open to questions from the audience, which is always a never know what you're going to get asked and it's always a tense moment. we have we have some very well-informed very well informed listeners, but let me let me ask this question if you don't mind. i saw neil at the end you had a couple of quotes from from sir winston about the battle of el alamein before alamine whenever had a win and after all of maine, we never had a law so a paraphrasing and and that most famous one you know, it's not that it's not the end. it's not even the beginning of the end. but it just might be the end of the beginning what what did first of all that's neil.
what did winston mean by that? and then last john if you can say the same thing about about midway? okay, so i'll try and be quick because i think i think i can answer this one quickly and britain has had the most awful run of military defeats through 1940 41 42. and so churchill's actually being quite cautious there when he says this might be the end of the beginning and for him the end of the beginning means actually it's the end of that run of defeats of strategic hammer blows which, you know, effectively mean at the end of the british empire the fall of singapore and all of the defeats and disasters in france greece egypt etc. so he's actually being quite cautious there, but of course churchill was a historian and he wanted to write the history of this war that he's been this
great political leader in and so he when he's using these phrases he's using them with both politicians. lying at mind or a politician site, but also a historian guy as well. that's great john. how about how about midway end of the beginning? i actually think that that works very nicely if you you know, neil is just talked about the fact that the british have had a what a two year run of defeats in the pacific. that's all been telescoped into the first five months of that conflict. you know, the japanese just come in to the beginning of the war and just rip the allied strategic position to pieces destroy, you know, the allied position throughout the pacific and a lot of that is due to the fact that the japanese in many cases were sort of punching into air. you know, the more the dutch really going to put up much of a fight against the japanese, you know, etc. etc. we all of the allied powers were unprepared for a war in that theater and they just got
clobbered but what you see at midway then is this sort of at will expansionism on the part of the japanese were any place they just bother to show up they would win that thing for the conflict is now over now. it's okay. you actually have to fight us for stuff and now it's a much more evenly matched campaign and that's so in that sense that it draws the curtain down on this initial stage of wild expansion and now we're sort of into a real war if you will. you know in a sense it works for stalingrad. barbarosa was was a baltic to black sea event, and then stalingrad was still a theater wide event the entire southern portion the front, but after that the germans are only going to be able to launch one more great offensive on a very very narrow portion of the front and that's the cursed salian. so if it's big german offensive into the russian and ukrainian steps those do come to an end
after stalin gradu. maybe that's probably a good way to and our little round table here as any well, we're not quite sure what they all mean, but they were famous victories as peter can tell us at the beginning in neil is talking about about the battle of blenheim. the battle of blenheim will be the subject of another webinar. we'll do here at the national world war ii museum, hopefully at some point. i think that's probably all we have right now in terms of our presentation jeremy if you'd like to drop back in and begin feeding this group the questions, that would be great. great. thank you very much gentleman and really engaging conversation wonderful presentations as always. and the first question we have going to john. can you comment on the attrition war verse the island hopping leapfrogging hit him where they ain't war based on maneuver and bypassing attrition wherever possible this comes from steve. that's a good point.
you know, there's no question by the time you get to 1944 the beginning of 1944. and actually let me step back up if you look at the fighting that goes on during 1943. the locus is really going to stay in those two campaign areas that i outlined new guinea and the solomons and we're going to be you know, grinding our way up the solomon island chain and capturing the finch haven of peninsula in new guinea and a lot of people notice, you know by the end of 1943 that you know, we've advanced, you know, three or 400 miles and either of these theaters and if we continue at this rate of advance, we are not going to make it to tokyo until like sometime in the mid 1960s and that's simply isn't going to get it done at which point we begin shifting over to twin axes axes of offense through the central pacific and all so through the southwest specific and bypassing a lot of japanese.
i would just know that the conditions for being able to do that though. were in some ways dependent on the attrition that we inflict on the japanese navy and particularly their air force during 1943 it which you don't see happening behind the scenes is there's this immense shift in the correlation of strength within the pacific that the americans are building up their logistical apparatus were introducing new types of aircraft and in the process in new guinea and the solomons there is this constant attritional engine going on that's chewing up their air forces and their navy. so the island hopping campaign would not have been as quick to unfold had we not done a lot of that fieldwork and when i say field work, i mean killing that had to be done against the japanese in 1943 to kind of set up the dominoes for 1944.
the next question seems to be geared towards neil comes to us from jim where gymnast and super gymnast the invasion of north africa a legitimate aim for the us to involve itself with or was it a political ploy by churchill to have us power serve british interests. what is your take on this issue? oh, that's a that's a very good question. so we need to take a step back to actually july 1942. a lot of things are decided then. both in egypt and in terms of anglo-american planning because it's july 1942 that the british finally say that they are not going to they don't see sledgehammer. the immediate cross-channel attack, which is meant to take place in september 1942. they don't see that as a an act of war. that is just not going to work.
and so in that sense actually gymnast and what becomes torch it is a legitimate act for the united states because it's the the only plan left on the table to get american troops into the european theater broadly defined at that point in july when the british refuse sledgehammer, i mean even marshall says well if this is gonna happen with the brits, we're just going to to go to the pacific. it's roosevelt who takes the decision not churchill that american troops will will take part in in operation torch and and ultimately torch is a really important shaping. nation for the european theater it's not what martial wants it's it's not what many american commanders want. but ultimately it does shape the european theater and is actually
vital in ensuring that the mediterranean which yes has british interests, but if we view if we view that war as being two things it's both an about imperial interest, but it's also about winning the war against italy and germany and in that sense, i think torches essential. thank you. next question comes from a volunteer here museum. oh, yes, rob, please just say if you want a real turning point of world war ii launch operation sledgehammer in late 1942 because i think it would have been a disaster the catastrophe of epic proportions and then you might really be dealing with a turning point. breed so the question from dave bergeron it goes to john wasn't the urgency of patching yorktown and replacing some of her lost airmen with saratoga flyers a decisive element in the us victory at midway bottom line nimitz. excellent, command decisions.
yeah, it's interesting. you should bring that up. i think first part of the question. yeah, absolutely what you're seeing on the american side is that we are moving heaven and earth to try to get your town back into this fight so that that we can have reasonable parity against the japanese. i'm actually in the midst of contemplating a new article on. nemesis decision making immediately prior to the battle because it's not widely known that he was actually willing to contemplate fighting with only two carriers at midway in light of intelligence summaries that were telling him that there might be as many as five japanese carriers coming to the party. and you really have to step back and think about was that wise in a nutshell was nimitz crazy and i think that that's something that i'm interested in exploring
a little more depth here and not too distant future. i do think that what you're seeing to an extent is that there's a tremendous amount of pressure being placed on minutes, you know, this war has been a train wreck. how do i turn this thing around? um, and he's a very he's very cool customer, but he's also extremely aggressive and he's looking for opportunities to hit the japanese back and hopefully win that initiative back. so i do think that his command decisions and his battle plan as a whole were quite sound but this was a very dicey part of the war for the americans nimitz was under tremendous pressure. his boss. king was under tremendous pressure. and it's it's really really fortunate for the americans that we were able to patch your town up and get her into the fight because if you start thinking about actually fighting that battle to carriers on five, hypothetically that could have
been really really bad for the americans. thank you. john. next question is for neil. can you comment on why germany did not put more emphasis on winning in north africa? troops material etc. bj wilson has this question to you. well, thank you for that question. the simple answer. is that the the war in the mediterranean from the axis perspective is an italian warm. it's a war that is launched by mussolini in 1940. hitler has no interest in the mediterranean theater. he wants to win the war against the soviet union and he makes that decision. really quite soon after the the campaign in france and after the
coercion of britain through the battle of britain doesn't go quite germany's way. so hitler sees the war in the east as the decisive theater. so north africa is always just a distraction for him. now admiral radar does come up with the plan in the summer of 1940 when germany still has the chance to make a strategic decision. he actually he argues. well, we can go after the british in the mediterranean and we can knock the props out the british empire then we can defeat the british homeland, then we can turn it against russia. but that kind of more sequential more peripheral campaign or approach to strategy isn't one which which hitler and wants to buy. and i think that other point about the campaigns in north africa, which certainly the the soviets never understand and quite frankly many people don't understand is that to put one
division in north africa takes a vast amount of effort far more effort than it takes to put a division on eastern front because you need to think about shipping you need to think about supplying absolutely everything that formation needs. so when you see a german division in north africa i certainly in terms of the overall raw material. you're probably talking about the equivalent of four to five german divisions on the eastern front and in terms of military transport some estimates would suggest it's that to keep a division in the field in north africa requires 20 times the amount of military transport that a division in the eastwood. that might be a bit of an overestimate, but it gives you that sense. so why would hitler put more emphasis on a peripheral theater that he doesn't expect to be decisive?
thank you neil. the next question is from dominic to john and it's how did the japanese enter service rivalry? impact their performance in the battle of midway specifically um, yeah the the rivalry between the imperial army and navy started at sort of icy and went down to dysfunctional and say it's interesting when you look at sort of the bureaucratic politics that are playing out in april of 1942 when yamamoto is ramming the idea of an operation of midway down naval ghq's throats and then naval ghq, except it and now they got to turn around and go try to sell it to the army because of course if you're gonna take an island you got to have some troops and we don't have enough special naval landing forces the naval troops that the imperial navy
has we'd like to have some army troops come along on this thing as well and the army is just like we have no interest in this operation because we know that you're trying to suck us into a larger campaign in the hawaiian island chain and nothing to do with that. the changes before as soon you liberate happens on april 18th as soon as tokyo gets bombed and the imperial palace was put in danger all of a sudden the army does a complete volt face. they're like, you know that idea of taking midway and eventually oahu that's not a bad idea and we'll kick in you know a regimen of troops for that and we'll start doing amphibious training for the couple of divisions. we think you'll need to capture oahu. um, so that gives you sort of a backdrop in terms of the actual execution of the battle itself not having a good working relationship between the army and the navy really didn't play that big a role. i mean this really was the imperial navy's battle to lose there really wasn't that much
that the army could do to influence its outcome one way or to other but what you see is that that relationship had a much more poisonous effect on strategy formulation in the march april time frame as the japanese are grappling with the issue. you know, what do we do next? great. thank you. we have a final question from the audience to wrap it up and it's sort of directed at all three of you. could it be then said that three battles, midway el alamein and stalingrad all contributed to 1942 being the turning point year. this comes from william? i'm sure. oh, let me start. let me start this one 1942 is attorney point years in interesting thought for my campaign on the east germans on the eastern front gotta go with december of 1941 and the near smashing of army group center in
front of moscow. so, i'm not quite sure. i'm on the 1942 train. and as a guy who's working on a book on 1942 your categorically wrong rob and wouldn't be the first time john. i think that you can't really have a decision in this war until all the big dogs are in and that means the us has got to be in as well because we don't know yet whether or not one the red army can turn themselves around and actually become an outfit that is capable of taking the offense against the vermont. to whether or not the americans are going to fight credibly on the ground and on the sea in the air, so i do look at 42 as the critical year in the war that it is very much in the balance and i guess i would say that that your perspective to me says that only the eastern front matters to this war i would say that that the eastern front is
definitely the most important front but there are other important fronts as well that have to be tied in. okay, so i'm gonna look at this from the perspective of strategic orchestra stretch. and so, you know the british empire at the beginning of the second world war has huge strategic overstretch. it's one of the reasons why britain suffers so many defeats early on in the war. but it's through by 1942 the germans the italians the japanese. they've actually they've reached strategic overstretch. they've attempted to bite off more than they can do. and however, we define it they are now suffering from strategic overstretch and some of the big players the the soviet union which is beginning to really reach its full mobilization potential by 1942. and the united states is only
just coming in the game and everybody knows that it's going to be able to mobilize vastly and actually britain finally hits its peak mobilization potential by october 1942. so in terms of strategic stretch, i think that the access powers have have committed that to the sales they've done that to themselves. the war is by no means over but the all now have to to win the war. so the axis haven't lost but nor have they been able to win and it's then over through 1943 and 44 for the allies actually to win the war. so at a future conference, we need a session on decisive battles and we can bring you three back john. we had a couple of comments on social media any quick answer as to when you're 1942 book might be available. i i had to ask yeah, i want to
know the answer to this question. yeah, you know this has become my precious. you know, i've been working on this book for 11 years now and counting. i actually am getting towards the tail end of the project, but unfortunately, this is not my full-time occupation. i have a pesky day job in technology that pays the bills. i'm hoping to get it out in the next. i'm gonna say three years two to three. great. well, we'll hold you to that. okay? i want to thank rob and john and neil neil. it's been a pleasure to get to know you over this process. we owe you a trip to new orleans and you i hope you cash that in john. it's not too ladies and gentlemen, john will be leading to tours overseas for us in 2022 to the pacific one is to the marianas and iwo jima and the other is to japan and okinawa. so check out our website and go to the travel page for